UT coach Butch Jones: Alabama-Tennessee rivalry best in SEC

photo Tennessee head coach Butch Jones walks past his players.

Tennessee second-year football coach Butch Jones will be the featured speaker today when the Boys & Girls Club of Chattanooga holds its annual "Stake 'N Burger" dinner.

Jones was a guest Monday on "Press Row" on ESPN Chattanooga's 105.1 The Zone.

Q: You speak to players, recruits, alumni and fans. What will be your message at the Boys & Girls Club?

A: "I'm really looking forward to coming down, and it's all going to be about your personal brand and your last name and what it stands for. I will also share some things that are going on in our football program as we continue to build it."

Q: How did you feel about the SEC's decision to keep the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry in its future scheduling, and were you fighting to preserve it?

A: "Absolutely, because it's a part of our football program and the great tradition we have here. I think the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry is one of the best rivalries in the country, and I think it's the best rivalry in the Southeastern Conference. To be able to maintain that rivalry is something that we are very excited about."

Q: What have you told your quarterbacks that they need to accomplish over the summer?

A: "They need to continue to develop, and I thought all four individuals developed this spring. It's consistency in performance and being able to do all the throws, but the big things are consistency and taking care of the football. They have a tremendous opportunity this summer to build their leadership skills each and every day.

"That's what I like about the summer, because so much can be learned in the summer months that can develop players and bring an entire team together. I'm looking forward to see how they mature."

Q: Has the fact that no one has separated himself in the quarterback race been a little frustrating, and at what point does having four guys still competing become a problem?

A: "We're going to have to address that in the infant stages of training camp, because we want to get down to where we're repping two or three. Repetitions are the mother to all learning, but I thought all four individuals did some really good things throughout the course of spring. I think that the evolution of our offense continued to grow and develop.

"The additions of the midyear signees aided the growth and development of our quarterbacks, and I don't think last year was really fair to them because they had to play almost perfect. Big plays were nonexistent on offense most of the year, and if you look at the games we won, it was because we had big plays.

"Now when you add the likes of Josh Malone and Jalen Hurd and Von Pearson and two tight ends, that changes the dynamic of your offensive football team in a hurry."

Q: What is the latest on Pig Howard?

A: "There are some things that he still has to do before we even think about bringing him back into our football family. He understands the criteria that has to be met. It's an ongoing process, and we'll make a decision here in the next week or two. A lot of it has to do with getting our academic reports back and the finalization of grades."

Q: You had Rivals.com's No. 5 class nationally for 2014, and your commitments for 2015 are ranked No. 5 as well. Do you have the same message for 2015 prospects as you did for the 2014 recruits?

A: "Every recruiting class is different, and it's not just the recruiting class as a whole. It's each individual, and every individual you recruit just a little differently based on what they're looking for and your relationship with them. We treat recruits on an individual basis, and it's all about earning trust.

"I think everyone feels the positive energy and momentum that we have right now, and it's an opportunity for a young man to compete to play right away. It's also a great privilege to have the opportunity to build Tennessee back to its rightful place among the elite in college football. We have a great, attractive place and a national brand to sell."

Q: You've been through the SEC once, and the SEC is often called a line-of-scrimmage league. Considering what you lost off both lines last year, do you believe you have the guys who can step in and be competitive?

A: "It's going to be a great challenge. Our offensive line toward the end of spring really started to work together. We still have a long way to go and are dealing with the realities of building a college football program at this level. You win up front, and we don't have the depth that we need right now.

"I am encouraged by what I see, and I like the way our offensive line came together at the end of spring. Defensively, moving Curt Maggitt around was a big help, and we look forward to welcoming all those new individuals in June. It is what it is, and we're going to be forced into playing a lot of true freshmen."

Q: For you personally, how are things different in your second year? Are you sleeping better, or does the fact you have to plug so many holes up front keep you up at night?

A: "When we talk about playing as many true freshmen as we will have to, that does cause some sleepless nights, but the transition has been great. I know so much more now than I did a year ago at this time of where we're at as a program. We have more individuals we can count on, and we're more comfortable in the recruiting process.

"Next year at this time, we will be that much better for it."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.