Tennessee fired coach Butch Jones on Sunday with two games left in a regular season in which the Volunteers started ranked but are now still winless in the Southeastern Conference.
Vols athletic director John Currie said defensive line coach Brady Hoke would serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Jones’s firing comes one day after Tennessee (4-6, 0-6) fell at Missouri, 50-17, for its fifth loss in six games.
‘‘Late last night it was evident this was probably the direction we needed to go for the best of all concerned,’’ Currie said at a Sunday news conference. ‘‘We have two games left to play. We wanted our student-athletes to have the best possible chance for success. We want Coach Jones and his family to be treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. We want to be able to focus, from my perspective, on the search going forward.
‘‘None of us want to be in this position. But we are in this position, and now we move forward.’’
Jones went 34-27 overall and 14-24 in the SEC over five seasons. He led the Vols to bowl victories each of the last three years before the program took a giant step backward this fall.
Currie now must begin a coaching search just 7½ months after taking over as Tennessee’s athletic director. Currie said he was looking for someone ‘‘with the highest integrity and character, with the skills and vision to propel Tennessee to championships.’’
‘‘We expect our coach to have the dynamics that would enable him to lead us to where we know Tennessee football can and should be,’’ Currie said. ‘‘Our coach needs to know what that looks like.’’
Jones was making $4.1 million annually and has a contract that runs through Feb. 28, 2021. According to the letter of dismissal Currie sent Sunday, the school owes Jones a buyout of more than $8.26 million. Currie said that the buyout for the entire staff is in the ‘‘$13 million range,’’ though that figure could be mitigated depending on when and where Jones and his assistants are able to find work.
Jones inherited a program that had posted three straight losing seasons under coach Derek Dooley. The Vols went 5-7 for a fourth straight losing season in Jones’s debut year but followed that up by going 7-6 in 2014 and posting consecutive 9-4 finishes the last two years.
But he couldn’t get the Vols an SEC East title even during an era when rivals Florida and Georgia have been in transition.
Tennessee hasn’t reached the SEC championship game since 2007 and hasn’t won a conference title since its 1998 national championship season. Tennessee was picked to win the East last year but stumbled after a 5-0 start.
Then everything went south this year.
Tennessee, which opened the season ranked 25th, has lost its first six SEC games by an average margin of 21.2 points. That stretch includes a 41-0 loss to Georgia that marked the Vols’ most lopsided home defeat since 1905. One month later, Tennessee lost, 29-26, at Kentucky, which represented just the second time the Vols had fallen to the Wildcats in their last 33 meetings.
Jones did enable Tennessee to make some notable advances
Under Jones’s watch, Tennessee’s football program dramatically improved its Academic Progress Rate, which had been so low at the start of his tenure that the school was at risk of facing penalties. Tennessee’s average home attendance climbed from 89,965 the year before Jones’s arrival to 100,968 last season. Attendance is at 98,090 so far this year.
The major off-field issue during Jones’s tenure was a Title IX lawsuit filed against the school last year by eight unidentified women accusing Tennessee of having a ‘‘hostile sexual environment’’ through a policy of indifference toward assaults by athletes. The suit was settled for $2.48 million in July 2016.
Miami jumps to No. 2
Miami is back at No. 2 in the Associated Press college football poll, the Hurricanes’ best ranking since 2003.
The undefeated Hurricanes leaped five spots from No. 7 after routing Notre Dame, 41-8, on Saturday night. Alabama remained No. 1, where it has been since the preseason, getting 57 first-place votes. Miami received the other four first-place votes.
Oklahoma moved up to two spots to No. 3, jumping Clemson, which remained No. 4. Unbeaten Wisconsin moved up a spot to No. 5.
Three matchups of top-10 teams on Saturday produced lopsided victories for the home teams, including Miami over Notre Dame. The Irish dropped six spots to No. 9.
Auburn moved up to No. 6 after beating Georgia. The Bulldogs fell from second to seventh. TCU dropped out of the top 10 after losing at Oklahoma.
Auburn has rebounded strongly from blowing a 20-point lead in a a loss to LSU on Oct. 14, soaring back into Southeastern Conference and playoff contention. A 40-17 dismantling Saturday of No. 7 Georgia, which came into the game atop the playoff rankings, proved how far they’ve come.
It certainly wasn’t the end of Auburn’s season.
‘‘That was an extremely tough loss,’’ coach Gus Malzahn said. ‘‘When you face adversity, you either get better from it or you fold your tent. Our team got better from it. We’ve played really good football since then.
‘‘Our guys have been urgent. We’ve been talking about championship urgency the last three weeks, and they’re doing it. They carried it over to the field [Saturday] against one of the better teams in America. We beat them soundly.’’
Arkansas QB arrested
Arkansas quarterback Cole Kelley has been arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, careless driving and other offenses in Fayetteville.
A report filed by the Fayetteville Police Department says the 20-year-old redshirt freshman was booked at 8:47 a.m. Sunday. Bond for Kelly was set at $935, and records indicate Kelly was released from the Washington County Jail at 11:46 a.m.
The police report says Kelley refused to take a breath test. Records indicate an initial court hearing for Kelley is scheduled for Monday.
In a statement, Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema says he’s aware of the incident involving Kelley and that the university is gathering information.
Kelley played in the fourth quarter in Arkansas’s 33-10 loss to LSU on Saturday. He has 1,038 passing yards, 8 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions this season.