Long-time Vol aide George "Bad News" Cafego once told me that "Head coaches make the decisions but assistants do all of the coaching."
That's only a slight exaggeration. In no sport does the head man rely as heavily on assistants as in college football. No one man can mentor, monitor and motivate 100 players. Butch Jones essentially conceded the point during his introductory news conference on Friday, referring to himself as a chief executive officer.
"A football coach, in my opinion, is a CEO," he said. "He has to have so many roles, and I think it's also a motivation factor. Coaching is creating change and getting the most out of your players. It's a whole conglomeration of a lot of little things adding up to big things."
Truer words were never spoken. Whereas Bob Neyland spent most of his time teaching kids to block and tackle in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, today's head man is an overseer who devotes only a small portion of his time to actual coaching. He's assessing and recruiting talent. He's schmoozing with big-money donors. He's speaking to booster groups and civic organizations. He's doing media interviews. He's monitoring his players' Academic Progress Rate, lest he lose scholarships. He's memorizing the most convoluted rule book on the planet. And he's social-networking because ... well, because that's what his coaching rivals are doing these days.
With the head man spread so thin, college football programs have become increasingly dependent on the assistants, particularly the offensive and defensive coordinators.
Consider a few examples from right here in Big Orange Country:
Tennessee allowed 276 points and went 7-4-1 in 1984 with Larry Marmie coordinating the defense. The next season the Vols allowed just 140 points, went 9-1-2 and finished No. 4 nationally with Ken Donahue coordinating the defense.
Tennessee scored 347 points with Phillip Fulmer coordinating the offense in 1992. The next season the Vols scored a program-record 484 points with David Cutcliffe coordinating the offense.
Tennessee scored 455 points and won 10 games with Cutcliffe coordinating the offense in 2007. The next season the Vols scored 208 points and won five games with Dave Clawson coordinating the offense. That got head coach Phillip Fulmer fired.
Tennessee allowed 271 points (22.6 per game) with Justin Wilcox coordinating the defense in 2011. This season the Vols allowed 428 points (35.7 per game) with Sal Sunseri coordinating the defense. That got head coach Derek Dooley fired.
Perhaps the strongest case for the value of a quality assistant is Cutcliffe. In the eight years he was Tennessee's offensive coordinator (1993-98 and 2006-07), Fulmer won 81.2 percent of his games (82-19), two SEC titles and a national title. In the eight years Randy Sanders and Clawson coordinated the offense, Fulmer won 66.7 percent of his games (66-33) and no titles.
The importance of first-rate assistants is just as visible in other programs. Check it out:
Urban Meyer's Florida Gators won national titles in two of the four years Dan Mullen coordinated the offense, 2006 and 2008. Florida averaged 42.5 points per game in 2007 and 45.2 in 2008, Mullen's final two years in Gainesville. Two years after Mullen left to become head man at Mississippi State Meyer's Gators slipped to 29.8 points per game en route to a 9-5 record in 2010.
Tommy Tuberville's Auburn Tigers averaged 26.3 points per game en route to an 8-5 record with Hugh Nall coordinating the offense in 2003. The next year, with Al Borges running the offense, the Tigers averaged 32.1 ppg and went 13-0.
Bottom line: What a difference a coordinator makes.
Maybe Butch Jones will win big at Tennessee. Maybe not. Ultimately, the hires he makes in the weeks ahead probably will make a bigger impact on the program than the one athletics director Dave Hart made Friday morning.
To see film of Friday's press conference, click play below: