Tennessee won in cardiac fashion Monday night in Atlanta, coming back from a two-touchdown fourth quarter deficit to defeat Georgia Tech in double-overtime, 42-41. There were lots of storylines — the emergence of a playmaker at wide receiver, the play of new quarterback Quinten Dormady and a game-saving blocked field goal by a walk-on special teams player who is working two jobs to pay his tuition.
Yet, it seemed like two of the storylines that were most discussed in the game’s aftermath were the reaction of backup quarterback Jarrett Guarantano from the sideline and the Team 121 trash can that roamed the sideline.
The former — Guarantano’s disinterested reaction on the sideline as the game wore on and he didn’t get to play — has become an especially pertinent talking point in the two days since the Vols’ season-opening win. Jones said in the run-up to the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game that Guarantano would play. Former Vols quarterback Tony Robinson said Guarantano indicated to him that he had been led to believe by his coach that he would play. Now there is speculation that Guarantano — the nation’s No. 3 quarterback in the 2016 recruiting class, as ranked by Rivals.com — may seek a transfer.
The game’s outcome proves that Butch Jones made the right call when he stuck with Dormady during a shaky first half. The junior rebounded in the second half to lead the Vols to the comeback, engineering a 93-yard touchdown drive on the final possession of regulation to force overtime.
But the resulting perception is that Jones — at best — misled fans about whether Guarantano would see playing time in Monday’s game, and that he may have — at worst — misled Guarantano about playing time.
Knoxville radio host Russell Smith on Wednesday blasted Jones as a liar, saying he can no longer be trusted by anyone around him.
“One can’t help but wonder if part of the reason for the chaotic nature of Tennessee football under Butch Jones is that nobody — and I say nobody, media, fans, and now even his own players — can trust anything that the coach says,” said Smith, who hosts The Drive on Fox Sports Radio Knoxville.
“I know the verb ‘to lie,’ that’s a tough thing to say. It gets tossed around a lot, especially in politics, maybe too much,” Smith added.
But then he went on to list several instances where Jones has misled the media and fans since the beginning of fall camp. Among the examples cited by Smith:
• Jarrett Guarantano would play against Georgia Tech (he didn’t).
• Dillon Bates would play middle linebacker against Georgia Tech (he didn’t).
• Daniel Bituli would not play against Georgia Tech (he did, and finished with 23 tackles).
• Josh Palmer would start at wide receiver against Georgia Tech (he didn’t).
• Carlin Fils-aime would be the second-string runningback against Georgia Tech (he wasn’t).
• The defense would rotate “massive amounts” of defensive linemen and linebackers (it didn’t).
“There’s seven or eight demonstrable lies right there, off the beginning,” Smith said. “You put out a depth chart that was factually incorrect and you knew it. So you’re a liar.”
Smith said Jones’ statements have fueled mistrust between the head coach and the media, and in turn fans. He called Jones’ tenuous relationship with the media irreconcilable.
“It looks like it’s a very adversarial relationship. Well, who’s fault is that?” Smith asked.
“What you have right now is a situation where there’s the trust factor,” Smith said, likening it to a relationship where a man cannot trust a woman, or vice-versa. The media and fans do not have the option of getting out of their relationship with Jones — “they’re stuck with him, at least for now,” Smith said — but if things get dicey later in the season and Jones’ hot seat speculation grows, Smith said the head coach won’t be able to count on the media to go to bat for him.
And, he added, that attitude is starting to carry over to the fans.
“It feels like Butch Jones has taken it to another level here,” Smith said. “I don’t know that other SEC programs tune their coach out like Tennessee fans are starting to tune theirs out.”
Smith, who admitted that he did not listen to Jones’ Wednesday press conference, went on to say that Jones uses the media to commit acts of subterfuge.