Former Tennessee coach Butch Jones didn’t get fired because he didn’t recruit well.
He was fired because of defections, injuries and players not always playing hard.
And – the biggie — lack of player development.
The latter might have been the biggest undoing.
Jones’ recruiting classes averaged a top 15 in the last four years. It didn’t translate to a top 15 program.
Yes, Tennessee did win nine games two years in a row and won three consecutive bowl games.
But in Year Five, the Vols stumbled to depths never seen before at UT: a 4-8 record and 0-8 SEC mark.
That’s why Jones is a consultant at Alabama.
And it’s why Jeremy Pruitt is Tennessee’s new coach.
Can Pruitt do a better job of evaluating, of player development, of putting players in the right position?
Only time will tell.
But it’s obvious Jones was unable to get the most out of his players on a consistent basis.
The raging debate in Knoxville was this: How much of UT’s performance was lack of player development v. signing overrated players.
“I think that’s a fascinating question,’’ McElroy said.
McElroy said practices under Jones didn’t feature repetitions by third and fourth team players or, as McElroy put it: “Guys that are developmental, that need reps.’’
Thus, “as soon as Tennessee experienced injuries, the backups were nowhere near where they needed to be in order to make sure that the losses weren’t significant,’’ McElroy said. “That’s why the injuries Tennessee has had over the last couple of years, they’ve been serious, they’ve been significant.’’
McElroy said the “massive dropoff from starters to backups’’ had a huge impact on Tennessee and was “problematic because you’re going to have attrition in the SEC. It’s a physical conference and injuries are a part of the game, unfortunately.’’
McElroy added: “I think the program didn’t do a great job of taking the talent the high school players had and developing them, allowing them to reach their potential.
“That’s what I think has changed with Jeremy Pruitt and his staff.’’
McElroy said the four and five star players must play beyond their ratings. Few at UT did under Jones. In fact, most played below their star level.
“(Recruits) need to play well beyond five-star caliber when they’re juniors and seniors,’’ McElroy said. “They can’t come in as a four-star and be a four-star when they leave. They need to come in as a four star and leave as an eight star.
“We just didn’t see that enough (under Jones).’’
McElroy said the workouts under Pruitt have been grueling and that players are doing things they “never envisioned. If you talk to any player, they’ll say this spring has been miserable because the practices are so much more intense. There’s reps all the time. There’s competition all the time. That’s necessary to building the foundation for a program that wants to compete for championships in the near future.’’