Pretty much every day over the last couple of weeks, I’ve wanted to write something about the absolutely insane shenanigans going on in Knoxville, Tenn. Then, right as I was about to get started, something else completely nutso would happen. It’s been a Rocky week on Rocky Top, but the light at the end of the tunnel was a new head coach for the University of Tennessee football team, former Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and a new athletic director, former national championship-winning Vols head coach Phil Fulmer.
Introducing Jeremy Pruitt: Head Coach of the Tennessee Volunteers 🍊🏈 pic.twitter.com/lj4snu0lbu
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) December 8, 2017
The whole thing went from a total shitshow to a downright triumph in a week. There’s no analogy to make for a situation like this, because it’s just never happened before.
First off, let’s start with Butch Jones. My file on Jones was simple before this past season and completely wrong. I thought Jones was a decent person who was just in over his head coaching for what should be a major program in a Power Five conference. Back when Jones was accused of calling wide receiver Drae Bowles a “traitor” after he took the alleged rape victim of A.J. Johnson and Mike Williams to the hospital and supported her claims, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. A lot of us did.
Butch Jones said he would have the best staff in America, he never did.
Meanwhile Jeremy Pruitt is putting a staff together most Vol fans haven’t seen this good since the 1990’s-Early 2000’s.
He’s only been on the job for about a day now.
— SmokeyLowdown (@SmokeyLowdown) December 9, 2017
I wanted Jones out, but the Bowles thing really had nothing to do with it in my mind. He was a good recruiter and said all the right things, but his gameday coaching was awful. In the chess game of football, Butch Jones wasn’t even playing checkers. He was slapping the lever on a Hungry Hungry Hippos game with a snot bubble in his nose.
This year, my perception of Jones as an OK guy went down the toilet right along with the Volunteers’ season. The players were as inept on the field as Jones was on the sideline, but what made it worse was the absolute lack of discipline. It showed up continually, but the poster child became defensive back Rashaan Gaulden who, after returning a 97-yard interception for a touchdown against Alabama, flipped off the crowd at Tuscaloosa.
Now, Gaulden’s a kid and kids do stupid things, but here’s what’s unacceptable after a moment like that; letting Gaulden back into the game. But that’s exactly what Jones did.
Hang it in a museum pic.twitter.com/gGg2T77gv3
— Bunkie Perkins (@BunkiePerkins) October 23, 2017
Now, I don’t think Gaulden should have been kicked off the team as some at the time suggested, but he should have been forced to sit a game, for God’s sake. He definitely shouldn’t have been put back on the field that day. I mean, how do you defend that?
Later, Jones said the team would handle it “internally.” As internal as Jones’ own head was in his ass.
The writing was already on the wall at that point. Jones was going to be fired, the only question was when it would happen. Then UT athletic director John Currie, in his eighth disastrous month on the job, would hold off, making sure every big time recruit Tennessee had coming would pull out of their verbal commitments.
Jones finally got the ax a couple of weeks later and that is when the true horror show began.
HASLAM AND CURRIE: DUMB AND DUMBER
If you don’t live in Tennessee or Northern Ohio, you may not know how big a piece of shit Jimmy Haslam actually is. Haslam is the current owner of the Cleveland Browns and, before this last week, the biggest football booster for the University of Tennessee. That means he gives the university a ton of money as a tax break and, in turn, the school actually listens to the words coming out of his mouth. It’s a bad deal.
You may not know it from looking at Haslam’s surgically scoured Wikipedia page, but he’s been in a little bit of trouble for the last few years. If you can call an FBI and IRS raid on his company, Pilot Flying J, a “little bit of trouble.” It turns out the oil and gas company had been committing all kinds of fraud, cheating trucking companies. Pilot Flying J is the 15th largest privately owned company in the United States according to USA Today.
Jimmy Haslam Tree@Browns (worst NFL franchise, 4-39 since 2015)@UTKnoxville (forces his will on AD and coaching hires and here we are, a national joke)@PilotFlyingJ (multiple former employees on federal trial for fraud, and recordings that he knew)
— RockyTopSaint… (@RockyTopSaint) December 1, 2017
It’s board of directors has already confessed to overcharging and screwing trucking companies out of so much money that it alone yielded $92 million in profits. As a former executive for the company, Brian Mosher, testified in court, “I was told this is what I should do, so I cheated customers and a did it well.”
Haslam, needless to say, has denied knowing anything about the fraud even though he’s been implicated in secret recordings of other executives. Haslam is on tape during a training meeting seemingly implicating himself. At the time of this writing, 14 former executives have plead guilty. Haslam hasn’t been charged. Yet.
So obviously this is the guy you want heavily involved in your coaching search, right? Money is all the matters, apparently and former UT athletic director John Currie had one hand out for the cash and another hand out… well, we’ll just say it was busy and Haslam was happy. At the ending.
I’m sorry but I’m sitting here stunned that during the press conference of introducing a new general manager, Jimmy Haslam preached his innocence of Pilot Flying J and the Tennessee coaching search. Seriously. Come on.
— Kyle Kelly (@KyleKellyWFNY) December 8, 2017
How much did Haslam have to do with Tennessee dragging its feet on firing Jones? We’ll probably never know. What we do know, in spite of Haslam publicly denying it, is his grubby paws were all over what happened next.
After getting turned down by Chip Kelly, who took the open job at UCLA and Dan Mullen, who took the open job at Florida, Haslam allegedly put forth his own support and financial backing behind a coaching candidate. A candidate that Currie apparently thought would make a good new head coach without doing so much as a cursory Google search.
Currie worked up a memorandum of understanding with current Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and the shit hit the fan.
"Jimmy Haslam has run both the Browns AND the Tennessee Volunteers into the ground. He doesn't have the golden touch, he has the crap touch." –@ClayTravis
— FOX Sports Radio (@FoxSportsRadio) December 8, 2017
I was working a basketball game when the news first came across the wire. It was news none of us where supposed to know, as it was leaked from somewhere in the athletic department not aligned with Currie or Haslam.
Everybody knew Schiano was about to get the UT head coaching job. And plenty of people, inside and outside the university, had a real problem with that.
To be continued…
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