Vols accustomed to facing teams dealing with transition
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) On the frequent occasions when Tennessee coach Butch Jones discusses the need to adjust to ''sudden change,'' he's usually referring to turnovers or big plays that dramatically alter momentum and field position.
This year, the term just as easily could apply to the coaching situations of Tennessee's opponents.
After matching up with interim head coaches Shawn Elliott at South Carolina and Mike Canales at North Texas the last two weeks, Tennessee faces a third straight team dealing with a coaching transition Saturday at Missouri. Gary Pinkel, in his 15th year as Missouri's coach, announced Friday that he is departing at the end of the season.
''It still comes down to playing the game,'' Jones said. ''I have a tremendous amount of respect for all the coaches and what they're going through, but at the end of the day, it still comes down to getting ready to play your best football game and the preparation that goes into it.''
According to STATS LLC, Tennessee (6-4, 3-3 SEC) was the first Football Bowl Subdivision program to face interim head coaches in back-to-back games since at least 1996, the earliest year it had such data available.
Missouri's situation offers the Volunteers a different kind of challenge.
Rather than playing a team that's adjusting to a new coach, Tennessee will be facing an opponent motivated to honor its longtime leader.
Pinkel revealed Friday that he had been diagnosed non-Hodgkins lymphoma in May and would be stepping down at the end of the season to focus on his health and spend more time with family and friends. In its first game since Pinkel made that announcement, Missouri snapped a four-game skid with a 20-16 victory over 6 1/2-point favorite BYU.
''I'm so proud of them, the way they came out and played like they did,'' Pinkel said. ''I was so very, very proud.''
Saturday's game marks Pinkel's home finale.
Missouri (5-5, 1-5) still can become bowl eligible by winning one of its final two games. The Tigers follow up Saturday's matchup with Tennessee by visiting Arkansas (6-4, 4-2) on Nov. 27. Tennessee became bowl eligible last week with its 24-0 victory over North Texas.
''We know they're going to come out and they're going to give us a good fight, but if we execute like we've been executing and keep working to hold ourselves to the standard we've been having, we'll be successful,'' Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin said.
Jones understands what this game means to Missouri. He has a shared history with Pinkel that stems from their years in the Mid-American Conference. Jones was an assistant at Central Michigan from 1998-2004, while Pinkel was Toledo's head coach from 1991-2000.
Jones said that when he began his head coaching career at Central Michigan in 2007, he tried to model his program after what Pinkel had established at Toledo in terms of ''just the building of a football program and not blinking when things do go wrong, staying the course, being consistent in your approach and not deviating from it.''
''I have a tremendous amount of respect for him,'' Jones said. ''It's an honor and a privilege to be coaching in this game with him.''
AP Sports Writer R.B. Fallstrom in Columbia, Missouri, contributed to this report.