- Nobody wants to be in the position first-year Tennessee AD John Currie is in, contemplating a coaching change one month into the football season. And this year, with Vols fans on the brink and a new early signing period on the horizon, nobody has the same ripple effects to consider. Plus, the biggest stories of Week 5, the best Starfleet officers and cereal-based milkshakes in Morgantown.
As Georgia’s demolition of Tennessee continued Saturday, the game kept feeling more like Clemson’s win at Miami in 2015. That was the game in which it became apparent Al Golden could not get the job done as Hurricanes coach, and Miami responded the following day by firing Golden.
Tennessee did not respond Sunday by firing Jones—much to the chagrin of a vocal and growing segment of the fan base that has checked out on the football program’s current administration and awaits new leadership. The Volunteers, who are now effectively eliminated from the SEC East title race unless they can pull off a miracle win against an Alabama team smashing everything in its path, have a bye week before they face South Carolina. Jones will remain the coach. Ultimately, Jones will decide how long he remains the coach by the way he and his staff respond to a historic loss.
The difference between the game that got Golden fired and the one that Jones has (so far) survived may be nothing more than the date. Jones’s 41–0 loss to Georgia came on Sept. 30. Golden’s 58–0 loss to Clemson came on Oct. 25. Tennessee is 3–2 with a healthy chunk of season remaining. Thanks to an SEC that seems down besides Alabama, Georgia and maybe Auburn, every game save the Oct. 21 visit to Tuscaloosa looks potentially winnable. So Jones either has a chance to save his job, or he has enough line to create his own tripwire.
Watching closely will be Tennessee athletic director John Currie. Currie, who served on Mike Hamilton’s staff at Tennessee before leaving in 2009 to become the AD at Kansas State, did not want to be in this situation his first year back in Knoxville. No AD wants to have to decide whether to keep or a fire a football coach a few months into the job. But this particular situation is especially complicated. There is no instruction manual, though the inscription on the cover of the (unfortunately fictional) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy provides useful advice: DON’T PANIC.
Like Nebraska’s administration in 2014, Georgia’s administration in 2015 and LSU’s administration last year, Tennessee’s administration—led by Currie—must choose whether a reasonably successful coach is the correct person to lead the program where the fan base expects it to go. In the cases of Nebraska, Georgia and LSU, the coaches in question were fired. At the moment, the Bulldogs seem quite pleased with the decision to part with Mark Richt and hire Kirby Smart. Smart’s second Georgia team looks like the best of the SEC East. The Cornhuskers are far less pleased. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst, who fired Bo Pelini and hired Mike Riley, was fired five days after the Nebraska lost to Northern Illinois on Sept. 16. That doesn’t bode particularly well for Riley, whose team faces Big Ten West favorite Wisconsin on Saturday in Lincoln. At LSU, athletic director Joe Alleva fired Les Miles last season and elevated interim coach Ed Orgeron to head coach in November. That choice has been a disaster so far; the Tigers got crushed by Mississippi State on Sept. 16 and lost to Troy at Homecoming on Saturday. This week, LSU must play Florida in Gainesville instead of Baton Rouge. That’s also Alleva’s fault after he bungled a game of chicken with outgoing Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley last October. Orgeron is probably safe no matter what because LSU would owe him about $8.5 million for firing him after this season—thanks to a buyout Alleva agreed to even though no one else was trying to hire Orgeron to be a head coach—but Alleva could be in danger if the Tigers keep looking as listless as they did against Troy.
Deciding whether to fire a coach who has won nine games the previous two seasons is tough enough, and the first football hire of an AD’s tenure also starts the clock on said AD’s tenure. As Eichorst can attest, one unpopular football hire can doom an AD. So it pays to not be impulsive. What makes this situation even more complex for Currie and the other ADs considering changing coaches this year is the institution of an early signing period in football. The ability to sign high schoolers to national letters of intent in December adds an entirely new dynamic to the annual coaching hire-fire cycle. Will schools fire coaches earlier to get their ducks in a row to make a hire and have the new coach recruiting the Sunday after Thanksgiving with two weeks to secure a class? Or will schools wait to fire their coaches when as little time as possible can elapse between the announcement that the old coach is fired and the announcement that the new coach is hired? In terms of keeping a recruiting class together, the ideal window might be the length of time Texas went between firing Charlie Strong and hiring Tom Herman.
Though the news leaked by a few hours in both cases, the Longhorns went six and a half hours between the official announcement of Strong’s firing and the official announcement of Herman’s hiring. If Texas had a highly ranked recruiting class—which it didn’t—that wouldn’t have left much time for rival coaches to poach. Tennessee does have a highly regarded class at the moment: It has 23 players committed and ranks No. 6 in the 247Sports.com composite. Firing Jones now would give rival coaches almost two months to try to poach those players before Tennessee hires a new coach. And when the Vols made a hire, that coach would have only two weeks to salvage the class.
One thing that probably won’t happen at Tennessee or anywhere else is the choice to keep a head coach past the December signing day and then fire him immediately after. That timetable would force an AD into a situation that turns out badly no matter what he/she decides. The AD could enforce the letter of intent, committing public relations suicide by not allowing players to change their minds after being bamboozled into signing. Or the AD could release the entire class, which could lead to a mass exodus that sets back the program for years. Meanwhile, the next coach might not appreciate walking into a situation with a full, signed class. That coach will want a chance to decide whether the committed players fit and encourage them to look elsewhere if they don’t. If they’re signed, he’s stuck with them.
Currie must consider these factors as he evaluates Jones. He also must consider the bottom line. One of the final straws in the Phillip Fulmer era was a visit from Alabama in ’08 that featured Alabama fans taking over large swaths of Neyland Stadium. As Saturday’s beautifully executed human checkerboard illustrated, Tennessee fans weren’t giving away or selling their tickets even though they were already complaining about Jones in large numbers. It will be interesting to see whether those people all show up when the Gamecocks visit a week from Saturday. If they don’t, that’s another strike against Jones.
Though Currie will be the one who executes the decision, Jones ultimately will make it. If he rallies his team to eight or nine wins in the regular season, Currie can make a strong case to keep him. If in the coming weeks the Vols look as lifeless on offense as they did Saturday, Jones will be gone by November.
Currie gets paid well to make the tough decision that would lie ahead if Tennessee goes 4–3 or 5–2 the rest of the way. After Saturday’s pounding by Georgia, the more relevant question is whether Jones can win enough to force Currie to have any choice at all.
A Random Ranking
Star Trek: Discovery debuted last week, making it five televised iterations of Gene Roddenberry’s universe. So now seems like a fitting time to rank the top 10 Starfleet officers. Let’s make it so.
1. Jean-Luc Picard
3. James Tiberius Kirk
5. Kathryn Janeway
7. Montgomery Scott
8. Nyota Uhura
9. William Riker
10. Deanna Troi
The Crimson Tide could have named a score against Ole Miss. Alabama settled for a 66–3 win. Even with Georgia and Auburn looking better, the gap between the Tide and everyone else in the SEC is massive.
The Tigers went on the road to face a team they might see in the ACC title game and had no trouble in a 31–17 win against Virginia Tech.
3. Penn State
The Nittany Lions escaped Iowa City last week. Saturday, they throttled Indiana, shutting out the Hoosiers in the second half of a 45–14 win.
The Horned Frogs remain a placeholder for an undefeated or one-loss Big 12 champ. (This, of course, could be TCU.) USC’s loss at Washington State makes the road more difficult for the Pac-12. The Trojans’ schedule doesn’t get any easier, and they have no bye week. Meanwhile, Pac-12 North favorite Washington played a subpar non-conference schedule and may need to go undefeated to make the playoff. If it comes down to one-loss Washington and one-loss TCU or Oklahoma, the Big 12 team likely gets the nod.
Big Ugly of the Week
Yes, Clemson defensive end Austin Bryant has already won this award once this year. But this isn’t second grade; we don’t have to name a different winner every week. The guy who earns it gets it, and Bryant earned it in the Virginia Tech win. He made six tackles (2.5 for loss). He (successfully) covered a receiver. He also did this…
Bryant’s head coach certainly was impressed.
“He’s an honorary member of Wide Receiver U,” Dabo Swinney told reporters Saturday night.
Three and Out
1. Troy’s 24–21 upset of LSU was a new low for the Ed Orgeron era in Baton Rouge. In case you’re wondering, Orgeron isn’t in any trouble unless the Tigers want to cough up $12 million. (Hint: They don’t.)
“We were outcoached and outplayed tonight,” Orgeron said. “That’s the bottom line. We’ve got to keep this team together. They’re hurting in there. And we’ve got to find out why we don’t make the plays that we’re supposed to make.”
The Tigers have serious depth issues on both lines of scrimmage, which seems highly unusual for a program that is typically as stocked as LSU. The loss sucks much of the air out of Saturday’s visit to Florida—which took on new meaning after the schools engaged in a game of chicken regarding where and when they’d face one another last year in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. The Gators ran for 218 yards and five touchdowns Saturday in a 38–24 win against Vanderbilt. Florida lost starting quarterback Luke Del Rio, but he was replaced capably by redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who had been benched the previous week at Kentucky. The Tigers, meanwhile, toggled between starter Danny Etling and freshman Myles Brennan. Neither one worked as LSU dropped its homecoming game to a Sun Belt team.
This week, the Tigers will travel to Gainesville to be a homecoming guest. If the Tigers don’t want to lose a second consecutive homecoming, they’ll have to get better. “We need to do some soul-searching,” Orgeron said.
2. San Diego State tailback Rashaad Penny is one of the best players in America, and one Northern Illinois linebacker tried to slow Penny with a completely bush-league move Saturday. Antonio Jones-Davis was caught on video gouging Penny in the eye at the bottom of a pile Saturday. On Sunday, Northern Illinois announced that Jones-Davis would be suspended for one game.
3. Two Mike Leach interviews sum up Washington State’s win against USC.
This one is from halftime…
And this one came after the game…
For Your Ears
In this episode, Patrick Meagher and I discuss the impact of Washington State’s win against USC, what comes next for Jones and Tennessee and the possibility of Alabama-Clemson III.
What’s Eating Andy?
Rest in peace, Joe Tiller, who died Saturday at age 74. The former Purdue coach brought the spread offense to the Big Ten, reached the Rose Bowl with Drew Brees slinging the ball around and basically was 10 years ahead of his time.
What’s Andy Eating?
When I was in elementary school, the best part of eating a bowl of cereal was the moment when I got to raise the bowl to my lips and drink the remaining milk. Count Chocula created chocolate milk. Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes made it taste like thin melted ice cream. I loved this moment so much that when I was six, I declared I would only drink milk from a bowl. Clearly the vessel created the effect and not the diabetes-in-a-box cereals that lovable cartoon characters had convinced me to beg my mom to buy.
I’ve since learned the true reason why the milk tasted that way, and so have restaurateurs across the country. The hottest trend the Dessert Industrial Complex has cranked out in the past few years is the cereal milk shake. A few months ago, I tested Burger King’s Lucky Charms shake for SI Eats. The base of the shake tasted like a creamier version of that milk at the bottom of the bowl. Still, it underwhelmed because it couldn’t utilize the best part of Lucky Charms—the marshmallows—and still be consumable through a straw.
Tailpipes in Morgantown, W.Va., has figured out that the best cereal-based milkshakes are the ones that use cereals that don’t rely on marshmallows. They have a Crunch Berries shake. They have a Fruity Pebbles shake. Most important, they serve a shake that celebrates the cereal that produced the best bottom-of-the-bowl milk: Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
The cinnamon-sugar milk that serves as the encore for each bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch is a delectable dessert in its own right. Now imagine adding a few scoops of vanilla ice cream to this concoction and pressing Frappe. That’s the Cinnamon Toast Crunch shake at Tailpipes. And the only thing that can make it better is a double Charger burger on the side.
What’s the Charger? It’s a half-pound patty with bacon, pepper jack, fried banana and peanut butter. Doubling adds a second half-pound patty, which isn’t necessary but certainly doesn’t hurt. In this iteration, it’s Elvis Presley’s favorite sandwich with a pound of beef and bacon complementing the savory peanut butter and the sweet bananas. The basic sandwich caught Presley in a trap from which he couldn’t walk out. The bacon burger edition? I love it too much.
Now combine that with the ice-cream enhanced version of the best part of a six-year-old’s breakfast. It might be the perfect greasy spoon meal.