Coach Butch Jones arrived to Jonesboro with a prickly reputation and a swarm of burnt orange critics on his ass
Sometimes, to the amusement that is only my own, I call Butch Jones the “Werewolf of Jonesboro,” referencing the old Warren Zevon song for lyrics like I saw a werewolf drinkin’ a piña colada at Trader Vic’s / His hair was perfect. During Sun Belt Media Days (and every day, for that matter) Butch Jones’ hair was perfect. His pocket square was perfect. His suit was pressed so tightly it screamed for mercy Butch will not give.
You better stay away from him, he’ll rip your lungs out Jim / Huh, I’d like to meet his tailor.
He sat across from me with his hands pressed together and resting between his knees. Though he wears the splendid, before mentioned suit, his actual attire is an armor of coaching speak that he deploys with masterful perfection. “We have to playing winning football,” he says. “It all starts with preparation.” It’s an armor dented by the slings and arrow of his critics, most of which are located east of Nashville.
While head coach of Tennessee, coming off a 41-0 loss to Georgia, Butch Jones called himself “his own worse critic.” If only that were true. “Butch Jones has done a really good job of lowering expectations,” said noted blowhard Paul Finebaum. Later, Finebaum would call Jones a “pathetic carnival barker” and when Jeremy Pruitt replaced Jones as coach, Finebaum remarked that Tennessee “finally had a real coach.“
Pruitt, it is noted, finished 16-19 as the Volunteers head coach. Jones finished 34-27 and took the team to three bowl games.
Jones took over a Tennessee team that had endured four consecutive 7 loss seasons and patiently built it into a winner. But this overshadowed his greatest failing – to never beat Alabama, and to never finish first in the SEC East (he finished 2nd twice). The dissonance for Butch Jones in the Smoky Mountains continues to this day, judging from a typical response of a Twitter post I recently published.
Why the hate? Butch Jones’ armor, his coach speak, tended to rankle the journalist community, who tend to smirk at such things. Butch Jones is famous for “champions of life” and his quest for seeking recruits that have “five-star hearts.” He was accused of allowing trivial things cloud his focus. He lost favor with the media for having a thin skin.
If Butch Jones has a thin skin, he hasn’t exposed even an ankle of it in Jonesboro, where he’s incredibly assessable and is loquacious during his weekly presser. At Sun Belt Media Days, he was quick and gracious with his compliments of the media covering the conference. He invited me to attend practices. I countered with an offer to play golf. He laughed and directed me to newly hired AD Jeff Purinton. “He’s the one you want to play golf with.”
Some of the baggage that Butch Jones carries followed him to Jonesboro. He is a fiend for fitness and nutrition, almost to the point of obsession. An entire platoon of fan favorite players have left since Butch Jones arrived – men who do not fit Jones criteria for pigskin. Most damning of all, he has not won.
“Man, I bet ya’ll regret hiring Butch Jones!” I’ve had it told to me by people unaffiliated and unfamiliar with the program. Those who make sentiments of this low quality don’t realize how far behind Arkansas State fell to programs like Appalachian State, Louisiana, and Coastal Carolina. The roster was seriously bereft of speed and size. There wasn’t an instant fix. Jones and his staff immediately went to work and delivered the best Sun Belt recruiting class of 2021.
Paul Finebaum’s unrelenting criticism has somehow overlapped Butch Jones’ accomplishments as a coach – and has unfairly elevated expectations. But even Jones’ harshest critics would admit that it was Jones that pulled Tennessee out of mediocrity (only to be revisited by Pruitt). He will do the same for Arkansas State.
Meanwhile, just ignore the haters. Ah-hoo, werewolf of Jonesboro / Ah-hooooooo.
Graphic Credit: MEEEE