Blair Kerkhoff

Butch Jones’ victory sob explains the pressure of college football coaching

Tennessee coach Butch Jones hugged quarterback Joshua Dobbs after the Vols defeated Georgia 34-31 on Saturday on a last-second pass from Dobbs to wide receiver Jauan Jennings.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones hugged quarterback Joshua Dobbs after the Vols defeated Georgia 34-31 on Saturday on a last-second pass from Dobbs to wide receiver Jauan Jennings. The Associated Press

Pick your favorite moment of the college football weekend. It might be the insanely athletic one-handed interception by Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis against Wisconsin. It could be the celebration of North Carolina kicker Nick Weiler, whose 54-yard field goal to win on the final play at Florida State was a career long by 5 yards.

I’ll go with the end of Tennessee’s 34-31 victory at Georgia. Not the 43-yard Hail Mary pass from Joshua Dobbs to Jauan Jennings, who positioned himself and timed his jump perfectly to snare the ball in the end zone.

The play occurred 10 seconds after Georgia went ahead and appeared to have the game won. But an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the touchdown and an offside flag on the kickoff gave the Vols the yardage needed to make the final play happen.

The touchdown triggered my weekend highlight: Tennessee coach Butch Jones ran onto the field and leaped in joy. Then he went to his knees and appeared to sob.

Elation, sure. But that is also the release of emotion from a fourth-year coach who entered the season feeling pressure to deliver a great season for a program that hasn’t won big enough for its fan base.

This is the kind of reaction that might be expected from a conference or national championship triumph, not a fifth-week game.

How intense is the heat? Last week, when the Vols fell behind Florida by three touchdowns in the first half, chatter of Jones not surviving the weekend picked up steam. It was a drastic reaction, but not impossible. Hours later, Les Miles coached his last game at LSU.

The college football season hasn’t reached the halfway point, and coaching security ranks near the top of the season’s theme. No longer is it a season-by-season deal; it’s game-to-game.

Southern California’s Clay Helton went into Saturday’s game against Arizona State feeling stress after the Trojans’ 1-3 start. Comparisons are being made to the years when USC went 19-18 under Paul Hackett, who left his job as Chiefs offensive coordinator and coached the Trojans during 1998-2000.

The Trojans put together their most complete game of the year, defeating the Sun Devils 41-20, keeping Helton’s critics at bay — at least for a week.

Charlie Strong doesn’t have that luxury. As Texas prepares to take on Oklahoma in their annual rivalry game this weekend, job security will be a topic. After the Longhorns lost at Oklahoma State 49-31, Texas athletic director Mike Perrin was asked about Strong’s future.

The response was expectedly vague: “I’m evaluating everything.” But the questions will keep coming as long as Texas continues to look like it did Saturday, when three extra points were blocked and Oklahoma State became the second straight opponent to run up more than 500 total yards.

Perhaps fortunes will change in Dallas. It happened a year ago for the Longhorns, who upset Oklahoma and gave Strong his biggest victory in burnt orange.

Even the winning team’s coach felt some pressure. Earlier in the week, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy was criticized by booster T. Boone Pickens, for whom the Cowboys’ stadium is named.

Gundy responded on an Oklahoma radio station KRXO, The Franchise.

“I mean, I don’t know what to do,” Gundy said. “I just have to do my job. … And you know what? At some point, if somebody feels it ain’t good enough, then hell, somebody else can come in and try it.”

That might be the best pressure-release thought of the season.

Blair Kerkhoff: 816-234-4730, @BlairKerkhoff

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