Butch Jones was good medicine for Bret Bielema

He’s in over his head. He needs to go back to the conference he came from. He’s squandering talent. He’ll never take this team to the next level.

Those are the things they were saying about Bret Bielema going into Saturday’s game at Neyland Stadium. 

Bielema’s Arkansas team was a preseason dark-horse pick to win the SEC West, but had lost three consecutive games to Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. After a 1-3 start, Bielema had gone from media darling to goat. He was the only SEC coach being criticized more than Tennessee’s Butch Jones.

Which is why you just had a feeling that the drive east to Knoxville was going to be just what the doctor ordered for Bielema’s ailing program.

And it was. After spotting Tennessee 14 first quarter points, Bielema’s Razorbacks looked like the better-prepared and better-conditioned team, virtually dominating Jones’ Volunteers through the final three quarters of the contest. 

The game improved Arkansas to 2-3. It dropped Tennessee, the preseason dark-horse pick to win the SEC East, to 2-3. And it seemed to further cement Butch Jones’ status as Derek Dooley 2.0. 

No sooner than did the last of the hog calls ring out at Neyland Stadium after Saturday’s game than were the retreaded excuses being dragged out and dusted off from a week earlier, and two weeks before that: It’s a process, players have to make plays, Tennessee is young, et cetera. 

And there is some truth in all of them. But, at some point, it also comes down to one thing: Coaches who are able to put together winning game plans, and that’s something Jones and his Tennessee staff have proven inept at this season. 

It is a process, and Tennessee is young, but those were the excuses for years one and two of the Jones era, when Tennessee was struggling to a combined 12-13 record. Those excuses are also why most logical Tennessee fans — even the diehards who allow their fandom to interfere with their judgment — didn’t expect Tennessee to make the college football playoffs this year, win the SEC or even win a divisional championship. 

But as we hit the midway point of the 2015 season, Tennessee is 2-0 against patsies, 0-3 in big-boy football, and that looks remarkably like 2013 and 2014. 

It looks even more like years 2010, 2011 and 2012 under Dooley, and that’s what’s alarming. 

After at times dominating very good football games before fourth quarter meltdowns in two previous losses, defensive coordinator John Jancek looked as far in over his head as offensive coordinator Mike DeBord in Saturday’s game against the Hogs, and that was the difference. Bielema’s Razorbacks gashed Tennessee’s defense, outscoring the Vols 24-3 after Tennessee grabbed a 14-0 lead early in the game, to do something neither Florida or Oklahoma was able to do: take control prior to the fourth quarter.

It’s also true that players do  have to make plays, and players missed a bunch of plays in Saturday’s game. There were dropped passes, a boinked field goal and missed tackles by the bunches. There was a punt return for a touchdown that was called back because of a block in the back. There was a Preston Williams fumble inside the 10-yard-line. Put those back on the board with Aaron Medley’s chip-shot field goal attempt and Tennessee wins easily. But it all boils down to coaches putting players in position to make plays.

Which brings us to Tennessee’s offense. We knew Arkansas was going to offer up the best offense Tennessee had faced this season, but the saving grace was supposed to be the Razorbacks’ defense. The Hogs’ D had been victimized quite often during the first four games of the season, but looked like a championship-caliber defense inside Neyland Stadium on Saturday. After a brilliant 89-yard drive on its first possession, Tennessee was unable to drive the length of the field again. 

It was so bad that, at one point late in the fourth quarter, with his team facing a fourth-and-short inside Tennessee’s 10-yard-line with a four-point lead, Bielema chose to go for a fake field goal. It was by any standard measure a boneheaded call. You won’t find that strategy on any of Butch Jones’ infamous charts. Conventional wisdom says to take the points, especially on the road. Kick the almost-automatic field goal and overtime becomes a worst-case scenario.

Except that Tennessee wasn’t going to drive the length of the field to win the game, and Bielema knew it. His call for the fake  was the equivalent of giving a double middle finger to Jones from across the field. The fake failed, and Tennessee’s offense failed to drive the field. Game over.

Tennessee’s offensive woes are maddening. The Vols have proven adept at running the football — they should be; they have one of the SEC’s best running backs — but their downfield passing threat is non-existent. That was true against Oklahoma, it was true against Florida, and it was true against Arkansas.

By this point, it’s no secret that Tennessee isn’t going to beat many teams deep. Their talented receivers can’t seem to get separation against defensive backs, and Dobbs can’t make accurate throws down the field. Which is why, if Dobbs is in the game, his legs have to be utilized. He’s far more dangerous as a runner than as a passer.

DeBord and Jones seemed to realize that in Gainesville, and Dobbs was Tennessee’s leading rusher. In fact, he nearly single-handedly willed Tennessee to victory in The Swamp as he turned in arguably the best game of his career. 

One week later, against Arkansas in Knoxville, Dobbs carried the ball just twice. As in two times. 

If that mystifies you, it should. It fits the theme with this Tennessee coaching staff. From when to attempt a fourth down try to how to stop fourth down tries to when to go for two instead of one, many of this staff’s decisions have repeatedly mystified fans, and it’s a big part of why Tennessee’s only win in the last month was against an FCS opponent.

Unfortunately for Jones, the excuses are no longer working with a significant percentage of the Tennessee fan base, nor are they working with a significant percentage outside the fan base. You’ll see that manifest itself in ticket sales and home game atmospheres first, then on the recruiting trail. 

In reality, the excuses had stopped working a week earlier — which is why Saturday’s game was a nothing-to-gain, everything-to-lose game for Jones. A win wouldn’t have excited the fan base, but it would have at least stalled the criticism. Instead, Jones lost far more than a football game. He lost the trust and faith and enthusiasm of a lot of the orange-clad faithful who were still holding on to hope that Jones was the man to be entrusted with the long-term future of the Tennessee football program. 

Is it fair to launch into wholesale blame of the coaches for the 24-20 loss to the Razorbacks? Not really. Because, at the end of the night, players didn’t make plays. But Jones put himself in that position by losing two games that absolutely were the fault of the coaches and the coaches alone. So he really had no choice but to win on Saturday, and he didn’t. No, that may not be fair, but college football is seldom fair. If it were, Urban Meyer wouldn’t be able to fake a heart attack at Florida to escape the brutality of the SEC and immediately become a national championship winner at Ohio State.

Not everyone is against Jones, of course. He still has his defenders. And they’ll say things like “trust the process,” or “he needs more than three years.” 

The process, though, was exposed in an unfavorable light Saturday night. Bret Bielema, like Butch Jones, is in his third year at his current school. Bielema, like Jones, is undergoing a process of trying to build a competitive program out of nothing — and he started much further in the hole than Jones started. One third-year coach got the win he desperately needed on the road, in a hostile environment, on Saturday while the other third-year coach failed to protect his home turf. If it’s a process, it’s stuck in neutral at the moment. 

As for that process, there’s also a first-year coach down in Gainesville who absolutely walloped the No. 3 team in America on Saturday night. That first-year coach, incidentally, is 5-0, and defeated Jones with what might be the worst team he ever has at Florida. 

If coaches like Bielema and Jim McElwain can get signature wins in years one or two, why are we still excusing Butch Jones’ lack of a signature win in year three? 

This isn’t especially difficult. Jones doesn’t have to win the SEC. He only has to win a game here and there to make the fans feel good about the process. He had mastered the art of losing the 50/50 games — all of them. Saturday night, though, he did something new: for the first time in his three years in Knoxville, he lost a game his team was supposed to win.

Process? The only process seems to be yet another gut-wrenching coaching search for Tennessee. Because somewhere through the first five games of the 2015 football season, Butch Jones has made it pretty clear that it’s only a matter of time before UT athletics director Dave Hart is making a call to the search firm again. It isn’t going to happen this week and it isn’t going to happen at the end of this season. But, in the end, it will happen. That seems as sure as a Tennessee opponent’s chances of success on fourth down.


A picture is worth 1,000 words

To better understand how Hurricane Joaquin is influencing the weather in East Tennessee (and, to a much greater degree, the Carolinas) this weekend despite being well off-shore, check out this image loop of subtropical moisture inflow, streaming straight into the Carolinas. This is why much of East Tennessee will see heavy rain tomorrow, and why South Carolina is set for a life-threatening flooding eventWv animated


Big rains in store for weekend football games

The weather in East Tennessee has been downright miserable for much of this week and, unfortunately, it’s going to get even worse as we get into the first part of the weekend. 

We can now say with confidence that Hurricane Joaquin — which has finally turned north as a Category 4 hurricane packing maximum sustained winds of 130 mph — will not make landfall along the East Coast this weekend. Instead, he’ll stay well off the coast of the Carolinas. Unfortunately, though, he will influence the weather for inland areas this weekend, leading to perhaps an historic rain and flooding event for some parts of the region.

Here in East Tennessee, the rain won’t be historic in nature, and flooding concerns should be somewhat limited, but a lot of rain does look likely, as an upper level closed low stalls over the region. With nowhere to go until Hurricane Joaquin gets out of the way and high pressure can begin to seep into the region, the closed low will simply sit and interact with the very, very moist airmass that is in place, and that is going to result in copious amounts of rainfall for the entire region. Joaquin is currently forecast to still be off the coast of North Carolina by early Monday morning, which gives that upper low plenty of time to just hang out and dump rain on parts of the Southeast.

The bullseye for this system remains over the Carolinas — South Carolina in particular — but heavy rain looks likely for East Tennessee, as well. 

In the last update, posted yesterday evening, I noted that the 18z run of the GFS computer model had backed away from the idea of major rain for East Tennessee. But I also noted that it was one run of one model and that it could very well change. And it has. The 0z, 6z and 12z runs today have each been unified on the idea of significant rain for East Tennessee tomorrow. That’s four of the last five runs of that model that have indicated significant rainfall, which is pretty good run-to-run consistency.

Raw numbers from the 0z run of the GFS computer model indicated 1.78 inches of rain for the Tennessee Valley around Knoxville tomorrow, and about 1.25 inches of rain for the northern Cumberland Plateau. The 6z run was very similar to that for the Knoxville area — about 1.75 inches of rain — though it was somewhat less, around a half-inch of rain, for the plateau. Raw numbers from the 12z run won’t be available for a couple of hours, but it clearly came in wetter than either the 0z or 6z run today, so those numbers will go up. Again, that’s a single run of a single model, not a forecast, so take it for what it’s worth. But here’s a comparison of two different graphics. The first is 24-hour rainfall from the 0z run of the GFS (7 a.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. Sunday), and the second is the same depiction from the 12z run. You can see that East Tennessee is clearly wetter, with the bullseye of the heaviest rainfall creeping closer: 

Gfs namer 054 precip p24 l

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Here’s the official forecast from the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center: 

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As you can see, the WPC is forecasting generally less than two inches of rain tomorrow (7 a.m. Saturday through 7 a.m. Sunday) for most of the Tennessee Valley and the northern plateau, with much heavier amounts just across the mountains in southern North Carolina. But that’s an old graphic that hasn’t been updated in a few hours. 

The forecast from the National Weather Service’s Morristown office calls for 2-2.5 inches of rain for the immediate Knoxville area, with greater amounts encroaching on the Tennessee Valley and lesser amounts for the plateau: 

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A flash flood watch remains in effect for much of East Tennessee, excluding the plateau, from early tomorrow through early Monday. We’re already seeing several localized flood warnings pop up in the Carolinas, which does not bode well with all the extra precipitation that is on the way for those folks.

So what does all of this mean for football this weekend? Lots of wetness, unfortunately.

High school games Friday night: It’s homecoming at Dr. M.E. Thompson Field in Oneida tonight, while Scott High travels to Kingston for its biggest game of the season. Rain will be a big threat at both locations. However, it does look like the rain will be moving out by the time kickoff nears. GFS-indicated rainfall totals drop from less than a quarter of an inch in the six-hour window preceding kickoff to only trace amounts between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. The National Weather Service’s Morristown weather field office notes in a forecast discussion this morning that two short-term models — the RAP and the NAM — shift the precipitation west to Middle Tennessee as we move through the afternoon.That’s good news, especially for the homecoming hopefuls at the Oneida-Sunbright game. 

Unfortunately, even as we see a break in the rain, the next big surge of precipitation will be approaching by way of the Carolinas.

Tennessee/Arkansas Saturday night: Tailgating will likely be a disaster on the University of Tennessee campus tomorrow, with plenty of rain likely still around for the game itself, which kicks off at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

By 7 a.m. tomorrow morning, the GFS indicates the rain field approaching from the east, overtaking the Knoxville area by mid-morning. The heaviest rains of the day appear on tap for early afternoon, before beginning to decrease as the evening hours approach. In its discussion this morning, the NWS Morristown office projects that heavy rains will begin early Saturday, “affect(ing) mainly the mountains and parts of the northeast valley and then shift south and west during the day.” Forecasters go on to point out that with two-to-four inches of rain possible over the 24-hour period, “the showers will start to decrease in intensity and rainfall amounts” as the upper low shifts away Saturday night.

However, the latest model guidance keeps plenty of rain hanging around all the way through the evening. While the forecasters at the WPC show the bulk of the rain moving out by kickoff, the latest run of the GFS suggests plenty of activity lingering for the game itself. Here’s a graphic, from the 12z run of the GFS, that depicts six-hour precipitation totals from 7 p.m. tomorrow through 1 a.m. Sunday morning, with up to an inch of rain for the Knoxville area: 

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At this point, there are going to be run-to-run discrepancies in the models. As a general rule, it seems like a safe bet that there will be rain and a lot of it. There has been some discussion on message boards about whether the game will be postponed. That seems extremely unlikely. Shields-Watkins Field will absorb a lot of water tomorrow, but it’s designed to absorb a lot of water — unlike the days of the artificial turf. And it isn’t likely to rain nearly as much during the game itself as it rained during the 1992 Tennessee-Florida game, which I’m sure most Tennessee fans remember well. Unless weather conditions become threatening, the game is going to be a go. While there’s probably going to be some ponding on roadways and perhaps some small stream flooding tomorrow around campus, as all of this rain has nowhere to go on an already-saturated surface, widespread flooding doesn’t seem like a big concern for the immediate Knoxville area. I can see officials at Clemson deciding to cancel the big game between Clemson-Notre Dame tomorrow if flooding becomes a big enough concern there, but in Knoxville, the only thing that’s going to cause a postponement or cancelation is lightning, and there should be little concern of lightning embedded within these storms. 

Again, keep in mind that this is just a discussion of what the models are showing — not a forecast itself. For the actual forecast, check with the National Weather Service or stay tuned to your favorite broadcast meteorologist.


Joaquin’s eastward shift continues

Even as Hurricane Joaquin continues to stubbornly plod towards the Bahamas at a southwestward speed of 6 mph, models are shifting the storm further out to sea after it takes its inevitable turn to the north, and a U.S. landfall now appears unlikely. 

Joaquin is currently a Category 4 hurricane — barely — with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. Dr. Jeff Masters points out that he is now officially the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic in five years. 

As I noted earlier today, the ECMWF computer guidance model has consistently depicted this storm going out to sea, with no direct hit on the U.S. coastline, and the GFS computer model began shifting towards that same solution last night. So after a hit somewhere along the Carolinas to the Potomac looked very likely 24 hours ago, it now looks unlikely that anyone on the eastern seaboard will be directly impacted by the storm. The 0z run of the GFS last night began the eastward shift, from the Potomac to New York City. By 12z today, the storm was being depicted making a hit on Nova Scotia. And, with the 18z run that ran just a few hours ago, it was shifted even further east and now misses all of the North America mainland, according to the GFS model. 

The National Hurricane Center isn’t completely sold on that, yet. It still takes the hurricane to the west of what the two major models are showing. While the NHC’s cone of uncertainty doesn’t include the Carolinas, the agency isn’t ready to declare the Northeast out of the woods just yet:

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The reason for this is that many of the global guidance, besides the ECMWF and the GFS, show this storm further west. 

But as I said this morning, the fact that the Carolinas aren’t going to be dealing with hurricane-force winds from this system doesn’t really change the impact to East Tennessee. In fact, models have trended even wetter for the inland areas as the models have shifted the storm further west. Why? Because a primary player in what happens here is an upper level low that will be hanging out over the Southeast for most of the weekend. The hurricane will serve to send copious amounts of moisture inland. 

Without rehashing all of what I said earlier, the 12z GFS came in much wetter for East Tennessee than previous runs Whereas previous runs had the bulk of the rain out of the Knoxville area by the time Tennessee kicks off against Arkansas Saturday evening, and kept the Cumberland Plateau mostly rain-free altogether on Saturday, the 12z unloaded a lot of rain — more than an inch of rain throughout the day for the plateau, and more than three inches of rain for the Knoxville area, with plenty of rain left over for Saturday night’s game at Neyland Stadium.

The 18z run of the GFS, though, went back the other direction. The northern plateau would receive less than a quarter-inch of rain throughout the day Saturday, according to the 18z run of the GFS, while the Knoxville area would receive only about a half-inch, with a lot of that falling before kickoff time. 

In fact, the 18z not only backed away from the 12z run, but it came in drier than previous runs of the model before 12z. 

As I said with the 12z run, it’s important to note that this is one run of one model, and not a forecast. And the 18z is actually less reliable than the 12z run of the GFS, or the 0z run which will print in a couple of hours. But, with all that said, here are a couple of graphics from the 18z run. First, a 12-hour output from 7 p.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. Sunday: 

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Some higher rain totals inch up into the Chattanooga area on that run, but the rest of the heavy rain stays southeast of Tennessee, and even south of North Carolina.

Here’s a 24-hour depiction from 7 a.m. Saturday through 7 a.m. Sunday:

Gfs namer 066 precip p24

As you can see, this is back to a look very similar to what models were showing late yesterday, with the bulk of the precipitation stopping at the mountains, while it is largely a non-event for the Cumberland Plateau. Who knows whether this idea will pan out, but that would certainly be good news for the plateau and the Tennessee Valley, where everything is already waterlogged. 

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for South Carolina. All signs continue to point towards a historic rain event there throughout the weekend. The latest forecast from the Weather Prediction Center calls for almost 20 inches of rain for parts of the Palmetto State between now and Monday. That is the kind of rain that can lead to catastrophic flooding and loss of life.

TVA takes action ahead of incoming rainfall

The Tennessee Valley Authority is working to lower reservoirs in anticipation of heavy rain for at least parts of East Tennessee this weekend:

In East Tennessee, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is already taking steps to deal with the anticipated runoff from heavy rains over the weekend. Magill says current forecast models show some areas along the eastern side of TVA’s territory could receive several inches by Sunday. That extra rain will find its way into streams and rivers that feed into TVA reservoirs, which could cause them to rapidly rise.

TVA said their river management engineers are lowering reservoir levels to provide additional storage for the expected rainfall amounts. Once the storm passes, they said their engineers will then slowly move water downstream using both generating turbines and spillway gates.

A warning was issued by TVA for property and boat owners to take precautions for potential rapidly changing lake levels over the next couple of days.

As I noted on the previous post, the latest run of the GFS computer model shows about an inch of rain for the northern plateau and about three inches of rain for Knoxville on Saturday alone, with more rain possible the further east you go.

Update: The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for most of East Tennessee — the Cumberland Plateau excepted — from 8 a.m. Saturday morning through Monday morning.


Joaquin expectations shift east

Major changes are taking place with Hurricane Joaquin right now, as the storm ramps itself up to a major hurricane in the Atlantic.

The GFS computer model seems to be coming around to the way of thinking of its counterpart across the pond, the European ECMWF model. As I pointed out yesterday, the GFS and the ECMWF are the two models considered most noteworthy by many forecasters, and the GFS had been consistently depicting the hurricane to make landfall somewhere from the Carolinas to Virginia, while the ECMWF has consistently depicted this thing going out to sea without a serious threat to the U.S. mainland.

Beginning with its 0z run last night, the GFS began shifting towards the ECMWF’s way of thinking, and that trend has continued through the 12z run that just came out. The GFS over the past 12 hours has taken Joaquin from being a North Carolina storm to being a direct hit on New York City to now just brushing Nova Scotia before turning back towards Europe. The ECMWF, meanwhile, has consistently stuck to its idea of an out-to-sea scenario.

It’s worth noting that while many of the global models still show this hurricane making landfall anywhere between South Carolina and the Potomac. But with both the GFS and the ECMWF now off the table for a U.S. mainland landfall, the threat can be considered to be diminishing.

So what does that mean for Tennessee? As of now, not much has changed. The GFS’s solution would keep Joaquin offshore but would still keep him close enough for good interaction with the upper closed low that is meandering about the Southeast, and that means significant rainfall for some areas of East Tennessee.

In fact, the 12z GFS actually increases the threat of major rain for the Tennessee Valley — which is to say areas west of the mountains — despite being further east with the hurricane itself.

While it seemed almost safe to say that the idea of major rain here on the Cumberland Plateau was off the table for Saturday and Saturday night, the 12z run of the GFS is enough to give pause to that line of thought. With the heavier rain totals creeping west, we may not be out of the woods just yet. Flooding rains look unlikely, but we could still see a lot of rain. As I’ve mentioned previously, there will be a sharp gradient on the west side of this system, and the distance between who sees a lot of rain and who sees very little will likely be relatively short. As of now, that gradient appears to set up between the plateau and the greater Knoxville area.

For Tennessee’s football game against Arkansas at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, the 12z run of the GFS — taken verbatim — is not good news. While previous runs had shown the bulk of the rain moving out by the 7 p.m. kickoff, the 12z run keeps plenty of rain around for the game itself.

Here’s a graphic from the latest run of the GFS, depicting 24-hour rainfall from 7 a.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. Sunday. As you can see, 2-3 inches of rain look possible for the Knoxville area:

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And here’s the 12-hour rainfall total from 7 p.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. Sunday. As you can see, 1-1.5 inches of rain is depicted for the Knoxville area, and most of that falls in the evening Saturday:

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Contrast that with the same graphic for the same timeframe from the 0z run of the GFS overnight, and you can see a big difference:

Gfs namer 084 precip p12

Those two graphics show how the latest run of the GFS was a big step backwards for hopes of decent football weather Saturday evening. But it’s important to note that this is one run of one model, not an actual forecast.

Here’s the current forecast from the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center. This is total rainfall from 7 a.m. Saturday through 7 a.m. Sunday, and you can see how the heavier rain totals are filtering into East Tennessee:

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These graphics highlight another important point: at this point, moisture-rich air is being pulled into the Southeast and that probably isn’t going to change even if the ECMWF winds up being spot-on with the hurricane’s track. We’re very likely going to see a big rain event across much of the region as the upper low positioned over the Southeast interacts with all this moisture.

Update: The raw numbers from the 12z GFS run are in, and show 2.95 inches of rain for Knoxville Saturday and Saturday night. From 7 p.m. on, the GFS raw numbers depict more than 0.75 inch of rain. As shown above, the 12z GFS is also much wetter for the northern plateau. It goes from virtually no rain for the northern plateau on Saturday to just over an inch of rain.

Nothing to gain, everything to lose for Butch Jones

A few people disagreed when I opined last week that the Florida game was a “must-win” game for Tennessee coach Butch Jones. But I doubt anyone will disagree that this week’s game against Arkansas is another must-win game for the Vols’ head coach.

Our worst fears were magnified at Florida — not only did Butch Jones lose the support of a not-insignificant segment of the Tennessee fan base, as expected, but his fourth quarter coaching decisions has cost him heavily in terms of national perception. He and his staff have been blasted by pundits and talking heads throughout the college football world.

Both Tennessee coaches and players have said publicly this week that they don’t pay attention to what is being said outside the program, and that’s good. I would hope they don’t. But there are people who are paying attention: recruits. And that’s what Jones risks losing now. 

That’s why this week’s game against Arkansas has been magnified even more.

In truth, winning this game won’t do much for the psyche of Tennessee fans. Maybe at one time — when Arkansas was ranked in the Top 25 — it might have. But the Razorbacks enter Saturday’s game (7 p.m., ESPN2) reeling after three consecutive losses to Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. In fact, if there is a coach in America who is taking it on the chin more than Butch Jones right now, it’s Bret Bielema. His Hogs were expected to be a dark-horse candidate to win the SEC West. Instead, it looks like they could be in a heated competition with Auburn to avoid the SEC West cellar.

That doesn’t mean that the Arkansas team coming to Neyland Stadium on Saturday isn’t a good team; it is. The Razorbacks proved that by taking Texas A&M to overtime last week. The Aggies are looking like a pretty good pick to win the SEC West, but trailed much of the game against the Hogs in a neutral stadium. 

Arkansas will present the best offensive line the Vols will face all season, which means Tennessee’s so-so defensive line will likely struggle. The Hogs’ offense as a whole is better than Florida, and arguably better than Oklahoma. Where they struggle is on the defensive side of the ball, but it remains to be seen if Tennessee can take advantage there. If the weather is as forecast — Hurricane Joaquin is expected to bring moderate to heavy rain to East Tennessee through the day Saturday and lingering into Saturday night — it stands to reason that Arkansas will benefit the most. (Although, to be fair, Tennessee has certainly not done anything with the deep passing game this season, so if the weather takes away that option, it may be more to Arkansas’ detriment.) 

If Tennessee beats Arkansas, fans aren’t going to get excited. There will be no parties deep into the night, no full-of-gusto renditions of Rocky Top as fans file out of the stadium. The reaction of the Vols fans base will largely be, “It’s about time.” 

Beating Florida would have caused the scars of the Oklahoma loss to be forgotten, but beating Arkansas will do nothing to cause fans to forget either Florida or Oklahoma.

On the other hand, if Tennessee were to lose to Arkansas, Jones will lose even more fan support and be further cast by the national media as a coach who is in over his head, which will hurt on the recruiting trail. 

In other words, this isn’t a must-win game for Tennessee . . . it’s more of a can’t-lose game. So often we hear of teams that are big underdogs who nothing to lose. Tennessee enters this game with nothing to win . . . but win it must.

The chances of Butch Jones being fired at the end of the 2015 football season are less than 1%. That will be the case even if Tennessee loses to Arkansas on Saturday. But Jones’ long-term future as Tennessee’s football coach is very much at stake. 

On one hand, you can look at it from a glass-half-full point of view: Tennessee dominated two pretty good football teams for a half. The Vols are two plays away from being undefeated and ranked among the nation’s top 15 teams, very much in the hunt for an SEC East divisional title. On the other hand, you can look at it from a glass-half-empty point of view: Tennessee has struggled tremendously on offense, given up big plays at inopportune times on defense, and would have lost by more than they did at Florida if not for two trick plays in the first half.

If Tennessee loses to Arkansas, not many fans will be taking the glass-half-full approach. If Tennessee loses to Arkansas, the Vols are staring a 2-5 start directly in the face, with back-to-back games against Top 10 teams next on the schedule. And that would be disastrous. 

Butch Jones has been able to recruit well at Tennessee thus far in spite of lackluster records because the Vols weren’t expected to well. The 5-7 season in 2013 didn’t necessarily undershoot anyone’s expectations and, if anything, the 7-6 season in 2014 was a little better than many of the so-called experts predicted. Recruits liked the energy surrounding the program, and saw an opportunity to step in and be major contributors on an up-and-coming team. 

If Jones starts this season 2-5, the best Tennessee can do is 7-5 . . . and that’s assuming the Vols run the table after their trip to Alabama on Oct. 24. The remaining schedule will feature a dangerous Kentucky team, along with revenge-minded South Carolina, and a Missouri team that hasn’t lost to Tennessee since joining the SEC. In other words, running the table will be no sure bet. 

Even if Tennessee finishes 7-5, Jones will have failed to meet expectations. The predictions of 10- and 11-win seasons were always ludicrous, but most reasonable folks agreed that 8-4 would be a pretty good projection for this Tennessee team. But if Tennessee starts 2-5, the Vols probably won’t get to seven wins in the regular season; a 6-6 finish and a limp to bowl eligibility will probably be a safer bet. 

At that point, the criticism of Jones will be deafening from the Tennessee fan base, and the national pundits will have written him off as an ineffectual coach better suited for the MAC than for the SEC. That’s when recruiting becomes an issue. Recruits don’t want to play for a lame duck coach. If Jones escapes this season with anything less than eight wins, his future will be seen as uncertain. If he escapes with anything less than seven wins, his future will be seen as a lame duck coach. 

At that point, Jones will enter the 2015 off-season squarely on the hot seat. If his 2016 recruiting class in February doesn’t measure up — and this was never going to be a highly-ranked recruiting class anyway — then he’ll lose even more support from fans and even more clout from the all-important boosters. 

Butch Jones is almost certainly going to be Tennessee’s coach in 2016, no matter what. But it isn’t hard to envision a scenario where Jones enters next season under so much pressure that it’s almost impossible for him to survive — similar to Derek Dooley after losing to Florida in 2012. Dooley wasn’t fired after that loss to the Gators, but he might as well have been, because he was a dead man walking. 

If Jones and the Vols lose to Arkansas on Saturday, Jones will be a dead man walking. A win against the Razorbacks won’t do anything for the fans. But for Jones and his staff, Saturday’s game is a must if they have any hopes of being able to right the ship. 


Hurricane Joaquin is over-achieving

Hurricane Joaquin wasn’t supposed to be a major hurricane — Category 3 or greater strength — until early Friday, but he is really strengthening quickly this evening. 

As of 8:30 p.m., Joaquin was packing winds of 105 mph — a Category 2 hurricane and well on his way to Category 3 strength, which could come before daybreak, well more than 24 hours ahead of schedule. With decreasing wind shear forecasted and plenty of deep, warm ocean water to pull from, there won’t be much to inhibit strengthening over the next couple of days.

Currently, he’s moving southwest at 6 mph. But as he strengthens, moves away from the high pressure to his north and gets picked up by the trough developing over the eastern U.S., he’ll turn north and begin to accelerate. 

The National Hurricane Center continues to shift the storm west. The current five-day track takes the center of the storm over the Outer Banks of North Carolina, then right up the Potomac. 

That’s a little further east than many models, though. With the exception of the ECMWF, many models are being really aggressive with turning this storm inland. Of the domestic models, the NAM remains the only outlier that takes the storm out to sea, and it is apparently out to lunch. The rest — including the GFS — turn it inland as soon as it reaches North Carolina.

So, does anything change with regard to what we can expect from this storm here in East Tennessee. There isn’t much new data since my earlier post here. The 0z model suite will start in a couple of hours, with all new data, so there’ll hopefully be some updates to work with by the time we’re waking up tomorrow morning. By then, of course, the National Weather Service will have all-new forecasts published. The 18z run of the GFS model, which is perhaps somewhat less reliable than the 12z and 0z runs, continues the same general trend as previous runs — spreading heavy rain through the Carolinas and into the mountains Friday night into Saturday as Joaquin approaches the coastal region, but it’s as though the mountains are putting the brakes on the westward advancement of those precipitation bands. 

Here’s a graphic from the 18z run of the GFS, depicting 24-hour precipitation as of 1 a.m. Sunday morning. As you can see, the heaviest rains (well in excess of half a foot) are back in the Carolinas, while almost all locations in Tennessee are generally at 1.5 inches or less, rapidly decreasing as you move west to the Cumberland Plateau. As for how this compares with the 12z run from earlier today, it had less precipitation overall, but more in East Tennessee. 

Gfs namer 084 precip p24

As for what the 18z run of the GFS means for football, it has most of Friday’s rain beginning to move out by the time high school games kickoff around the Cumberlands Friday evening. The heavier rains associated with Joaquin are already approaching Tennessee by that time, with a rainy late night and Saturday on tap. But then the rains begin to diminish quickly by 7 p.m. Saturday, when the Vols kick off against Arkansas in Neyland Stadium. 

Of course, remember that this is one run of one model, not a forecast.


Update: Joaquin looks to impact East Tennessee

It’s looking increasingly likely that Hurricane Joaquin will be a big story for the East Coast, particularly the Carolinas. Without going into detail about the bullseye threat from this system, the storm could have major implications for at least part of East Tennessee.

The National Weather Service’s Morristown office has issued a hazardous weather outlook detailing the potential for two to five inches of rain for parts of East Tennessee — primarily for the mountains of East Tennessee and southwest Virginia — from Friday night through Saturday night.

Hurricane Joaquin is currently a weak, Category 1 hurricane, with 85 mph winds. That is expected to change over the next 48 hours, as the storm strengthens and begins to turn north. The National Hurricane Center is calling for Joaquin to become a major, Cat3 hurricane before weakening as it approaches the Carolinas. The official track from the NHC takes the storm ashore in Virginia on Monday:

At201511 5day

The big question mark for meteorologists right now is a closed low pressure system that will meander through the Southeast later this week in response to the deep upper trough that is currently developing across the eastern United States. If the cyclone winds up far enough to the west, it’ll get roped in by that closed low, and those two systems will merge to create copious amounts of rain on the west side of the cyclone — impacting a relatively large swath that includes mainly the Carolinas but also stretches back into part of Tennessee.

If, on the other hand, the cyclone is a little further east, it doesn’t hook up with the closed low, which will venture on out of the area by the start of the weekend, leaving things much drier here in East Tennessee. 

Right now there’s a model battle shaping up between the two major weather models that many meteorologists primarily rely upon. The domestic GFS computer model shows the wet scenario for East Tennessee and the mountains, while the European ECMWF model shows no interaction between the hurricane and the closed low, resulting in much drier conditions. 

As mentioned earlier, most other models are lining up with the GFS. One thing that has changed from earlier is the GFS’s ensemble models, which were mostly lining up with the ECMWF solution earlier, are now more in line with the operational run of the GFS. In fact, here’s the current model output for the track of the storm, showing only one outlier (the ECMWF isn’t depicted on this chart): 

At201511 model

As Dr. Jeff Masters points out, the high skill level of the ECMWF model — which caught on to the track of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 several days before the other models, means that its out-to-sea solution can’t be completely ruled out just yet. And there’s still time for change as this storm evolves over the next couple of days, but it’s looking more and more like a rainy weekend for East Tennessee. That’s important for anyone with outdoor plans, and there just happens to be a little football game in Knoxville Saturday evening that could be waterlogged. 

There is a caveat for those of us on the Cumberland Plateau and the Tennessee Valley: there will likely be a sharp cut-off gradient on the west side of this storm, which means the distance between those who are dealing with lots of rain and possible flooding and those who are dealing with much lighter rainfall totals should be relatively small. There’s no way to know at this point where that gradient will be — that will depend on the exact track and strength of these two features. But the National Weather Service’s current forecast would keep most of Tennessee on the light side of the heaviest rains. From the earlier post, here’s the latest run of the GFS model, which would drown the Tri-Cities in around 4-5 inches of rain but would include much less rain for the plateau: 

Gfs namer 108 precip p48 l1 1000x700

So what does this mean for the Tennessee-Arkansas game at Neyland Stadium Saturday evening? Most likely: Rain, and lots of it. It’s still too soon to tell whether we’ll see pestering rains or the kind of deluge that makes football downright miserable. It could be either. For what it’s worth, following are two forecast graphics from the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center: 

Fill 99qwbg

95ep48iwbg fillAs you can probably tell, the first graphic is valid from 7 p.m. Friday through 7 p.m. Saturday, and is showing between two and three inches of rain for the immediate Knoxville area. The second is valid from 7 p.m. Saturday on, and it depicts less than a half-inch of rain for Knoxville. In other words: the WPC’s current thinking is that the bulk of the rain will be on its way out of the area by the time kickoff arrives Saturday. But, again, it’s much too soon to know exactly how this will play out. There are still many, many details to be worked out over the next 24 hours. By this time tomorrow, we should have a much better idea of what this storm is going to do, as it will have made its turn north and, if it’s headed for the East Coast, will have it in its sights. 

Between now and Saturday, rain will continue to plague the entire region. The dry start to fall that we experienced is now just a memory. According to the National Weather Service’s data, we have received 3.91 inches of rain for the month of September here in Oneida, including 0.75 inch since midnight this morning. I consider the overall number suspect, as the NWS didn’t record any rain in Oneida last week between Sunday and Saturday — and we all know that wasn’t the case. By contrast, the NWS has recorded 5.01 inches of rain just across the river gorge in Jamestown. 

Either way, September will close out tonight as a wetter-than-average month, and October will start the same way across the northern plateau. The upper low that could interact with Hurricane Joaquin this weekend will begin its impact on the region as we head towards the weekend, leading to likely rain chances in the forecast from the NWS each period from now into the weekend. That means Friday night football could be bad news, too. Oneida is set to host Sunbright for homecoming, and Scott travels to Kingston for its biggest game of the year, but rain could hamper both locations. The latest run of the GFS model depicts around 1.25 inches of rain along the northern plateau throughout the day Friday and into Friday evening. 




Chatting with Bob Keeling, Voice of the Vols.

The Independent Herald was inducted into the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Cumberland Plateau’s Hall of Fame last night as the “Business of the Year.” 

This caps a year that also saw us receive the “General Excellence” award as the top award-winning newspaper in our circulation group at the annual Tennessee Press Association/University of Tennessee Press Contests. 

It is always an honor when hard work doesn’t go unrecognized. But the awards don’t signify what we’ve accomplished. Rather, they demonstrate what we’re capable of. The Independent Herald is beginning its 40th year of community service in Big South Fork Country, and hopefully there’ll be 40 more — and many more than that. Long-range forecasts remain bleak for print journalism, but community newspapers serve a well-defined niche, and the communities they cover would be worse off without them. I’m almost certain I won’t be here for the entirety of the next 40 years, but I’m here for now, and that’s good enough for me.

One question I’ve been asked many times is, “How long until you move to a bigger newspaper somewhere else?” The truth is that I’ve had offers. And I’ve had the opportunity to pursue jobs outside the print journalism industry. No one knows what tomorrow holds, but to this point I’ve been happy to turn down other job opportunities to stay right where I’m at. Anyone can choose a job, but there’s something to be said for being able to choose your home.


At the introduction of the inductees and award recipients, alongside Esther Abbott (elected official) and Larry Brooks (coach/youth mentor).