HOOVER, Ala. — Tennessee’s failure to win the SEC East in 2016 combined with the hire of a new athletic director heading into Butch Jones’ fifth season has left many wondering what Jones has to do in 2017 in order to secure his future with the Vols.
Even if that talk is more a dull roar than a five-alarm fire at this point, there is talk.
And Kendal Vickers doesn’t like it.
Vickers, a fifth-year senior defensive tackle, said the Tennessee he plays for now is “so much better” than the Tennessee he signed with out of high school, and he said Jones is “obviously” a big part of the reason for that.
Any talk of Jones needing a put-up-or-shut-up season rubs Vickers the wrong way. The 6-foot-3, 295-pound North Carolina native said any such talk is “a little disrespectful” about a coach who has helped Tennessee turn around its program with three bowl wins and three top-25 finishes in the past three seasons.?
“Yeah, I think it’s a little disrespectful,” Vickers said. “I remember when I got here, we were 5-7. I was redshirted, and we were 5-7. Things were bad. For us to win three straight bowl games, and us being 9-4, …I mean, like I said, we haven’t won every game, and we go out there to win every game. But, you know, he’s changed this program so much, and he’s done everything he’s possibly been able to do to change the culture at Tennessee, and he’s done that.
“So, yeah, I think it’s a little bit disrespectful.”
Vickers flatly admitted that Tennessee’s failure to win the East in 2016 — which is what is was picked to do, and almost certainly should have done — was a “disappointment,” but he echoed Jones’ sentiments that the Vols are one of just three SEC teams to win nine-plus games each of the past two seasons.
What Vickers said he won’t do, though, is worry about any media or fan speculation about Jones’ future. And as one of the Vols’ leaders, he said he doesn’t plan to let his teammates worry about it, either.
“We don’t worry about that in the locker room,” Vickers said. “We try to keep everything on the outside (away). But, I mean, it is what it is.”
Tennessee — which is generally considered a preseason top-25 team heading into the 2017 season — is scheduled to open preseason camp July 30 on Haslam Field.