Jones’ fir­ing ‘very dis­ap­point­ing’ for Vols play­ers

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - SPORTS - BY DAVID COBB STAFF WRITER

KNOXVILLE — Butch Jones en­tered the Ten­nessee foot­ball team meet­ing room Sun­day af­ter­noon and said a few words.

The chief mes­sage was a thank-you to his play­ers.

Then he stepped out of the room, his era as Ten­nessee’s foot­ball coach com­plete.

“It was dif­fer­ent,” se­nior tight end Ethan Wolf said. “It was weird for us as play­ers — the first time any of us have gone through this. It was dif­fer­ent.”

Wolf and a hand­ful of team­mates spoke to re­porters Tues­day for the first time since ath­letic di­rec­tor John Cur­rie fired Jones on Sun­day morn­ing fol­low­ing the Vol­un­teers’ 50-17 loss at Mis­souri.

They ex­pressed sad­ness over the loss of their coach and echoed the same mes­sage that in­terim head coach Brady Hoke shared Mon­day, that it’s im­por­tant to play the last two games for the sake of the se­niors.

Ten­nessee’s red­shirt se­niors were the first class to sign with Jones as the head coach. The fourth-year se­niors signed with Jones fol­low­ing his first full re­cruit­ing cy­cle.

“He gave me an op­por­tu­nity when not many other peo­ple would,” red­shirt se­nior de­fen­sive tackle Ken­dal Vick­ers said. “I thank him for that. My mem­ory at Ten­nessee is a great one. I think he pushed me ev­ery day to be a bet­ter player, pushed me to be a bet­ter per­son. I can’t thank him enough for that.”

Wolf said no play­ers spoke in the Sun­day team meet­ing but he knows sev­eral have reached out to Jones since.

“It was very dis­ap­point­ing,” ju­nior de­fen­sive end Kyle Phillips said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a busi­ness and we un­der­stand that, and we’re just mov­ing for­ward to try and get these next two games for our se­niors.”

Florida has lost games to Mis­souri and South Carolina with in­terim head coach Randy Shan­non since Jim McEl­wain was fired late last month. Ten­nessee needs to win both of its re­main­ing games to qual­ify for a bowl game.

“We def­i­nitely don’t want that to be us,” Phillips said of Florida. “Like we said and Coach Hoke has been preach­ing, we’re try­ing to leave our se­niors with two vic­to­ries and get to a bowl game. Our mes­sage is just play hard for our se­niors. They’ve been work­ing hard and made it to a bowl game three out of their four years here, so hope­fully get them to a fourth one.”

Se­nior kicker Aaron Med­ley, who is from Lewis­burg, Tenn., said he hopes the next coach un­der­stands “what this place is and what it means.

“I think Coach Jones knew that, and I think Coach Hoke knows that,” Med­ley said. “So for who­ever the next coach is, just for the next coach to un­der­stand everybody that’s come through here and every­one that will come through here af­ter him and re­ally take it to heart, be­cause this is a special place.”

The play­ers spoke highly of the legacy Jones leaves be­hind. When Wolf ar­rived, Ten­nessee had been through four straight los­ing sea­sons.

Now, as he pre­pares to grad­u­ate, it has been through three straight win­ning sea­sons, though it will take an un­ex­pected fin­ish­ing flurry to keep that streak alive an­other year.

“I don’t know how it’s go­ing to be por­trayed by every­one else, but the way I would look at it is when he came here Ten­nessee was not any­where near where it has been in the pre­vi­ous four years,” Wolf said. “We still have an op­por­tu­nity to be the first class to win four bowl games in a row, if I’m not mis­taken. If we can get that done, he built that foun­da­tion and brought us back to where we were at.

“We’ve fallen short a lit­tle bit in terms of SEC cham­pi­onships in the past, but he def­i­nitely brought that en­ergy and pas­sion and win­ning ex­pec­ta­tion back to foot­ball here. He did a great job. That’s what I would say.”

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