A hot seat that’s been ablaze for months was officially burned to ashes Sunday.
Following a winless October, including the school's second loss to Kentucky in three decades, and then Saturday's 33-point loss at Missouri, Tennessee fired head coach Butch Jones — effective immediately, sources confirmed to VolQuest.com.
Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Feldman was the first to report the news.
Defensive line assistant Brady Hoke will assume the interim head coach responsibilities for the Vols, per sources. Tennessee will hold a team meeting at 1 p.m.
Jones, 49, was 34-27 in five seasons at Tennessee. He went 3-0 in bowl games and had the Vols ranked inside the Top 10 after a 5-0 start in 2016, but the decision to move on from Jones ends a five-year stretch mostly mired in mediocrity.
Jones stabilized a rocky program, but Tennessee's regression in Year 5 has been startling, losing all six SEC games and facing the real possibility of missing a bowl game for the fourth time in eight years.
For a fanbase starving — and once accustomed — to competing for championships, Jones’ teams routinely squandered opportunities to truly reenter the national conversation. A slew of close defeats in 2015 spoiled a potential Cinderella season. An inexplicable loss at South Carolina last year ruined Tennessee’s division title hopes.
Tennessee's regular-season defeat at Vandy also dashed the chance for the school to go to its first Sugar Bowl in 25 years. But the 2017 season has been completely come off the rails.
While Tennessee recruited well and won nine games twice under Jones, ultimately, the Vols are back on the market for a new head football coach for the fourth time in less than a decade because Jones was unable to win a division title during a down SEC East and started 0-6 in league play this fall.
Memorable victories over Florida and Georgia in 2016 were highs Tennessee’s program hadn't experienced since the heydays of Phillip Fulmer, but in five seasons, Jones consistently struggled against Tennessee’s top rivals. He was a combined 6-17 against Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Vanderbilt. The Vols never beat a Top 10 team under Jones and were just 6-24 against ranked foes.
Saturday’s 50-17 loss at Missouri was the final straw. Jones deflected a job security question following the loss. Two weeks earlier after a loss at UK, he said, "It’s one of those years..
"The only way I know is to keep working and driving. There’s nobody who takes more ownership in this football program than Butch Jones.
"I can assure you of that. I take it personal because I want to win for our fans, our players, for everyone. But you've just to got to keep battling and lessons and move forward."
Tennessee entered the 2017 season a fringe Top 25 team, but a season-opening comeback win against Georgia Tech couldn’t mask the program’s fractured footing following the departures of Josh Dobbs, Derek Barnett and Alvin Kamara.
The Vols lost in stunning fashion in Gainesville and then suffered their worst-defeat ever in Neyland Stadium when Georgia rolled 41-0.
Jones survived the historic beatdown and opted to bench beleaguered quarterback Quinten Dormady for redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano during Tennessee’s bye week. The move didn't jumpstart a listless offense, as the Vols didn't score a touchdown for more than 14 quarters, losing badly to Alabama and then at home to South Carolina. Then the they lost at Kentucky and Missouri.
In the end, Jones turned around a program that had run off the tracks under Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley, but the Michigan native was undone by misadventures marked by roster mismanagement, staffing woes and a 10-13 record in games decided by a touchdown.
Jones was hired by former Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart in 2013. Pending contract mitigation, Jones is owed more than $6 million on a deal that runs through 2020.
New athletics director John Currie will kickstart a coaching search immediately, with potential candidates including Jon Gruden, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Memphis' Mike Norvell, Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuentes, among others.