April 19, 2013
By Nick Carner
There's a zero percent chance of rain this Saturday. Clear, blue skies and 60 degrees. Indeed, fair weather intends to accompany Butch Jones for his Grand Opening -- the DISH Orange & White Game.
The good weather is consistent with the good vibes flowing out of, over, through and around Tennessee's exquisitely crafted, state-of-the-art Anderson Training Center. The momentum generated around the program is no accident.
Jones and staff have worked tirelessly since their arrival to rejuvenate, revitalize, and reenergize a Tennessee program starving for success.
Despite the recent struggles, the Vols are white-hot on the recruiting trail, currently boasting a Top-5 nationally ranked class. Recruiting, after all, is the lifeblood of any college program.
Like Hall of Fame coach Phillip Fulmer used to say, "It's about the Jimmys and Joes, not the X's and O's." The early success can be partially attributed to Jones and staff consistently earning high marks following recruiting visits. Kids love the family atmosphere, uptempo practices and the staff's plan to grow them as men and not just as football players. The VFL program and the Thornton Athletic Center are constant selling points for recruits and their families.
Additionally, since his hiring, Jones has made it a point to enhance the relationship with Tennessee's alumni. The new open-door policy has been embraced, as during practices, the sidelines are strewn with former players. Inky Johnson recently inspired as he spoke to the team following a scrimmage, while others -- a who's who in Vol history -- Johnny Majors, Peyton Manning, Jamal Lewis, Leonard Little, Arian Foster, and Raynoch Thompson have all visited throughout the spring.
Former players aren't the only ones being welcomed, though. Prep coaches from across the state are encouraged to come be a part of the program. At the coaching clinics, like the one held last week at which Manning was the keynote speaker, attendees rave about the staff's teaching prowess and overall accessibility.
This mending of the Tennessee family -- with former players and local coaches --corroborates the message that Jones gave to the teachers at the recent UT Faculty Appreciation Day: We are one Tennessee.
In fact, "We are one Tennessee," is another one of several Butchism's--phrases or mantras that Jones has adopted to help rebrand the "T." #RiseToTheTop, #BrickByBrick, #VolByVol, #Team117, #PathTo7 (National Titles) are all instruments Jones has used to change the perception of the program. Don't feel sorry for Tennessee. You've woken the sleeping giant and we're comin' for ya.
Jones has made an emphasis to drive these mantras home through social media vehicles like Twitter and Facebook. Jones wants his coaches to be active on Twitter, as he's the third-most followed college football coach in the country (@UTCoachJones with 73,000-plus followers). While the @Vol_Football account is the fourth-most followed team account. The coaches tweet, the players tweet, the recruits tweet and the fans tweet. The Power "T" is digitally everywhere.
While an impressive social media presence may not appeal to older generations, one cannot deny the fuel it's added to the blaze of vigor that Jones has injected to the Tennessee football program. As a college football coach, Jones has to be part teacher and part salesman. Tennessee is his product and social media has greatly increased the visibility of his commodity.
Something that will appeal to an older generation -- to his team, Jones is preaching fundamentals and details, accountability and leadership. Consistency -- finishing plays, all the time. No loafing, as the staff scores every rep, every snap, every play. Jones stresses being physically tough, but mentally tougher.
Combine the recruiting, the social media strategy, strengthening the relationship with former players and local coaches, along with an old-school coaching mentality and what do you get? A full-on pyre of momentum and excitement heading into The Orange and White game.
It's free to attend, so come out, bring the family, bring the friends, bring the neighbors.
Jones' bricks for the #RiseTotheTop will be on full display.