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 Two of that interview.
govols247: This’ll be fun. Let’s talk about Tennessee’s defense last season. The nicest way to put it is that Tennessee’s defense wasn’t very good last season, but obviously next season could be different. Will your defense be focusing more on speed-based drills in the offseason program with the move back to the 4-3-base look? Will certain guys have to cut weight or move positions? I know you just got here, but those issues will probably have to be considered at some point.
Jones: “No, you’re exactly right. A little bit of your position profile changes a little bit, especially up front. The big thing for us is identifying an edge presence to our defense. You know, that starts with the ability to win one-on-one matchups. And overall team speed. That’s one of the areas I feel like we have to take great strides in, in the recruitment process and the development of our players, is we have to get faster as a football team. That’s one thing that you see when you watch us.
“You know, again, this is gonna be an ongoing process. It’s gonna be a developmental process, but the job description so to speak of what you’re looking for changes a little bit when you go from a 3-4 to a 4-3. We have to do a good job as coaches of really kind of molding our systems at this point in time around the strengths of our current players.”
govols247: This is crazy early, but I have to ask, anyway. Have there been any personnel changes or position changes made at this point on either side of the ball?
Jones: “No, not yet. A lot of those will occur when we get off the road and we finalize recruiting and then give some time for our strength and conditioning coaches really evaluate our personnel. But also us as coaches in our skill-development sessions — you know, things like that.
UT strength coach Dave Lawson
“I just don’t believe in (changing just for the sake of change). Every move you make is critical. And it starts first and foremost with, we want to do everything in the best interest of our players. And so I think you do your due diligence and you sit back and you watch and you evaluate them as coaches. Then it’s our job as coaches to put them in the best positions they can to succeed.”
govols247: Strength and conditioning coach Dave Lawson is obviously someone you feel very comfortable with, or you wouldn’t have brought him with you every time you moved. What makes him your guy? What sort of comfort level exists there?
Jones: “I think, first of all, the strength coach is one of the most important coaches, and the strength staff is the most important staff that you have. You know, 86 percent of a student-athlete’s time, for our football players, is spent with our strength staff. So obviously these individuals have been with me a very long period of time.
“And really, the mentality, the foundation, the toughness, all that’s born in the weight room. You know, your team is born in the weight room from what we call ‘mental conditioning‘ — conditioning for success. And it’s toughness, it’s being able to handle adversity, being able to persevere, being resilient, all that toughness on a day-to-day basis is born there. And I think they do an exceptional job.
“Toughness is something that doesn’t just happen overnight. You have to live toughness each and every day in your program, and you have to demand it. And that’s what’s gonna be expected in our football program. It takes time to develop, but it’s born in the weight room, and it’ll start Day One when we hit our offseason program.”
govols247: Much has been made — and at least some of it for good reason — about concerns that current and prospective UT coaches have had with the UT academic administration in regards to academics for recruits and college players. To be frank, some coaches who spoke with UT about the football-coaching position were very concerned about it. How many questions did you have about that situation heading into your meeting with (UT athletic director) Dave Hart?
UT athletic director Dave Hart
Jones: “Not much of a concern, ‘cause I think we have a tremendous plan in place. We have very good people in place, and people make a place. I think if you look at our track record, we’ve been extremely successful in the past with academics, and academics is at the forefront of our football program. That’s where it starts. It starts with academics first. That’s why it’s student-athlete.
“Obviously we take great pride in that, and our players will know that moving forward. We have a standard, we have an expectation and we have a system of accountability when it comes to academics. You come to college to gain a college education, a meaningful education.
“I’m encouraged. After meeting with individuals across campus, I think we have a support system that’s second to none that we’re always looking to continue to improve upon, and so there’s been great communication. Again, if you look at our track record, we’ve been successful because it’s the No. 1 priority in our football program.”
govols247: What about in the admissions area for recruits, though? Are you comfortable with where those academic situations are at the moment? I’d be lying if I told you all the coaches at UT are comfortable with them. Coaches here have had to fight to admit full NCAA and SEC qualifiers through appeals and things of that sort. Are you comfortable with that situation? Do you feel like UT football will operate on a level playing field with its SEC peers from an academic standpoint?
Jones: “Moving forward is my focus. I really haven’t been on the job long enough to really look into that and really comment on that at this particular time. I just know that obviously for us to move forward and really grow and elevate the program, we’re gonna need the best of the best of the student-athletes out there.
“I haven’t seen any indication at all that we would be hindered at all with the admittance policy here. I’ll know a little bit more as we move forward, but I all I can say is I’ve met with everyone on campus, and I feel like we have great people in place. We have people that want to help us attract the best possible student-athletes here to Tennessee. Everyone wants us to be successful not only on the field, but off the field.”
govols247: Do you feel like you have a good understanding of the fish bowl you and your family have just jumped into as the first family of UT football? There aren’t many college football program that have as much of a media presence as this one. A few are bigger, and some are comparable, but this is one of the nation’s most high-profile jobs, and it’s covered by one of the biggest media corps. Are you comfortable with the inevitable bad moments that will come with that, for you and especially for your family? And how much was that considered before you took this job?
Jones: “It wasn’t much of a concern, because I think when you look at Tennessee, you see a very passionate fan base. I think as a football coach, you want to be somewhere where it’s important every day. At Tennessee, it’s not important every day. It’s important every minute. And I understand that. I understand that comes with the territory.
“And you’re exactly right. Where it affects you most is your family, you know? But for my family, and for my coaches’ families, this is a way of life. This is our livelihood. It’s not just a game, you know? My family, along with our other coaches and their families, they live and die on game day. They live and die with every practice.
“You’ll see my family at practice all the time.You’ll see my wife at practice. You’ll see all of our wives at practice, and our children, too. And I think that’s important. I think that’s healthy.
“But you know that? As a coach, you want to be somewhere where football’s important, and it’s definitely important here in Knoxville. And I think that’s great. That’s what you want.”
govols247: Speaking of practices, Derek Dooley had to move Heaven and Earth to get football practices changed to the morning. Will you keep the morning routine or move back to the afternoon?
Jones: “I’ve been a part of both systems, and actually everywhere I’ve been as a head coach we’ve practiced in the mornings in spring football and we’ve practiced in the afternoons during the season, during the fall. With moving forward, obviously, the schedule’s already in place for the morning, and we’ll continue on that schedule for now, because I think that’s only fair. We want our players to succeed first academically, and so all the schedules are set, so we’ll go ahead and practice in the morning.
UT junior tailback Rajion Neal
“But moving forward, we’ll go back to afternoon practices in the fall.”
govols247: How much mobilization and how many changes will have to be made to go back to the afternoon practice schedule this fall?
Jones: “You know, actually it’s a pretty seamless transition. You know, I think with our class schedules, from what I’m been told, it’s a little more advantageous for us to practice in the afternoons because of the different time schedules and classes needed for our players.
“I think it’ll be a seamless transition.”
govols247: Y’all didn’t let reporters go in the huddle and call plays, but the media availability of your Cincinnati program was incredibly liberal compared to the average SEC program these days. Some practices were wide open to reporters from start to finish. Will that be the case at UT, as well, or does the visibility of this job mean you have to make things a bit tighter? Or have you even decided yet?
Jones: “It may change a little bit. But, you know, football’s football. Everyone has our stuff on film, everyone has things on us, so there aren’t a whole lot of secrets out there any more. But I also think that we have to be respectful of our players, you know, and what goes on out here. But I think as we move forward, we’ll build a trust amongst our great media. I know they’re extremely passionate about things, and I want to be sensitive to that, but also at the end of the day it’s all about taking care of our football program and our football team.
“We’ll move forward. I think I’ve shown a great track record with media, because I think that part of it is important. You know, we have a lot of people that want to be in the know. I think that’s what separates us from a lot of programs, is the passion and excitement that surrounds our program.
“That’ll be an ongoing process, but I’ve shown a track record of working with media. I think that’s important.”
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?
Jones: (Come back tomorrow for Part Three.)
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