Big Orange caravan makes annual stop in Chattanooga (with video)

Big Orange caravan makes annual stop in Chattanooga (with video)

May 16th, 2013 by Patrick Brown in Local Regional News

University of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones, left, signs an autograph for Paul Finkleman during the Big Orange Caravan stop at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Thursday.

Photo by Patrick Smith/Times Free Press.

University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball coach Holly Warlick, left, poses for a photo with Madison Hollis during the Big Orange Caravan stop at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Thursday.

Photo by Patrick Smith/Times Free Press.

First-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones is reminded every day when he steps into the Volunteers' football complex he's no longer at Central Michigan or Cincinnati.

The reminders are the same when Jones ventures outside of Knoxville, too.

The annual Big Orange Caravan made its stop in Chattanooga on Thursday night, and roughly 475 Tennessee fans came to see a program that included Jones, women's basketball coach Holly Warlick and athletic director Dave Hart.

"At the other two places, I was going out trying to generate excitement and trying to generate fan interest," Jones told a group of media between signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans. "Here, we don't have to do that because we have such a passionate fan base. It's a little bit different, but I think being at a Central Michigan and being at Cincinnati really kind of laid the foundation and the groundwork of having to do it.

"It's just now a different task."

The interest is always there for Tennessee's football program, even when it's mired in a three-year stretch of losing seasons and on its fourth coach since the start of the 2008 season. Yet Jones, with his marketability, blue-collar work ethic and hot recruiting start, has generated plenty of interest in only five months on the job.

The games are still a few months away, but based on the rousing applause he got as he was introduced by Vol Network play-by-play voice Bob Kesling inside one large banquet room at the Chattanooga Convention Center, Tennessee fans have embraced their new coach.

"I think you can sense the energy, and I think obviously that's driven in large part by Butch," Hart said. "People are feeling his energy, and he has a tremendous amount of energy.

"It's tangible. The excitement level is very tangible, and it excites me, and we're excited, as I've said, about where we're headed. You can feel it as soon as you walk in the room. Butch's level of energy is off the charts."

Here are some other notes from Hart and Jones:

• Jones said 46 players finished the spring semester with a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher and the team's cumulative GPA was a 2.8.

"I'm really, really proud of Team 117 and their accomplishments," he said. "I think that speaks volumes. We're going to get that team GPA to a 3.0."

• Jones provided a small update on the statuses of nickelback Eric Gordon and tailback Marlin Lane. Gordon missed spring practice for personal reasons, though he did walk at graduation last Friday. Lane was suspended and missed the last few spring practices for disciplinary reasons, and Jones has given an indication the junior would return to the team.

"We're waiting on a few things before we make some final assessments of where they're at in our football program," Jones said. "That'll be coming here in probably the next few days to the next week or so."

• Hart said Tennessee and Memphis have agreed in principle to a four-year renewal of the schools' basketball series. The Tigers won in Knoxville in January in what appeared to be their last meeting with the Vols for a while due to Memphis coach Josh Pastner's staunch opposition to playing the rivalry. The teams won't play next season.

"We have an agreement in principle that we're going to play another four-year series," Hart said. "We're going to continue that series. We don't know when. That has not been determined. It won't be in the very near future, meaning this coming season or probably the season after that.

"We'll lock that in. We'll turn this agreement we have into a formal contract. In my opinion and [Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen's], and Tom has been terrific to work with on this, we agree wholeheartedly that that's a series that needs to be played for the institutions, for the state of Tennessee and for college basketball."

As for the football series, Hart said it's contingent on the settlement of the Tigers' conference situation. Memphis moved to the Big East for both football and basketball, though the basketball program will be a part of the new American Athletic Conference, which features the remnants of the league that didn't jump to other conferences or breakaway to form a basketball-only league. Tennessee has lost just once to Memphis and won the last meeting handily in 2009.

*Tennessee will construct a statue of former women's basketball coach Pat Summitt on campus in the near future, though Hart said a timetable hadn't been set. When it does go up, the statue will be part of a larger enhancement project for Lake Loudon Boulevard, which runs perpendicular to the Tennessee River neat Thompson-Boling Arena. Hart said the statue will be privately funded.

"That will be in perpetuity a recognition of what she meant to this university, what she meant to the sport of basketball and what she meant to women's athletics," Hart continued. "You can't really adequately put that into words. I think the University of Tennessee has been extremely appreciative and done all that is humanly possible to express that appreciation for many, many years.

"Everyone at Tennessee understands what Pat Summitt has meant to this university."

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