Oscar Wilde once defined a cynic as one “who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Clearly, Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart is no cynic.
Hart could have looked at Vol football coach Butch Jones’ 11-13 record and concluded that his price tag should be low. Instead, Hart looked at the big picture and recognized that Jones’ value goes beyond his won-lost record. Way beyond, in fact.
Here’s a simple comparison that should put the matter in perspective:
Three years ago, after a lackluster loss at Kentucky dropped his two-year record to 11-14, Derek Dooley clearly had Tennessee’s program headed for oblivion. He had diluted the roster with slipshod recruiting. He had divided the team by allowing some players to put their agendas ahead of team goals. He had run off some quality assistants. He had alienated Vol lettermen by failing to embrace them. He had distanced himself from the fans by running the program as if it belonged to him, instead of them. On top of everything else, the program was floundering academically.
In short, Dooley needed just two seasons to prove himself a loser – not due to an 11-14 record but due to all of the other issues listed above.
Now flash forward three years …
Fresh from a lackluster win at Vanderbilt, Jones has a record of 11-13. A loss in the upcoming TaxSlayer Bowl would give him the identical two-year mark Dooley had, yet Jones just got a two-year contract extension through 2020 and a $605,000 raise to $3.6 million per year.
Why? Because coaching is about value, not price … about foundation, not record.
Dooley didn’t just post a poor won/loss record; he seriously damaged the program’s foundation. Jones, despite a similar won/loss record, has strengthened that foundation by succeeding in the areas where Dooley failed.
Jones has restocked the roster thanks to quality recruiting. He has unified the squad by dismissing those who put the individual above the team. He has kept his quality assistants. He has opened his arms to Vol lettermen. He has embraced the fans by conceding that he is grateful to serve as steward of their program. Academically, Tennessee football is thriving.
In short, Jones has strengthened the foundation to the point that it now can support a winning program. Hart suggested as much in announcing the new contract at a Monday morning news conference.
"When you’re rebuilding a program you face a lot of challenges in an effort to change the culture,” the athletics director said. “It takes a tireless effort from everybody in the organization to make that come to fruition. Clearly the most critical piece is always leadership, and we have the right man leading our football program at the University of Tennessee.
“Butch Jones has clearly re-energized our fan base. He is an outstanding ambassador for our university, which transcends his role as head football coach. He and his staff have recruited at a very, very high level in an effort to restock our talent base. You see that unfolding. He possesses a very unique skill set in my opinion – one that not too many people are fortunate enough to be blessed with.”
Coaches usually have to win off the field before they can win on the field, and Jones has accomplished that by upgrading Tennessee’s talent level, rejuvenating the fan base, maintaining quality assistants, galvanizing the lettermen and solidifying the program’s academic standing. With all of this in place, the wins are almost sure to come.
As Hart put it: “When you look at all the key areas of leading a football program – how complex that is and how you have to multi-task beyond what anybody actually realizes – he’s done all of that and more."
The athletics director said he and Jones reached a “handshake agreement” on the new contract last Friday, adding that there also will be a pool of money for Jones to divide among his assistants.
Ultimately, Hart believes giving a raise and contract extension to a guy with a two-year record of 11-13 sends a clear message:
"Butch Jones is our coach and will be our coach for a long time. We are appreciative that he is our coach, and his tireless efforts have not gone unnoticed."
Hart, Jones discuss TaxSlayer Bowl