Tennessee Vols coach Butch Jones visits Orange Grove (with video)

Tennessee Vols coach Butch Jones visits Orange Grove (with video)

May 8th, 2013 by Patrick Brown in Local Regional News

UT coach Butch Jones signs Clyde Doss' shirt Tuesday at Orange Grove Center. Jones was the speaker at the Lunch for Champions.

UT coach Butch Jones signs Clyde Doss' shirt...

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

As the calendar turns from April to May, college football coaches trade headsets and whistles for suits and Sharpies.

Since the end of spring practice, it's been a whirlwind of radio interviews and various speaking engagements for first-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones, but he hardly is alone in the spring touring.

He wasn't even the only SEC East coach in Chattanooga on Tuesday.

Hours after Jones spoke at the Orange Grove Center's Lunch for Champions, Georgia coach Mark Richt was meeting and greeting fans at Catoosa County's Colonnade Center on the Chattanooga and North Georgia stop of the annual UGA Day tour.

"It's a balancing act," Jones said, "because at the end of the day it's all about our football program and our players, but with the break now and spring recruiting, I try to manage it the best that we can. But any time I get an opportunity that fits within the calendar, we're going to try to be accommodating as much as possible because I think that's important.

"We are the University of Tennessee, we are the state institution and it's all about giving back."

In the 18 days since the Volunteers' Orange and White Game, Jones has traveled to speaking engagements across the state. The Orange Grove Center's annual event honors contributors to the private nonprofit organization that serves adults and children with developmental disabilities.

After attending the SEC Network announcement in Atlanta six days ago, Jones spoke to a small group there before another event in Murfreesboro, Tenn., spent Saturday in Union City in Northwest Tennessee and begins the five-stop Big Orange Caravan in Memphis on Thursday night.

After a 20-minute speech to a crowd that certainly surpassed the expected attendance of 350 and 15 minutes of autographs and pictures, Jones estimated he's spent the whole day in his office on about half the days since the end of his first spring practice in Knoxville. Compared to his Cincinnati tenure, Jones said, he's doing "three times as much" in terms of his speaking schedule.

As a new coach at a big-name program with a passionate fan base craving a turnaround, it makes sense for Jones to be more accommodating now than he might be in the future.

"I think that's some of it," he said. "I want them to get to know what we're all about, but again, I think it's bigger than that. It's bigger than Butch Jones.

"This is what it's all about, taking people where they can't take themselves and developing them and mentoring them and leading them. That's what we're raising [for] the future. I think all the people that give of their time and all that, the ability to say thank you, I want to be able to do that."

With players focused on finishing up spring semester academic work and assistant coaches handling the on-road recruiting during the spring period (in which coaches aren't allowed to do any off-campus recruiting), late April and May are common times for coaches to make the rounds to alumni events and fulfill the politician or salesman roles that have become parts of their jobs.

While Jones is more willing to tackle a more hectic schedule as he settles into his new position and uses the spring touring to market himself and his new program, veteran coaches like Richt, who will coach his 13th Bulldogs team this fall, can afford to space out the speaking stops on his annual circuit. This year Richt's tour makes a dozen stops from early April to late July.

"I like taking these trips, because everybody always comes to see us," he said before speaking to about 300 fans. "We appreciate that very much, and because we appreciate it, we want to come see them on their own turf sometimes."

Really, though, coaches are accustomed to stepping onto such turfs each spring.

"Obviously being here today, this stands for everything that we stand for," Jones said. "To be able to come and maybe send a message, but just be a part of it, I think that's big. Obviously any time you get a chance to sell the Tennessee brand, but it's more than that.

"We're the state institution, and it's giving back. It's just been a challenge with the schedule, but any free moment ... the ability to come here and spend some time, I look forward to it."