Feb. 5, 2014
By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- The Tennessee Football War Room is a lot like the large conference room in most offices. That is, if your meeting room has walls lined with magnetic white boards, six flat screen televisions and a projection screen that goes from floor to ceiling. The War Room also has a stack of bricks, representing the foundation of Tennessee Football.
The brick display grew on Wednesday, and here's a minute-by-minute look at how that happened.
- Many staff members, including Butch Jones, were in the football complex into the wee hours of Wednesday morning, but the day started anew when Jones walked in the door just before 6:30. After a quick stop in his office, Jones stepped into the War Room to talk with a few of the assembled staffers, including Sara Mitchel, the host of UTSports.com's live video coverage of signing day. Jones is set to open and close the broadcast on set with Mitchell, and firms up the plans as finishing touches are made on the broadcast.
- Still in the War Room, Jones meets with Jeannine Edwards of ESPN, who will be reporting live from the complex all day for ESPNU's coverage of signing day. Tennessee is one of a select few schools that ESPN sent a live production team to cover.
- The Volunteer staff goes through a quick breakfast buffet line set up in the lobby. Biscuits, hash browns, bacon and more provide the fuel to get the coaches and administrative staff through the very busy, exciting and occasionally stressful hours to come.
- Assistant to the Head Coach Chris Spognardi and Recruiting Operations Coordinator Dana Morrison make one final check of the fax machine set up inside the War Room. They've run tests over the past two days, but one final run-through helps ease the nerves of all that have now gathered around the conference table.
- The room goes silent as the fax machine rings for the first time on the morning. Morrison pulls the three sheets from the top and hands them to Senior Director of Compliance Matt Hibbs, who confirms the signature of the first new Volunteer of the day, Knoxville's own Todd Kelly Jr. It's appropriate that the second-generation Volunteer and the closest member of the class would be the first to send in his official paperwork.
- Jones, in the midst of telling a story to those assembled in the room, gestures wildly with his left hand, sending coffee flying out of his custom "Brick by Brick" mug. Spognardi sprints for a towel to stop the spill as the room erupts with laughter. 30 seconds later, more laughter as the "War Room Cam" from the UTSports.com live stream projected on the large screen replays the scene. Jones notes that it's the first fumble of 2014, but reminds everyone that we recovered it.
- Another legacy Volunteer, Dillon Bates, becomes the second player to fax in his paperwork. The son of VFL and former Dallas Cowboy Bill Bates is on the phone with defensive coordinator John Jancek as the fax comes through. As the fax is confirmed by Hibbs, Jancek hands the phone to Jones, who greets Bates by saying simply, "Welcome to the family."
- Another phone call, this from Kelly to secondary coach Willie Martinez. Martinez hands the phone to Jones, who congratulates him on being the first new Vol of the day. "T.K., you get the award!" Jones said.
- Longtime Sports Technology Coordinator Joe Harrington enters the room in a blue blazer that he pulled from his own archives. With the old UT "Rifleman" logo embroidered on the chest, Harrington proudly displays the coat as he walks through. "Joe has on the Johnny Majors coat," Jones exclaims. Harrington, as quick in his reply as he is with his video cuts, responds by saying "This coat makes people happy!" Indeed.
- Jones, noting that many of the players that will become Volunteers today are in the central time zone, walks over to the media relations staff and says "This next hour is going to be really big for us." He's right.
- Vic Wharton, the first player to commit to Jones last December, calls as the fax machine lights up with his paperwork. He walks to a table near the front of the room and, as he or a staff member has done each time a new Vol's paperwork is confirmed, adds a phonically brick to the display. Jones has an extended conversation with Wharton on the phone and congratulates him on his day.
- Running back Derrell Scott calls the staff just after his paperwork passes through the fax. Jones' greeting to Scott is short and sweet: "If I could jump through the phone and hug you, I would."
- The fax machine rings again, this time for defensive end Dewayne Hendrix, and ESPNU is on live in the room to capture the celebration. Jones speaks to Edwards and the national TV audience about Hendrix as defensive line coach Steve Stripling adds another brick to the display.
- Tennessee Football is a family, and it's fully on display as running backs coach Robert Gillespie brings in his son Wynston for a few minutes to visit the rest of the staff.
- The Vols have been lucky so far, the winter weather that has blanketed much of the country hasn't kept any players from confirming their plans with the Volunteers. Joe Henderson from Ohio does have his fax delayed just a bit, but he's confirmed as a Volunteer shortly after 11.
- The Volunteer staff was happy to wait for the fax to ring one final time on NSD14. Legacy players Elliott and Evan Berry held a joint ceremony at Creekside High School in Fairburn, Ga. with a pair of VFLs looking on. The two newest Vols were joined on stage by father James, a UT running back from 1979-81 and older brother Eric, an All-American at UT and first round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, for whom he is currently a starting safety.
- With the class complete, linebacker A.J. Johnson stops by the War Room to visit the coaches. Johnson, who passed on entering the NFL Draft to return for his senior season, was referred to by the staff in the room as Tennessee's biggest recruit of the class. With the haul of freshmen coming, Johnson will be counted on to set the tone for Tennessee's class of 2014 as they mold with the returnees to become Team 118.