He’s an easy target, a punching bag of sorts no matter how many games he wins, because he’ll let you know about each one of those wins in some bizarre way.
He wears a haircut from the 1950s and talks like a used car salesman. He is Butch Jones and he is the new Les Miles.
Strike that. He is Les Miles without the championships.
A lot of people in this industry cringed when Miles retired because deep down they really liked the guy enough to put up with his long-winded and nonsensical answers to simple questions. Les ate grass, never figured out clock management and was as stubborn as a rusted bolt.
But he was lovable.
That’s one reason he is on TV now. His fans couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say, then were switching over to “Mike and Molly” reruns as soon as he was on his third ramble.
Jones has taken over the role in this SEC of making head-scratching statements, but he’s not quite caught on as being that guy everyone would like to have a beer with.
His problem is simple — he says things that many coaches say but he says them publicly.
He opens himself up to criticism almost as if he welcomes it. But you get the feeling he is still amazed by how many people talk about expressions such as “Five-star hearts” and “Champions of Life” and run with them.
One of his favorite sayings is that every program has many of the things he gets hammered for in the media.
True, every program has a way of making the procurement of turnovers a big deal. They are game-changers. But not every program has those turnovers delivered into a trash can.
It’s almost too easy.
It’s as if he delivers one-liners to the media boys and girls brick by brick.
Ah, thank you very much. I’ll be here all week.
Last season was ultimate Butch-fest. The Vols were picked to win the SEC East because they were supposed to be really good and the rest of the division was supposed to be really bad.
Instead, they were a late-season mess. They finished two games behind Florida and Jones swore after the Gators clinched that “you never heard me talk about” winning the East.
No sense setting unrealistic goals.
This is also a guy who said last season, “We learned the value of being ready vs. the value of being prepared” after a crippling loss to South Carolina.
Go ahead and digest that. I’ll wait.
There is no question that the guy who is leading his Tennessee team into The Swamp on Saturday is an odd duck.
But it’s important to note the difference between being baffling and eccentric.
Between strange and quirky.
Between laughable and lovable.
And that difference — in college football at least — is winning big.
The profession is full of oddball coaches, guys who would be standing alone at a party if they were plumbers, because their personalities are dominated by 20/20 tunnel vision.
But the guys who win big are respected. The guys who win just enough are scrutinized. The guys who don’t win at all are selling Amway.
Jones is one of those guys who wins. He just hasn’t won enough to make anyone in the Big Orange Nation totally comfortable. There are no division titles in his Tennessee resume and his overall SEC record is four games under .500. He has yet to see what it’s like to coach in a major bowl game.
He likes to point out that only three SEC programs have won nine games each of the last two years. The rest of the country likes to point to that as an indication of the SEC’s sudden mediocrity.
Tennessee was a mess when he took it over. It’s less of a mess now. And for that, Lyle “Butch” Jones is to be applauded. On Saturday, he has a chance to end a Gainesville losing streak that stretches back to the Ron Zook Era of Florida football.
If he does that, we’ll all have to admit that he is trending in the right direction.
No matter what he says.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.