Like watching a group of children playing Ring Around the Roses, fans of the Tennessee Volunteers are observing a team that seems to be singing “We All Fall Down”. I am not an alarmist by nature, and this pales in comparison to other things in the news, but a series of incidental reports out of Knoxville lead to a reasonable wondering if Coach Butch Jones’ program might be crumbling around him, brick-by-brick. As the Washington Post reported this morning: Tennessee Players Seem to be Revolting.
This morning, Jones confirmed rumors that star Running Back, Jalen Hurd – certain to be a high round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, should he choose to make himself available – has announced his plans to transfer immediately from the University of Tennessee. This coincides with a somewhat cryptic Tweet by highly touted, though under-performing, Defensive Lineman Jonathan Kongbo, that suggests he may be thinking of hanging up his cleats, barely a half-season with the Volunteers. On top of that, another highly touted but under-performing underclassman, Receiver Preston Williams, had left the team a month ago, announcing plans to transfer; though he is reportedly still enrolled and taking classes at UT.
Defections happen from every school. A single defection like one these would be disappointing to any team, and to any fan base. But these coming together – at mid season – they are startling.
Even focusing just on Hurd, things don’t add up. And Jones’ response sounds only like spin, from a coach who already far too often, and for far too long, has sounded like a used car salesman. While I do not know the man, and therefore my opinion may be somewhat unfair, I don’t expect to hear the truth out of Butch Jones any more than I expect to hear it from Hillary Clinton.
Hurd is transferring, though a Junior, to play one season at some other school. Again, he is a freakishly gifted athlete, one any NFL scout would drool over adding to a roster. So why not just finish out the season, and go to the NFL – just as everyone expected he would do after this season anyway? Now perhaps Hurd wants to graduate from college before beginning his NFL career. If so, he ought to be applauded for such an exemplary illustration of priorities as a student-athlete – student first. The problem with such a scenario is that Hurd will be ineligible to play for another school next season, unless he transfers to a school in a lower NCAA classification. It’s possible, but unlikely. Of course, if Hurd has already graduated, or if he will graduate this Winter or Spring, then he would be eligible to play at another school. But if he has already graduated, and now wants to leave the school where he grew up dreaming of playing, why would he want to play at some other school rather than taking the next step into the NFL?
Hurd is reported to have said he wants to play a different position – Receiver, or Tight End, or H-Back; one where his body would not take the same kind of pounding it does as a Running Back. While he is an All America talent as a Running Back, he would be an awe striking Tight End or Receiver. So again, why not just make the transition in the NFL? Plenty of guys change positions when they get to the next level. Someone with Hurd’s natural gifts would make such a transition more easily than most. Further, he is not likely to make himself more money by playing receiver at Chattanooga or Tennessee State for a single season. NFL Teams will take him for his natural abilities, with or without the year of seasoning at the FCS level.
While players leave programs everywhere, for a variety of reasons, Hurd’s situation seems suspicious. Like many of his teammates this season at Tennessee, Hurd has been hurt. However, unlike his teammates Hurd’s injuries have remained undisclosed, while those of all the others are chronicled. Further, other injured players have traveled with the team for games on the road. Hurd, however, stayed home when the Volunteers played at Texas A&M a few weeks ago. No reasons for the differences in treatment were offered. This itself is not wrong, as we have no right to personal information about private individuals, but it is suspicious. Yet, in that instance, not only was Butch Jones tight-lipped, he offered contradictory reports about Hurd’s injuries. Again, suspicious. So when coupling the loss of Preston Williams and the potential loss of Jonathan Kongbo with the odd developments of Jalen Hurd’s departure, it causes many to wonder – and some to fear – that the house Butch Jones has been building may be showing serious signs of crumbling.
I will finish with this: I am not against Butch Jones; nor would I suggest that at this point his job ought to be in jeopardy. But there is enough suspicious activity, combined with a coach who to date has mostly shown himself to be a salesman, to wonder if there is something going on behind the curtain that will eventually show these recent events to be just the tip of a devastatingly large Orange iceberg destined to sink the hopes and hearts of Tennessee alumni and fans – not to mention the Volunteer Navy.