New Tennessee coach Butch Jones sat down with govols247 for more than an hour Thursday night for a detailed, wide-ranging, one-on-one interview about the past, present and future of UT football.
Tennessee football coach Butch Jones
Without further ado, here’s Part Three of that interview.
govols247: When this job became available, we heard from the very beginning that you had interest in this job, so we kept you on the list. I mean, I’m not gonna lie and say you were at the top of the list...
Jones: (Laughter.) “That’s OK.”
govols247: But even when I would make calls about other candidates — some would say more high-profile candidates, in some cases — different people from different coaching and media cliques would say something like, ‘You need to have Butch Jones on your list,’ or, ‘Butch Jones really wants that job.’ And this was before there was any indication that you were as high on UT’s list as you proved to be in the end. Why was all that chatter out there from reputable people in different pockets of the industry? What made so many people so completely convinced that you wanted this job? When did this program really get on your radar screen?
Jones: “Well, it’s always been in the back of my mind. This is a program that I kind of grew up watching. It’s always piqued my ... I don’t want to say curiosity, but my attention. And obviously being a part of one of the top college football programs in the country, one of the most storied college football programs in the country, it’s a dream come true. Since 1926, we’re the all-time winningest college football program in America, so obviously you look at the commitment to winning, the ability to win.
“I look at how much we’ve won in the past. I look at the support. I look at, you know, the education. I just think when you look at all the things that this place has to offer, it was obviously something that was extremely attractive to me.”
govols247: Was there any point in your coaching career that solidified this program’s standing in your mind? I know you brought your Cincinnati team down here in 2011, and obviously that didn’t go the way you wanted it to go, but I wonder what that trip did for your impressions of the place. Or was there another point in your coaching career — maybe something you saw from a distance, maybe something a friend in the business told you — that helped hammer home that point? Obviously this is a job you’ve at least thought about from time to time. I heard that several times during this search.
Jones: “I think just watching it, you know, that was big. And seeing the respect this program has around the country. Everybody knows about Tennessee football. I know a lot of SEC coaches, and I’m good friends with a lot of SEC head coaches, and every time you talk about the best places in the SEC, one of the first institutions that comes out of anybody’s mouth is the University of Tennessee, so obviously I know a lot about it.
“Obviously coming here and competing, and being a part of that game-day pageantry and seeing it for myself, Neyland Stadium is a great home-field advantage. You can feel the passion, the energy and excitement that surrounds Tennessee football.
“So I think knowing that — knowing all that stuff — I think I had a great knowledge base when this job did become available.”
govols247: Tennessee still doesn’t produce as much talent as some other states in The South, but I don’t think there’s any question that high school football in this state has improved leaps and bounds in the past decade in terms of putting good prospects on the field. Many of those prospects, whether they’ve gone to UT or somewhere else, have played in the NFL. How much has this state improved in that area, in your opinion? And how much of a priority will this state be in terms of time and manpower resources? Wearing orange doesn’t guarantee the pick of the litter right now. Even Vanderbilt has beaten UT on a couple of kids the past couple of years.
Jones: “I think what summarizes everything is that at Cincinnati, we started recruiting the whole state of Tennessee. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the high school football coaches in this state. I think we play great high school football in this state, and I think it starts first and foremost in our state. We have to own our state.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a Top247 Tennessee commitment from Clarksville, Tenn.
“We are our state institution. We are the University of Tennessee. So I think it starts with that, and then we’ll venture into obviously the other areas that have been very, very, very important to us in the years past — areas that are kind of like local areas for us.
“But you’re gonna see most of our coaches have a recruiting area in the State of Tennessee, because I think that’s important. I think it’s important that our high school coaches know us, first and foremost, and so you’re gonna see a great commitment come from the University of Tennessee.”
govols247: Are you able at this point to specify which coaches on your staff will recruit which areas of this state? Or are you still working on sorting out some of those details?
Jones: “Exactly. We’re still in the process of trying to assemble this recruiting class. And then once this recruiting class is assembled, then we’ll really sit down, and we’ll redefine the areas.”
govols247: I’m sure you know at least a bit, though, right?
Jones: “I know one individual who definitely will recruit the state is (tight ends coach) Mark Elder. He did a great job of really establishing ties in Nashville and Memphis when we were at Cincinnati, so I know he’s one individual who will be very actively involved in this state.”
Freshman safety Tino Thomas, one of just two current Tennessee players from Memphis.
govols247: Memphis has always been a great puzzle that UT coaches in football and men’s basketball have struggled to solve on a consistent basis — though, to be fair, I don’t think any of their peers from other schools have done that, either. You know how it is in that city. Everyone knows. Everyone recruits it, and many of them leave many times scratching their heads for one reason or another. How much experience do you and your staff have in Memphis? And how much of a focus will that city be for UT during your time with the program? Phillip Fulmer always used to say Tennessee came after the comma in Memphis.
Jones: “Well, we do have a lot of experience in the recruitment of the Memphis area, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for high school football in Memphis. We made a strong commitment at Cincinnati to get in there, and we signed a few players out of Memphis. We were committed to that area.
“And I think going down there and spending a week (in 2011) when we were able to defeat Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl last year, I think that time spent in Memphis was really beneficial for us. It really helped us in developing relationships and getting to know people.
“I really think we do have great inroads in Memphis, and you’ll continue to see us work on those and grow those each and every day.”
govols247: Where do you fall on the patience-versus-results debate? I’m sure you won’t admit this, but this program doesn’t seem to be in an ideal place for any coach to step in and win 10-plus games and compete for championships in Year One, but that’s what a good chunk of the UT fan base will expect, just because of that orange Power T on your helmets. You know what the business is like these days, and you know you’re the fourth head coach of this program in the past six years. You did your research. How much did that concern you during the process? And how much explanation did you need from (UT athletic director) Dave Hart about that situation? Let’s not sit here and pretend Neyland has been full for every game the past few years.
Jones: (Come back tomorrow for Part Four.)
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