By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 11.29.2016
After the 2012 college football season, some fairly big jobs opened up. Two of the coaches looking to move up to a Power 5 school were Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones and San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre. Jones was doing the proverbial tour. He interviewed at Purdue and Colorado before taking the Tennessee job. MacIntyre was lower on the tier and Colorado ‘settled’ for him. Fast forward four years and MacIntyre’s Buffaloes are playing for a Pac-12 title and Tennessee is again 8-4 and not playing for a conference title. So which one was right?
Under Butch Jones, Tennessee has shown continual improvement in his first three years going from 5-7 to 7-6 to 9-4. With sky high expectations this year, the Vols were never able to put together a complete game. While they did beat Florida, Georgia, and Virginia Tech they also lost to two teams they should have beaten handily in South Carolina and Vanderbilt not to mention being blown out by Alabama. The 8-4 regular season record still qualifies Tennessee for a quality bowl game but the season is seen as failure in the eyes of many.
Out west Mike MacIntyre has not shown continual improvement in Colorado’s record. Going 4-8, 2-10 and 4-9 in his first three seasons in Boulder, only the hardcore football fan could see light at the end of the tunnel. The improvement was incremental but it wasn’t reflected in the record. This season MacIntyre put it all together and turned the 2016 season into a PAC-12 South divisional title.
The Buffaloes got off to a fast start by dominating their in state rivals Colorado State in the season opener. The Buffs built off of that and were able to rattle off some impressive wins even with a backup quarterback under center for three games. Tennessee meanwhile needed overtime and a whole lot of luck to beat a quality Appalachian State team. Both openers were a precursor of things to come.
Both coaches were hired at the same time. While Jones teams showed more promise early on, MacIntyre’s didn’t. Credit to Colorado for giving MacIntyre time to build the program back from the oil spill it was under previous regimes. While he started off on a ‘lukewarm seat’ this season, MacIntyre quickly erased any doubts about his job status as his team rattled off impressive win after impressive win. Jones will need some of that patience from Tennessee as he searches for answers going into year five.
Jones went from being the second coming in Knoxville to ‘is this guy any better than a 8 or 9 win coach?’ His job status will be questioned over the next several months not only because Tennessee didn’t live up to expectations this year with a senior quarterback and highly thought of defense but also because he will have a new boss come summer as current athletic director Dave Hart steps down.
Was Jones the right choice for Tennessee? At the time yes. They needed someone to put out the dumpster fire that Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley left behind. MacIntyre was the right choice at Colorado too. He has built a program with NFL quality talent and a belief that they can compete with and beat the best teams in the country.
While both are right for their jobs, it’s clear that both coaches are at the same crossroad. Both need to go to the next level but momentum seems to only be on Colorado’s side.