Tennessee has fired football Butch Jones just shy of finishing his fifth season in what became a calamitous 2017 season in which the Vols have failed to win any of their six Southeastern Conference games.
The Vols were blown out 50-17 by Missouri on Saturday and then Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman reported early Sunday that Jones informed his staff that he had been fired. The team also lost to SC and Kentucky (just their second loss to the Wildcats in 33 years) before getting a non-conference respite against Southern Miss. Butch Jones is out as the head coach of the Vols, and Brady Hoke is officially the interim coach for the remainder of the season.
"An exhaustive search is underway for a person of the highest integrity and character with the skills and vision to propel Tennessee to championships", Currie said.
"We have been fortunate to have Coach Jones lead our program for the last five years". Tennessee was picked to win the East a year ago but stumbled after a 5-0 start. He'll be owed a buyout in excess of $8 million, although he's required to seek comparable employment to mitigate the damages. The Vols went winless in October and have dropped five of their last six games.
However, Jones was never able to take UT back to the SEC Championship game.
The Vols had several signature wins under Jones, including thrilling come-from-behind victories over Georgia in 2015 and Florida in 2016, as well as a last-second defeat of Georgia in 2016 on a Hail Mary by senior quarterback Josh Dobbs.
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Tennessee went 9-4 the next two seasons and finished both years ranked nationally, but those seasons are generally viewed as underachieving without an appearance in the SEC championship game given the Vols roster compared to the rest of a down SEC East. Beginning conference play with a loss to rival Florida was certainly disappointing, but the Vols followed that up by barely beating UMass at home. The Volunteers now hold the seventh-best recruiting class for 2018, although it will be up to Jones' replacement to hold those recruits for next season.
Under Jones' watch, Tennessee's football program dramatically improved its Academic Progress Rate, which had been so low at the start of his tenure that the school was at risk of facing penalties.
Hoke is in his first year at Tennessee.
"I have tremendous respect for Coach Jones and for (Jones' wife) Barb", Currie said. He can certainly provide a steadying hand, drawing on previous head coaching experience at Ball State, San Diego State and MI.
However, Jones did help produce nine National Football League draft picks during his Tennessee tenure and his players collected 18 All-SEC awards and 108 received SEC Academic Honor Roll honors.