No, Butch Jones has not been fired.
Yes, Jim McElwain has been fired.
That’s not exactly what we thought would happen heading into last SEC football weekend. The thinking was surely Jones would lose his job if Tennessee lost to Kentucky for just the second time in over three decades. And though Florida was suffering through a disappointing season, few figured that McElwain’s seat was quite that hot.
Then everything changed Saturday when reports surfaced that the Florida administration, lead by athletic director Scott Stricklin, could not find evidence to back McElwain’s claim that the coach and Florida players received death threats. The thinking was that McElwain had allegedly fabricated or exaggerated the threats to gain sympathy and support.
Then Florida promptly flopped in a 42-7 loss to No. 2 Georgia in Jacksonville on Saturday. The defeat dropped the Gators to 3-4 overall and 3-3 in the SEC, ending any hope of Florida making a third straight conference championship game appearance.
By late Sunday afternoon, McElwain was gone, having agreed to part ways with Florida. His overall record was 22-12 with a 16-8 mark in the SEC. Though his teams won back-to-back division titles, they were soundly beaten in both league title games by Florida. Defensive coordinator Randy Shannon was named Florida’s interim coach.
McElwain was 3-0 versus Kentucky with a 14-9 win at then Commonwealth Stadium in 2015, a 45-7 rout of Mark Stoops’ squad last season in Gainesville and a 28-27 victory over host Kentucky in September.
Dan Mullen’s name will be prominently mentioned for the opening. The Mississippi State coach was Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Florida before taking the head coaching job in Starkville. He also worked for Stricklin, who was MSU’s AD before going to Florida last year. Before that, Stricklin was an assistant AD at Kentucky under Mitch Barnhart.
Other names possibly in the mix: former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, Central Florida coach Scott Frost and Iowa State coach Matt Campbell, among others.
ESPN’s Andrea Adelson wrote: “Florida absolutely has to hire a coach with an offensive background. Though the Gators did just that when they brought McElwain in for the 2015 season, he never could develop a quarterback the way he was charged with doing. Florida remains an absolute mess on offense, and is about to hit the decade mark without one elite quarterback to play in a season from start to finish.”
Meanwhile in Knoxville, Jones appears to have survived Tennessee’s 29-26 loss on Saturday to Kentucky which dropped the Vols to 3-5 overall and 0-5 in the SEC.
In reality, the Vols did not perform poorly. Playing without top running back John Kelly, suspended after being cited for alleged drug possession, the Vols outgained Kentucky and led 26-21 before the host Cats put together a game-winning drive to score with 33 seconds left.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano played well. And freshman running back Ty Chandler also impressed. After back-to-back nine win seasons, the Vols have struggled through a transition year with a young roster. And as long-time Knoxville sports radio host Jimmy Hyams said last week on our podcast, he doesn’t think athletic director John Currie wants to fire Jones.
Others are not so sure. Knoxville News-Sentinel sports columnist John Adams wrote after the loss: “You have to wonder how much more evidence Tennessee athletic director John Currie needs to fire UT’s fifth-year coach.
“The Vols are now wobbling along at 3-5 overall and 0-5 in the SEC. That’s about where they were four years ago when Jones began cleaning up the mess coaches Phillip Fulmer, Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley left behind.”
The Vols have Southern Miss, Missouri, LSU and Vanderbilt remaining on their schedule. Only the Missouri game is away from Knoxville.