Feb. 6, 2013
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has stressed family at every step of the way in his two months as the leader of the Volunteer program, and nowhere was that more evident than on the recruiting trail. Jones credited many elements of the Volunteer family for the success on the road and in Knoxville that culminated with the signing class Jones and Tennessee announced Wednesday.
Jones said the class stood as a testament to the hard work of his staff, but also members of the current Vol roster, staff of academic departments, even the coaches' wives and local convenience store employees.
"Recruiting is a relationship business," Jones said. "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."
Jones said he and his staff had 31 days of contact allowed with prospects between his hiring and National Signing Day. The short amount of time to build relationships with recruits and their families was a significant obstacle to overcome when facing off against schools with years invested with players. But Jones felt that was where the family of Tennessee came in.
"I think the process is not just the coaches, it's a community, it's a fan-base," Jones said. "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."
Running backs coach and former Vol Jay Graham said the current Vols that hosted recruits on visits also played a key role in the signing class.
"There were a lot of guys and Coach did a great job of bringing them in and making sure that they understood what we expected of them," Graham said. "They spent time with the (recruits') parents so they felt comfortable letting their sons go away, go off campus with them, and they did a great job."
With large groups coming in for visits as the staff fit a wide range of players into the few weekends the recruiting calendar allowed, the depth of Vols willing to fill that hosting role grew, sometimes even larger than the coaching staff expected. That willingness to step up, also gives the staff a glimpse into leaders emerging for the season ahead.
"We had sometimes as many as 17 guys on campus, so we had 17 different hosts," Graham said. "We had guys that weren't even supposed to host just show up to be around. It shows leadership, it shows unselfishness, it shows sacrifice, because they're giving their time. It shows a lot of leadership spending time with these young men and developing relationships with them."
In case of quarterback Joshua Dobbs, Jones said once his staff got the player and his family to campus, the staff of UT's College of Engineering played a critical role in convincing him that Tennessee was the best place for his education, not just his football career.
"I will give the Dobbs family credit, they are probably the most thorough family I've ever recruited," Jones said. "They did their research, they did their homework. 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 selling him on what we have and showing him."
Now that there are 21 new members of the Volunteer family, the true journey begins for Jones.
"The challenge," Jones said, "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."