With UT in deep financial problems, the Butch Jones hire has to work

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The pressure to win and win right away is evident in major college football. But when an athletic department finds itself in the situation like the one Tennessee does, the pressure can be even greater.

The Sports Business Journal released a startling article Monday about the enormous debt, which is more than $200 million, that Tennessee is dealing with right now.

Among the other eye-opening numbers in the piece include the $1.95 million UT currently has in reserves (that’s down from $30 million five years ago and currently ranks as the lowest in the SEC) coupled with the $21 million the athletic department spends annually in debt payments (about two-thirds of which come from the athletic department’s nearly $100 million budget).

You can check out the entire article HERE. It’s astonishing.

There are a lot of reasons why an athletic department would fall on such hard times, but the declining attendance numbers at 102,000-seat Neyland Stadium since the 2005 season coupled with the rising cost of season tickets for a poor on-the-field product would be a good place to start.

“We’ve got to get football healthy,” Vols athletic director Dave Hart told the SBJ.

Tennessee has finished with five wins in four of the past eight years and have never won any more than nine games in a regular season since back-to-back years in 2006 and 2007 under Phillip Fulmer. Since 2005, attendance at UT home football games have gone down an average of about 12,600 fans while season ticket prices have gone up an average of roughly $70 since 2008. There have been three different head football coaches in that span: Fulmer, Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley.

Now, the Vols have former Cincinnati coach Butch Jones. Though he didn’t have the name recognition of, say, Jon Gruden when he was hired by Tennessee last month, Jones has been successful at Cincinnati and Central Michigan. Personally, I thought that anyone who hired Jones would be getting a getting a tremendous coach.

But the pressure on Jones to win is heightened when you put it into context of Tennessee’s financial woes. In addition to the money the athletic department is moving around just to stabilize itself, the school is expected to pay Jones just under $3 million a year as part of a six-year contract. That’s not an absurd amount of money, but it’s not dirt cheap either. Consider that Tennessee has spent $11.4 million in buyouts for fired coaches recently and that does not include the reportedly $7 million that’s owed to recently fired Dooley and his assistants.

If Tennessee fires Jones before Feb 28, 2014, the buyout would be $4 million. Dooley’s was $5 million.

I don’t foresee that being an issue as I believe Jones will have a lot of success with Tennessee. But if he doesn’t, the result could even costlier to Tennessee.

Report: Kent State to hire Syracuse co-OC Sean Lewis as head coach

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The final open job in FBS is no longer open. According to a report from FootballScoop, Syracuse co-offensive coordinator Sean Lewis will be the new head coach at Kent State. (Full disclosure: I also work for FootballScoop.)

Lewis’s ascension to head coach completes a meteoric rise through the FBS coaching ranks. He was a graduate assistant at Akron in 2011, then joined Dino Babers‘s staff at Eastern Illinois in 2012-13. He followed Babers to Bowling Green where he served as wide receivers coach in 2014 and as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in ’15, then did the same at Syracuse from 2016-17.

The site also reported that former Babers staffer and current Chattanooga defensive coordinator Tom Kaufman will join the staff as defensive coordinator.

Lewis is set to take over one of the most down-trodden programs in FBS. The Golden Flashes carry a lifetime record of 321-500-8 and have three all-time bowl appearances, all of them losses. Kent State has one MAC championship in its history, coming under Don James in 1972.

The 2017 Flashes went 2-10 and ranked 129th nationally in yards per play and scoring, beating out UTEP for the cellar for both spots.

Report: Florida State TE Mavin Saunders pursuing graduate transfer to Kansas

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Florida State tight end Mavin Saunders will pursue a graduate transfer to Kansas, according to a report from Bud Elliott of SBNation.

Saunders did not record a statistic as a redshirt junior in 2017. He caught 10 passes for 182 yards in 12 appearances in 2016, and made two starts as a redshirt freshman in 2015.

A native of the Bahamas, Saunders graduated from The Kinkaid School in Houston before enrolling at Florida State. The Jayhawks are losing their top tight end from the 2017 team. Senior Ben Johnson finished second on the club with 30 receptions for 363 yards and one touchdown this fall. He was the only tight end to catch a pass this season.

Scott Frost adds AP Coach of the Year to award haul

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Scott Frost will have to make room for a little more hardware as he moves to Nebraska. On Monday, the Associated Press named Frost its coach of the year for the 2017 season.

Frost received 21 first-place votes and 100 total points in the voting consisting of 57 voters in the AP Top 25. Frost beat out Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney for the award following an undefeated 12-0 season at UCF that ended with an AAC championship and a berth in the Peach Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion. Despite already being hired to be the head coach at Nebraska and UCF hiring a new head coach, Frost has stayed committed to coaching the Knights in the bowl game even if it makes for some long days flying between Lincoln and Orlando as he pulls double duty.

Frost turned UCF football around in short order. After inheriting a team that had gone 0-12 just prior to his arrival, Frost reinvigorated the mindset of the program and led UCF to a 6-7 season in his debut as UCF head coach in 2016. To follow that up in 2017, Frost led UCF to an undefeated season and conference championship to help return the program to a big bowl game for the first time since facing Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl with Blake Bortles at quarterback.

Frost already collected a few coach of the year honors with the Eddie Robinson Award from the Football Writers Association of America and the Home Depot Coach of the Year award.

West Virginia WR David Sills V to return in 2018

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Watch out Big 12, because West Virginia has a very dangerous combination confirmed to be returning in 2018. Days after quarterback Will Grier announced his intention to return to Morgantown for another season, his top wide receiver says he will be there too. David Sills V announced his decision to return for the 2018 season on Monday, giving West Virginia the most potent passing combo in the Big 12 heading into next season.

“After talking with my family and my coaches and taking time in prayer, I have decided to return for my senior season at West Virginia University,” Sills said in a released statement. “I look forward to our bowl game and having another year with my teammates here in Morgantown. It is important to me to finish what I started in the classroom and help our program win a Big 12 championship. WVU holds a special place in my heart, and I am looking forward to seeing what this team can accomplish next year.”

Sills V caught 60 passes for 980 yards and a nation-leading 18 touchdowns this season for West Virginia, leading to being named a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award and multiple All-American nods.

“David proved this year that he can be one of the best receivers in college football,” West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Another season will help him improve in all areas, and I know our fans will be excited  to see him team up with Will Grier for another year.”