Vols’ coach Butch Jones says program ‘very strong’
Tennessee football coach Butch Jones may face a similar line of inquiry along every stop on college football’s unofficial offseason speaking tour this summer.
It started at the Southeastern Conference’s annual meetings Tuesday in Destin, Fla., where Jones took questions from a small group of reporters that will pale in comparison to the gathering at next month’s SEC Media Days.
“When you took over this job, where did you expect to have the program by now?” a reporter asked Jones. “And are you about where you’d like it to be?”
“It’s a journey and it’s a process,” he replied. “I’m very grateful to all the players and staff that have really brought Tennessee football back. We still have so much to do, and it’s all about winning championships. But the first element that goes into winning championships is contending to win championships on a consistent basis. Our program has done that.”
Tennessee contended to win its first SEC East title since 2007 last year, until losses to Vanderbilt and South Carolina ended an injury-riddle team’s chances at that benchmark. The Volunteers won a bowl game, six players were drafted into the NFL and the program posted another strong year under the standards of the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate.
But those things, pointed to by Jones as signs of progress, figure to do little in quelling the rising impatience among Tennessee fans longing for trophies. They likely will do little to curb similar questions from being asked of Jones as the Sept. 4 season opener against Georgia Tech draws closer.
In Street and Smith’s college football preview magazine, Tennessee is listed as one of the top three overrated teams in the country along with Notre Dame and Washington State. Jones is included in the publication’s “hot-seat watch.”
Athlon Sports was a little kinder in its recently published 2017 preview magazine, ranking the Vols No. 19 in the country and including Jones among “10 more getting warmer” behind its list of coaches on the hot seat.
Both publications picked the Vols third in the SEC East.
Still, despite the outside doubts, Jones and his staff, who will be in Chattanooga on Saturday for the first stop in this year’s Big Orange Caravan, have generated momentum on the recruiting trail. Tennessee has 11 commitments in the 2018 signing class. The group is ranked ninth in the country and second in the conference, according to 247Sports.
That’s with a staff with five new or promoted assistants. The new staff members have added expertise, energy and excitement, Jones said. He said they also have provided a “fresh start” to the players.
There is positive energy and momentum around Tennessee football, Jones said in ending his answer about whether the program is where he expected it to be at this point.
“You look at three straight bowl wins,” Jones said. “There’s only three programs in the Southeastern Conference that have won nine games or more the last two seasons. Tennessee is one of them. We’re graduating our players. We’re putting players in the National Football League. So I think the program is very, very strong.
‘We talk about consistency in performance. We talk about sustained success, and we’re having it right now.”
Tennessee coach Butch Jones walks through his team’s stretching line before a spring practice at Haslam Field. Jones took questions from a group of reporters Tuesday about the impatience of Tennessee fans, who are yearning for accolades.