KNOXVILLE -- Tony Jones admits he'll have some nerves.
But the University of Tennessee's associate men's basketball coach expects neither the nerves nor the circumstances to hinder him in his head-coaching debut.
"Of course I'm going to be nervous, but it's going to be a nervous fun, a nervous energy," Jones said after the Volunteers finished practice Thursday in preparation for today's Southeastern Conference opener at Arkansas (10-3).
"It's something I've been doing for 17 years, and once the game starts everything will be fine."
That's the mindset the Vols (10-4) carry into their new territory under Jones. He steps in for coach Bruce Pearl, who was suspended for the first eight SEC games of the season for lying to NCAA investigators.
"I think we can adapt to both personalities," senior center Brian Williams said. "They've both been here for as long as each other, and they learn from each other. No matter who's our leader, we're willing to learn from them as well."
Pearl traveled with the team to Arkansas, but he cannot be in the arena from two hours before tip to one hour after the game is over. He said he'll watch the game in the hotel room with his wife.
"All I'm focusing on now is our preparation," Pearl said. "I'm going to be doing exactly what I've been doing all along, and I think the kids will feel the normalcy that way more than anything else. And when I'm not there, they'll just step up.
"When we win, it won't feel any different, and when we lose -- and we'll probably do some of both -- it'll be harder than losing if I was out there coaching them."
After dropping four of six games in December, UT got a crucial win over Memphis on Wednesday to carry some positive momentum into the SEC slate.
"It would have been even more challenging if we hadn't gotten some things corrected to turn it over [to Jones]," Pearl said. "Tony was very involved in the scout [Thursday], and everything is going to be the same until we get to the game. He'll have a good list of things that he'll go to."
Jones and Pearl have been coaching together since the two joined the staff at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
"I've been with Bruce so long," Jones said, "things that he's done on the basketball floor as far as decision-making, I've known he was going to do it before he did it. He'll be there in spirit. I know what he likes to get done and accomplished out there on the floor.
"We have a system in place, and it's my job to help execute that system. [The players] know what I can do."
Added Pearl: "Tony should be a head coach someplace else anyways. He'll manage the game, and he'll do it in his own way."
Jones' normal role is handling substitutions and in-game personnel decisions, but Pearl's suspension forces UT's entire staff to adjust. Jason Shay will help Jones with the offense, and Steve Forbes assumes Jones' role.
Pearl said Jones' biggest challenge will be adjusting to the pace of the game.
"How quickly things come -- his ability to get his calls communicated to the point guards," Pearl said. "Those guys are going to have took over [at the bench] a little bit more often at him, and that's probably going to be the big challenge. Things happen fast."
How the staff communicates with the players on the floor won't be the only difference with Jones running the show.
"I'll be a little bit calmer [than Pearl]," Jones said. "I won't be as demonstrative, I won't be as animated. I'll get my point across to the officials in my way."
Which is perfectly fine for UT's players, who are approaching it all with a business-as-usual attitude.
"They're both competitors, and they both want to win the game just like everybody else on our team," he said. "I don't think [anybody] is as intense as Coach Pearl, but I think they both demand respect and they demand effort from both ends of the floor. Coach Jones' way of doing things is something that we can adapt to.
"I don't think it's going to be much different."
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