SEC Media Days: Light shines on Butch Jones, Tennessee.
BIRMINGHAM—Butch Jones took the stage in Birmingham this afternoon for his first SEC Media Days appearance and by all accounts knocked it out of the park. It’s no secret Jones has breathed new life into the Vol program during his short tenure, but Tennessee’s player contingent helped us understand more about the person Jones is when the bright lights of the SEC aren’t shining on him. And folks, don’t take it from me, instead from the players themselves: Butch Jones is as real as they come.
Vol defensive end Jacques Smith offered a quote which really stood out and inspired this article. He was visibly emotional when offering the following:
“Coach Jones is such a blessing. The majority of coaches just don’t come in the way that he does, not only from a player standpoint, but from a fan standpoint. He’s won the heart of every single fan and probably all of y’all’s hearts as well because he’s just so genuine. He’s a genuine guy. He personally wants to get to know you. He’s a very good man. I’m so glad to have him as our head coach. I’m just blessed and it’s a blessing.”
When is the last time a Vol player referred to their head coach as “a blessing”?
Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee’s senior right tackle, spoke to Jones’ character as well.
“He’s just a smooth guy, he’s the smoothest coach I’ve ever had. He’s a great guy and very passionate. When it’s time for practice or it’s time to be serious, he snaps and he becomes intense. When you see him around the complex just hanging around he’s the coolest guy ever. Everything he does is high energy. That’s attractive to these kids nowadays. It’s attractive to us too. Coach Jones is the type of person who in 7 months has us ready to run through a brick wall for him. He’s that type of guy.”
Vol offensive tackle Tiny Richardson joined in the effusive praise of Jones.
“He’s so personable, man. He’s always texting my phone, calling my phone. I’ve never had a coach that texts my phone at random. When he texts my phone I’m like, Hold on, am I in trouble? He’s genuinely texting and calling me to see how I’m doing and when you have a coach like that, you can’t help but want to run through a brick wall for them.”
The last few years, we saw the Vols come perilously close to winning several big games, only to fold in the end. Why? The team lacked leadership, both from its coaches and players.
With all his players talking about the kind of leader and person Jones is, I asked coach Jones who influenced him as a leader.
“I would have to say my mother and my father. My dad was the chief of police for 30 some-odd years and my mother ran a hospital. So they’ve been in those leadership roles at a very early age. I think, it’s been something that’s been embedded into me for a long time. That’s why you coach, it’s really to change lives and be a part of individuals’ lives and to teach them how to be successful in life for many years.”
His response gives us a window into the man Jones is on and off-the-field. Vol fans, your program is in the hands of a man who won four championships in six years and who CLEARLY understands something most coaches don’t; you can win on the field, but what matters more are the lives you change off it.
Even so, we all know that Tennessee Football is a bottom-line business. And only time will tell if Butch Jones will get enough Ws to address that bottom line or not. But this much seems certain:
The next time a UT team is perilously close to winning a tough game, don’t look for them to hit the wall like they’ve done so many times before. Instead, look for them to run right through it.
Even if it’s brick.