Feb. 6, 2013
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
"Good afternoon, everyone. It's an exciting day in our Tennessee football program as we welcome 21 individuals into our football family. There's a lot that goes into a recruiting class, and there's a lot of great people here at UT that have done a great job of helping us assemble our recruiting class. I'd like to start off by thanking our coaches. I thought they did a tremendous job of helping and building relationships during a very short period of time-31 days to be exact, with the permissible recruiting days that we've had to assemble this class. Recruiting is a relationship business. With all the challenges and obstacles, they did a great job of assembling a class that I think will represent the University of Tennessee not only on the field but off the field. I'm very proud of these individuals for showing their loyalty and their belief in our football program, but also respecting the values and traditions associated with this program. A lot of things go into it, including our coaches' wives. The many trips all over the country to be involved in the recruiting weekends, the ice storms, all the things of getting them to Knoxville. Also the people in the university community, starting with Dave Hart to the many professors and administrative staff; the academic support services. They all do a tremendous job here at Tennessee."
"The other thing is our fans. Our fans do a great job of creating a lot of positive energy and pride relative to the importance and the magnitude that Tennessee football and our football program has to the State of Tennessee and the entire country. Lastly, couldn't have done it without the Tennessee Air Force-all the great donors who lend us their planes to help us with plane travel. We put extra miles on in these 31 days, and I would be remiss if I didn't bring them up at this time."
"The challenge begins now to develop these individuals on a day-to-day basis to make sure they're better football players, better people, and better students because they're part of our football program. Everyone wants to win the recruiting battles, but what we forget is these are 17- or 18-year-old individuals who have never taken a snap of college football, so to sit here and say who's going to start as true freshman, who will play right away will be directly dictated by how they develop. For those of us who have been around, we all know that each individual develops and matures at a different level. Each has a different skill set. The other challenging part of assembling this class and coming in with this staff was identifying the needs of this football program. How many scholarships did we have to give? How many linemen did we need? How many quarterbacks did we need? That process then became finding and identifying the talent."
"We were extremely selective in this process. This is our third time doing this. I think a lot of times when you're late, you tend to offer scholarships that you look back and wish you had kept. We were extremely selective in the process. We had a formula for the type of player that we need to attract here in Knoxville. I think we were able to attract high level character players, and that was the foundation. A lot of coaches say, "We're going to live it every day in our football program. It stems with a passion for a college degree and a family background. And then, do they fit in? Do they fit the criteria we're looking for? We're very fortunate and blessed to have five individuals who have joined our program immediately. They've graduated high school and they're in our strength and conditioning program now. I'm going to test them in their speaking skills and introduce themselves. (Corey Vereen, Winter Garden, FL; Riyadh Jones, Columbus, GA; Paul Harris, Acokeek, MD; Lemond Johnson, Cooper City, FL) We have the fifth addition who's being a student-athlete right now and attending class. With that, I'll answer any questions."
(On being frantic or calm in the process)
"Well, we've been there. There's nothing and no substitute for experience. This is our third time coming in. We were able to hit the ground running, and it was a seamless transition because we have been together for so long. We assembled the staff very quickly, but then the recruiting restrictions and recruiting calendar... You think of 31 days to assemble a staff, but you're only allowed one visit a week and one visit per prospect by the head coach. So not only getting them up here on official visits, but getting some individuals back on multiple visits and unofficial visits. A lot of these individuals were committed-eight of them were committed to other institutions, and now you're trying to undo a year or two of relationships in 31 days. That's why I think our staff and wives are so associated with our football program and did a fantastic job. I think the process is not just the coaches. It's a community; it's a fan-base. You'd be amazed at the amount of individuals with parents who will come a day early and they just walk around the town. They'll walk in and ask directions at a gas station. The way our fans and Knoxville greets recruits is very special and unique to Knoxville. The fanbase and the people in this area did a great job."
(On the SEC compared to other conferences)
"Everything is competitive in the SEC. You go to work and its fourth-and-one for the Super Bowl. Our coaches understand that. Recruiting is a daily process; it's an hour-by-hour process. The one thing that you can't put a pricetag on is relationships. Recruiting is a relationship business, and you're trying to work as fast as you can to build those relationships. Secondly, at UT we have a great brand. It's a national brand. I think the opportunity to play for it, getting them on campus was the biggest thing. Once they got on campus, they could feel the energy and the excitement that surrounds the program. But it was a challenge. Like we said, every great program goes through its trials and tribulations and storms. The storms are gone. You can see the sunshine coming through the clouds; that's what we sold. I think the prospects and the parents, once they came to campus, could feel that. I think our players did a great job of hosting these individuals. Once they came on campus, they were sharing what they had gone through in the short time we've been their coaches."
(On Vonn Bell)
"We spent the same amount of time on Vonn Bell that we did on any of our individuals in recruiting. With the recruiting calendar, you're limited. But we put as much effort into him as anyone. I'd really rather talk about our Volunteers and these signees than someone else's players."
(On getting quarterbacks)
"I"m excited. Trent Dilfer is a great friend of mine and he texted me and said, "We feel you have the best recruiting class in terms of quarterbacks in the country." So, Mike Bajakian, you have a lot of expectations surrounding you. To get two Elite-11 quarterbacks...I'm ecstatic. You look at the unusual situation at Tennessee where we only have two quarterbacks on scholarship; I've never heard of that. I think that alone was an attractive situation. Obviously, Riley [Ferguson] was committed to us. We went back and watched everything. I love everything he's about. He's a competitor. I believe he's only lost one football game in his career as a starting quarterback. We went and watched him practice basketball; he's extremely competitive. We're excited about him. Josh Dobbs...to be able to add an individual like that to your recruiting class. He's a 4.0 student; he wants aeronautical engineering. He's brilliant. Their two skill sets really compliment each other. Everything about building a football program is about competition. The quarterback is the most important position on the field, so to be able to have that competitive environment each and every day will be extremely healthy for our football team."
(On if he expects to sign anyone else)
"Again, like I told you, we were extremely selective and we will continue to recruit. It will be an ongoing process. If we can find a prospective student-athlete that fits our profile of what we want, we will recruit him."
(On formula for recruiting)
"There's a number of things that really comprise the formula. First and foremost is, I spoke about it earlier, is character. We researched the backgrounds of every individual in our program. Recruiting is such an accelerated process that that can be challenging at times. But really getting into high schools, talking to everyone, researching everyone, their backgrounds, their character, their competitive makeup. Do they have a passion to gain a college education? Do they have a passion to play college football? Because it's different with all the time demands. Then you get into position specifics: height, weight and different skill sets by position. You know, it's a process in and of itself, and that's something I thought our coaches did a good job of evaluating the prospects we thought we really needed to lay the foundation for many years to come and it will start with this signing class."
(On if Tennessee brand was received as he thought it would in recruiting)
"I think the big thing is getting them on campus. Once you get an individual on campus, this place is an easy sell. You look at the academic reputation. You take them to a basketball game. They see the passionate fan base we have. The facilities. The opportunity to play in front of 100,000 people every home game. The Vol Walk. And then the brand-new football training center. Again, you have all that but I go back to people make a place. We have tremendous people here at the University of Tennessee, so the big thing was to get them to campus."
(On if he had to do any "re-branding" with perception vs. reality)
"Everything is about selling and selling your product. Again, we have a great product to be sold, but we have to tell our story. I still say it: since 1927, we're the all-time winningest college football program in America. You look at all our great former players. You look at current NFL players and the Pro Bowl roster. You look at all that that surrounds our football program, but we have to do a great job of getting that story out.
"I said it and I'll continue to say it from my introductory press conference: we have to own the state of Tennessee. We're the one institution that says 'Tennessee.' Now we have to own our state. Now, there's an onus on us to recruit the state, and there's an onus on the prospective student-athletes to want to come to the University of Tennessee and represent their state."
(On if he made up ground in the in-state recruiting front and relationship building)
"I feel we made up a lot of ground. There's a number of days where I specifically stayed in certain areas of the state to build those relationships, so I'm very encouraged. We've already had one junior day and we'll have about eight more junior days. Recruiting is every day, and we have a great, tremendous brand here. Our coaches have done a great job of getting our recruits to campus. I think we've made really great inroads with really establishing the relationship and sharing the vision of what we have for Tennessee Football."
(On if he saw a lack of passion to come play at Tennessee)
"I think each individual has his own different recruiting checklist. There's no cookie cutter approach to recruiting. Every individual you recruit on an individual basis. Some have different report cards and checklists of what they're looking for. Each individual is different that's why you handle recruiting on an individual basis. The thing that I will tell you is -- what I found in a short period of time -- people in this great state are very prideful of the Volunteers. Every high school I went to within the state of Tennessee, I was greeted by the principal, I was greeted by the superintendent and I was greeted by teachers, and that's a great thing. I think the big thing for us is to continue to be visible within our state, and not just in the state of Tennessee but national as well."
(On recruiting on short notice without filling class without reaching)
"First of all, I'm going to buy stock in Five-Hour Energy. The big thing is having a plan and not deviating from it and being patient. A lot of times -- I don't want to use the word panic -- but you can't get so competitive that you can't step back. We've done that before. Tommy Thigpen went through it at Auburn when he first got there. There's a process with the first recruiting class. A lot of times, you're restricted by time, so it gets back to relationships. The hourglass had turned over on us and I thought we made up a lot of ground."
(On balancing recruiting and building relationships with new players)
"It is a balancing act, and the great thing is while we were going on the road recruiting this class, our strength staff has done a really good job implementing the fundamentals and philosophies of our football program. So while we were our recruiting, they were handling our offseason strength and conditioning program. Again, it's that experience factor of having done that before. I think we really benefitted from that."
(On turning QB Dobbs to Tennessee)
"I think persistence and selling what we have. Our offense fits his skill set. You know, it's the relationship business, building relationships with his mother, his father. We went in and did a home visit with him, and it was basically make or break. They were going to make their decision based on the home visit if they were going to come to Knoxville to visit. Myself, Zach Azzanni and Mike Bajakian went in there and it was about a two-and-a-half, three-hour visit. I will give the Dobbs family credit. They were probably most thorough family I have ever recruited. They did their research. They did their homework. So the home visit went exceptionally well and we were able to bring him on campus. I think our engineering department did a tremendous job. He came in and one of the big things on his checklist was the education. Did it fit his needs? The people in our engineering department did a tremendous job of selling him on what we had and showing him. That was a big hurdle and just continue relationships, and we found out late last night."
(On getting freshman receivers on the field quickly)
"I think the big thing is I feel like we're fortunate to have the best receivers coach in the country in Zach Azzanni. The big thing is teaching them how to run routes, breaking points, the functional intelligence that goes into playing the game, how to get release, understanding the passing game and just the fundamentals. I feel very comfortable with Zach and him having worked with me before and obviously him being at a number of places now that he'll have those kids ready to go.
"That's the other thing. We come in here with five receivers on scholarship. So selling the ability to play early in a pro-style offense with three, four, sometimes five receiver sets was very attractive."
(On getting players to flip their recruiting commitments to Tennessee)
"I think it goes back to relationships. I think it goes back to just spending time and selling your product. I think that's the big thing is just taking advantage of maybe if you get one hour to spend with an individual, you make the most of that one hour. I say it again: we have a great staff. They're people oriented. They believe in developing the full individual. I think they saw that in our staff. That genuineness in our staff. The great thing for me is that on Sunday I have an exit interview with everyone who has official visit, and I have a kind of checklist and try to do quality control within the official visit and everyone talked about the genuineness of our staff. They could feel the energy and the passion, and then Tennessee sells itself. Like I said, it's the brand. When you walk into Neyland Stadium and think about all the great players who have played on that field, you become overwhelmed. I think there's a lot of components that really helped us."
(On the ease of 'flipping' recruits to come to Tennessee)
"Probably more here, than ever. I think that is because of our brand and our product."
(On the signing of this year's receiving class)
"I am excited. Time will tell when they get here, but each individual is different in the way that they grow and develop and mature. Each individual coming into our program will have a different maturity level."
"(For example) Paul Harris, already being enrolled in school, has really given him a jumpstart. I love everything that he has done. Every time I am in my office, he is in there talking. I am excited about him."
"MarQuez North brings a size element, and he can run."
"The great thing when you are compiling a recruiting class is that you take a number of individuals at a certain position - like receiver - you want to have guys who have different skill sets. I think that all of the guys that we signed have skill sets that complement each other."
(How do you manage the development of relation with early enrollees?)
"They were my first home visits. Jalen Reeves-Maybin can attest to this - one of the first visits that I did was at his house in his "mancave," and Coach Martinez and I stayed there all night."
"Just getting to know them (players and parents) is the main thing. You have to develop trust and a relationship very quickly. Like I said, every minute that you get to spend with them is of essence."
"Paul Harris - I went and spent an entire morning with him. His mother cooked a great breakfast for us. Just the amount of time, and trying to earn the trust in a short amount of time is critical."
(How do you decide to go "all in" on a recruit?)
"I believe that you go `all in' on every prospect that you recruit. If you have offered them, you want them and so you are `all in.' But, that is probably the most critical element of the recruiting process - having your board and your rankings, and being able to recruit all of the other individuals while you are recruiting that other prospect."
"The big thing is just having a plan and keeping those relationships going. It's challenging."
"The other thing is that is really challenging is individuals waiting to make their decisions and you only want to take one prospect at that particular position. That becomes a challenge. I think it is a balancing act, and it really comes down to reading body language and the actions of the individual."
(Did you sell Joshua Dobbs on the opportunity to come in and compete for playing time, immediately?)
Obviously, he knew the depth chart. He knew that there were other players ahead of him. But, I tell all of the individuals that I want them coming in with the mentality that they are going to play. I think that is extremely healthy."
"We never promise anybody playing time. What we do promise them is the opportunity to compete. I think when they (recruits) looked at the depth chart that was extremely attractive."
"I want individuals coming in with the mentality that they are playing, not coming in with the mentality that they are going to redshirt."
(On being a coach who encourages players to come in as soon as possible in the summer)
"Absolutely. I am a big proponent of that. I think from a maturity standpoint, that helps them get acclimated with college life. They get six credits and that's a jumpstart on their academics."
"They can also come in and train the college way. So, when training camp comes around in August, they are ready to go."
"I fully anticipate all 21 individual being on campus in June."
(On the recruitment of Jabo Lee)
"Jabo Lee is an individual who we were recruiting all the way through. We knew that he had a tremendous skill set. Coach Jay Graham did a great job of developing a report and relationship with him."
"Jay had him in camp at South Carolina, so he knew all about him. We continued to watch his film. He missed much of his senior year, so we went back and watched his junior film, his sophomore film and we even watched some of his freshman year. What we saw was an individual, that if he had the benefit of a full senior season, would have developed into one of the highest ranking running backs in the country, and been very highly recruited."
"We had a great need, as you all are aware, at running back. We felt that he would be a great addition to our offense because he fits everything that we do. His (high school) run scheme was a lot like what we do here, so we thought that it would be a great fit."
"Jay did a great job of keeping that relationship, after he had established it. It gets back to having a passion to play at Tennessee. Tennessee is a place that Jabo always envisioned himself playing at."
(On where he would have liked to get extra players at)
"Well, competing in the SEC, you feel you can never have enough offensive linemen and defensive linemen. We would like to still continue to add to the defensive line recruiting class."
"I still think the defensive line and the offensive line are the big thing. That's the foundation of your program. You will still see us recruit as time goes on.
(On his schedule now)
"It's a mixture of everything. Even today during signing day, we were watching our players workout. We are trying to evaluate our current team and get ready for spring football, which starts very, very soon."
"We will be getting into our offensive and defensive schemes. And, we're recruiting for next year's class. But, we're also trying to add to this class. It is a balancing act, and it takes great time management."
(On other schools recruiting Jason Carr late in the process)
"I tell you what, I love Jason Carr. He came here and had a great official visit, and then everyone in the SEC came after him. He even had schools camping out at his high schools to talk to him, all day."
"I am very, very proud of him. He has a very strong father, who gave him great guidance. Coach Strickland did a great job of really establishing a relationship and report with his father and also with Jason."
"Coach Elder, Coach Strickland and I went to Memphis and spent all day with him. He is Tennessee through and through. He grew up wearing the orange."
"It was an interesting week, to say the least, but he held true to his word. We are very happy to have him in our football family."
(On Riley Ferguson)
"Yes. We went back and watched him extensively. We watched him in video from when he watched he attended one of our camps here. We watched his senior film, his junior film and I went and watched him practice basketball."
"Coach Bajakian went to a number of his basketball games, so we felt like we had a good evaluation of his skills. He also has a great family."