Brand Butch: Tennessee Vols coach busy reaching out to fans

Brand Butch: Tennessee Vols coach busy reaching out to fans

December 23rd, 2012 by Patrick Brown in Sports College08football

Butch Jones, Tennessee's new head football coach, speaks during an NCAA college football news conference.

Photo by Andrew Pantazi/Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - His name continues to pop up in a number of places.

It's on t-shirts in stores around town and on the Twitter account with the rapidly rising follower count and the impressive web site that launched Thursday at midnight.

Billboards can't be too far off in the future.

From the moment he stepped off a plane in Knoxville and asked to wear a microphone for his first hours as Tennessee's new football coach, Butch Jones has shown he understands the marketing part of his job that shows the influence from his previous coaching stops and his own personality.

"I don't like the term loose," Jones said Friday during an exclusive interview with the Times Free Press. "Everyone will laugh because that's the furthest thing [from the truth]. I am a blue-collar guy, and I'm not an ego guy.

"The big thing, from Twitter to being mic'd up, that has nothing to do with Butch Jones. That has everything to do with selling the University of Tennessee football program, and that's the thing people will come to know about me. It's not about Butch Jones.

"I'm the caretaker of Tennessee football, and that's the way I approach things."

The approach Jones has taken in his first 16 days on the job has been in contrast his predecessor. As the Volunteers' coach Derek Dooley preferred to keep to his own to some degree. Until starting a day-by-day list earlier this week of 10 things he's done since he was dismissed in November, Dooley never utilized Twitter, and there were long stretches where he made no media appearances, most notably the six-week disappearance after Tennessee's embarrassing loss to Kentucky last season.

Jones, on the other hand, allowed roughly three minutes of his first team meeting to be recorded and posted online. Though likely not his idea, Tennessee launched risetothetop.com, a new promotional site with an impressive video. He's followed basketball coach Cuonzo Martin's lead in making effective use of Twitter.

Winning at public relations isn't the same as winning football games, but it can't hurt Jones' perception as he sells himself as a coach to many in his own fan base.

"I think he he has a real grasp of how to manage the total program," Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said the day he hired Jones. "It's a very complex task, and you've got to be a multi-tasker to be a head football coach. You're not only the face of the football program, you're the face of the whole university.

"He's very attuned to relationships. When he got off the plane ... he said, 'I want people to have reasonable access and I want them to get to know me and I want to get to know them.' That's part of his makeup, which is refreshing."

It's also what Jones had to do at Central Michigan and Cincinnati the past six years.

At Central Michigan, Jones was a small fish in a crowded pond. The Chippewas shared the state with two other Mid-American Conference teams, Michigan and Michigan State and the four pro teams in Detroit. At Cincinnati, the Bearcats were in a more spacious pond, but the two biggest fishes were the two pro teams in town.

"I think any opportunity you get to sell your program and what you're doing," Jones said, "you have to take advantage of that. I think working my way up, you start [with] Central Michigan, we had to sell our brand. We had to sell our football program.

"Same thing in Cincinnati. It's a great sports town. But it's a pro sports town."

In Knoxville and across the state of Tennessee, the Vols' football program is the main sports attraction. Jones' own Twitter account is example of Tennessee's passionate, demanding fan base. Jones is the fourth most-followed college football coach on Twitter, trailing LSU's Les Miles, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly and Georgia's Mark Richt with a count that neared 55,000 as of Saturday evening.

On his account, Jones has interacted with fans, conversed with former players and revealed his recruiting travel plans.

"I'll never allow Twitter to be a distraction or to take up my time," Jones said. "A lot of times I'll be sitting working, and I'll say to the individual, 'Tweet this is out or all that.' A lot of it's me, but I just think it's important that our fans know that I'm in it with them.

"We have a passionate fan base that wants to be in the know. That's important, and I think it's great for the program. Twitter, if used the right way, can be very effective, but I just think it's important for our fan base to really get to know me as well."

Tennessee's assistants all also have Twitter accounts, and some coaches are more active than others. Defensive coordinator John Jancek called the social media "just part of life." There's also a recruiting aspect to it.

"Whatever means we need to do to obviously get the name out," offensive line coach Don Mahoney said, "we're going to do it."

"[Jones] didn't ask me to do it, but I've kind of tried to do a little bit more of that," said running backs coach Jay Graham, a former Tennessee tailback and the lone holdover from Dooley's staff. "I think it's good for fans, and prospects see that. That's a good way for the fans to get access."

In his brief tenure, Jones seems to have done plenty right.

The social media activity and interactions with fans certainly haven't hurt his perception. Jones was busy this week making rounds with the local media and appearing on radio stations across Tennessee and in Atlanta. He and his staff have landed two recruits in two weeks.

Perhaps the best move, though, was hosting roughly 50 former Vols at Tennessee's new training center on Wednesday, and two days later Jones said it was "critical" for former players to remain involved and welcomed at their alma mater.

"Our former players, our letter winners, are the program," he said. "They're the lifeline of the program. They're the ones that he the bricks and the mortar, and they built this with sweat equity.

"They're the ones that have really laid the foundation for us to have success. It's all about your former players. It's a brotherhood that is a bond that can't be broken. We have a Vol for Life program, and some people give it lip service, but here we're going to live it.

"You could feel it, you could sense that camaraderie, and I think any great program has a very strong alumni base, a very string former player base that's driven by pride. You could see that here, and we're going to nurture that. Our doors will always be open to them."

For Jones, it's simply a combination the savvy he's picked up as a coach and the attitude and work ethic he's always had.

"It's selling what you have," he said. "It's always been a part of me. But I think those stops have really, really helped me coming into know a media-crazed, great fan base area in Knoxville.

"I'm a blue-collar person. I think that's important, and our football team will play like a blue-collar football team. We're going to be disciplined, and we're going to be tough both mentally and physically."