Wednesday, January 6, 2016

UT's Jones believes being pretty good isn't good enough

In the days leading up to Tennessee's Outback Bowl appearance, Vols coach Butch Jones spoke about his plan to "continue to evaluate everything, from A to Z ..."

The letter Jones wound up focusing on was D -- defense.

In parting ways with defensive coordinator John Jancek on Wednesday, Jones sent the message that pretty good is no longer good enough at UT. As the Vols enter the offseason, Jones recognized the need for a defensive upgrade, beginning at the top.

Considering Jancek's track record, it's hard to believe Jones made the move without already having identified his next defensive coordinator. The most likely name out there is Bob Shoop, who has been a fixture on James Franklin's staffs at both Vanderbilt and Penn State.

As for Jancek, give him credit. He arrived with Jones at UT in 2013 and took over a defense that was in total disarray after the failed Sal Sunseri experiment under Derek Dooley in 2012. He got a lot out of an undermanned defense.

Although the 2013 Vols defense lacked overall speed and athleticism, Jancek made the unit competitive in most games. UT's defense got better in 2014.

This season, UT's defense ranked No. 16 nationally in points allowed -- 20 per game. But the Vols struggled at times with missed tackles and blown assignments. They had crucial fourth-down gaffes that contributed to losses to Oklahoma and Florida.

All told, UT failed to hold double-digit leads in three of their four losses this season. And while offensive breakdowns contributed to those come-from-ahead losses, Jancek's defense was the primary culprit.

All in all, this is a defining moment for Jones. With such great expectations already pinned on the Vols for the 2016 season, he could have stuck with a defensive coordinator whose system the returning players understand.

Instead, Jones is swinging for the fences. With a loaded roster on both sides of the ball, he is trusting that the defense will be further upgraded with the hiring of a new coordinator.

It's a high-risk, high-reward gamble for a head coach that is proving he is willing to take chances.

Reach David Climer on Twitter @DavidClimer.


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