SEC Coach Rankings: Day 4

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comJune 6, 2014 

South Carolina Tennessee Football

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones went 5-7 last season in his first year in Knoxville.

WADE PAYNE — Associated Press

Editor's note: Bryant. Vaught. Jordan. Dooley. Neyland. These are just a handful of the coaches (among many others) who have come to define the Southeastern Conference due to their dynamic personalities and remarkable success on the field. But who are the top coaches roaming the sidelines of SEC schools today? Ryan Black gives his take, counting down from 14-1. Today, the series moves on to No. 11.

11. Butch Jones, Tennessee

Record: 55-34 overall (27-13 at Central Michigan from 2007-09; 23-14 at Cincinnati from 2010-12; went 5-7 overall and 2-6 in the SEC last season in first year with Volunteers)

National championships: 0

SEC championships: 0

SEC division titles: 0

Yes, for the third straight day, we highlight another coach entering his second season in the SEC.

What put Jones above Mark Stoops and Bret Bielema? Simple as it sounds, it's because he ended with the best record among that rookie trio. Sure, Jones' 5-7 showing (2-6 SEC) isn't head turning, especially at a proud program like Tennessee. However, delve a little deeper into last season and Jones did a pretty decent job. One of those conference victories was a huge one, as Tennessee knocked off South Carolina 23-21; it was a loss which, at the end of the regular season, kept the Gamecocks from winning the Eastern Division title.

Breaking down the 5-7 record further, one could say there's really only one game Tennessee should have won that it didn't: A 31-17 loss to Florida on the road. Not only did the Gators' starting quarterback, Jeff Driskel, leave the game in the first quarter with a season-ending leg injury, but the victory was the high point of Florida's 2013 campaign before it spiraled into a 4-8 disaster.

Two other losses came in excruciating fashion, falling to Georgia in overtime and to Vanderbilt with only 16 seconds remaining. Of course, there were a few ugly defeats as well, notably to Oregon (59-14), Alabama (45-10), Missouri (31-3) and Auburn (55-23). But notice the current running through nearly every game mentioned here: Beginning with the loss to the Ducks on Sept. 14, the Volunteers went on a stretch where seven of the eight teams they played ranked in the top 25, including five consecutive contests against squads ranked 11th or better.

It doesn't matter who you are, that's a tough slate, even more so for a coach in his first season at a program that's been down for many years. So yes, 5-7 on paper doesn't look great. Still, there are enough positive signs coming out of last season — coupled with Jones' prowess on the recruiting trail — to believe the Volunteers will return to their place among the SEC's elite quite soon.

Further proof lies in Jones' past: He's a proven winner. In three seasons at Central Michigan, he won the Mid-American Conference title twice (2007, 2009). Then he turned around and did the same thing at Cincinnati, winning two Big East crowns (2011 and 2012) in three years.

Give him a little more time in Knoxville, and there's no reason to think Jones can't pull off that feat again.

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