published Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Making a splash: UT coach Butch Jones earns rave reviews from players, fans

Coach Butch Jones at SEC Media Days
  • photo
    Tennessee coach Butch Jones talks with reporters during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Wednesday.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

  • photo
    Tennessee's Ja'Wuan James talks with reporters Wednesday during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

"Right now at Texas A&M, the excitement level is really, really high, and that's a good thing. But as a team, we have to hit the reset button."

-- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin on the aftermath of an 11-2 debut season

"I'm not sure. From a person just watching this league from afar and from playing SEC teams quite a bit, I think the foundation of this league was built on physicality and having great defensive linemen. I don't think that's going away."

-- New Kentucky coach Mark Stoops on whether the league is trending toward up-tempo offenses

"We're looking forward to Aug. 31. They disrespected our field celebrating after they won last year. We've seen a lot of tweets and heard a lot of things, so Aug. 31 is the date."

-- Kentucky senior tailback Raymond Sanders on the season opener against Western Kentucky

"This rule change is probably the most significant rule change in my tenure ever."

-- SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw on the NCAA's stiffer penalties for targeting defenseless players

"When I first heard that, to be honest with you, I thought it was a joke. As far as health or safety issues, that's like saying the defense shouldn't blitz after a first down because they're a little fatigued and there's liable to be a big collision in the background."

-- Auburn coach Gus Malzahn on the debate as to whether up-tempo spread offenses cause more injuries to defensive players

"Our kids have been awesome. They've had three head coaches in three years, and hopefully at the end of this year they like me the best."

-- New Arkansas coach Bret Bielema on having to follow Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith

"The lower the better. I think our kids are carrying a tremendous chip on their shoulder."

-- Bielema on Arkansas expected to be near the bottom of the SEC preseason projections

HOOVER, Ala. — Ja'Wuan James admitted he didn't see it coming.

Tennessee's right tackle is just one of many in that crowd.

A far cry from the Friday in December on which he was hired as the Volunteers' new football coach, Butch Jones made his SEC media days debut on Wednesday riding a wave of offseason positivity buoyed by a recruiting class that's ranked No. 1 nationally by one service and a fan base that's embraced his way of running their beloved program.

In a little more than seven months, Jones has changed the minds of many inside and outside Tennessee's program.

In a little more than six weeks, he faces perhaps his toughest challenge: changing the Vols' win total.

"I wish I had a couple of more years left with him, because he's a good guy," James said Wednesday morning. "His staff, they're great, and there's so much excitement in this short period of time. He's done a good job of getting us all prepared. I feel like we're going to do well.

"They've done a good job, especially Coach Jones, of talking about the process and not looking at the end result. That's why "Team 117" is big: We want to forget the past and focus on this season. With them having a winning record in the past and their history of winning, we believe in their process and we believe that process works, so we all just buy in."

That process worked at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, and though it might have been overlooked at the time, Jones brought a better resume -- 50 wins and four conference titles in six seasons -- than Tennessee's previous two coaching hires.

In a short time, it's produced results in Knoxville, especially on the recruiting trail, and Jones knows what's worked so far can't change for the Vols to deliver when the season does start.

"I think it gets back to that relentless approach that we talk about," he said. "We're going to have a relentless approach in our day-to-day operations and the way we conduct this football program, whether it's on the field off the field or recruiting. We've just been following the plan.

"Obviously now the preparation of this football team in August is going to be critical."

Tennessee's three player representatives spoke very highly of Jones throughout their interviews.

Defensive end Jacques Smith recalled his new coach's first team meeting, when Jones introduced his family before talking any football.

"I know for a fact if I was a recruit right now," said the former Ooltewah standout, "that would be the coach that I'd want to play for."

Left tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson said if he knew Jones in December the way he does now, he wouldn't be surprised by what's happened.

"I didn't know what to expect when he first came in," the junior said. "He's a very personable guy, he builds relationships with his players and that's the difference. I think that's why we have all these big-time four-star and five-star recruits committing right now.

"Everybody on the coaching staff ... they're just like Coach Jones. They're always calling you, texting you, seeing how you're doing. When you've got a coach like that, it makes you want to run through a wall for him."

There surely are bumpy roads ahead for Jones and Tennessee. The Vols, retooling at the skill positions, repairing a broken defense and installing new schemes, styles and attitudes throughout the program, face Oregon and Florida on the road before the end of September, and Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama await in October. The perception of Jones' coaching ability may change if the Vols teeter toward another losing season.

Second-year Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze warned on Tuesday here that "unrealistic expectations create frustration," and Jones was asked about that comment on Wednesday.

"I think he's exactly right," he said. "That's why I've been saying all along is we just have to focus on the process. We can't worry about the end result right now. We just have to be a better football team and in a better place in our program minute by minute, day by day, month by month.

"We just have to put our heads down and keep working, and if you do that, you'll like your body of work. But you can't get caught up in all the talk and all the clutter. You just have to have that relentless approach."

It's been enough so far.

"I've never been around a bunch of coaches who bring the same intensity and the same energy every single day, every single minute," Richardson said. "That's what's really getting us over the edge right now. I think that's why we're going to win games."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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