July 18, 2013
By: Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The spectacle of SEC Football Media Days makes for a long day of travel, interviews and even a little bit of fun for players and coaches. For Butch Jones, his first trip to Hoover was memorable, and one that made a huge impression on media and fans alike.
9:38 AM - TAC Air, Knoxville, Tenn.
The Tennessee contingent arrives and boards the charter bound for the Volunteer session at Media Days. Jones boards with Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, Ja'Wuan James, Jacques Smith, Associate Athletics Director for Communications Jimmy Stanton, Assistant to the Head Coach Chris Spognardi and UTAD photographer Donald Page.
It's clear from the start that Smith and his orange blazer will be a popular topic once the crew lands in Hoover.
10:50 AM - Bessemer Airport, Bessemer Ala.
Wheels down in Alabama and the madness begins. 15 minutes later, the Tennessee contingent walks through the front door and signs quick autographs for fans crowded in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey. As predicted, the orange blazer is a hit for Smith, who is even asked to sign autographs by a pair of Alabama fans clad in full crimson.
11:10 - 12th Floor, Hyatt Regency Wynfrey
The SEC provides each team with a suite at the hotel to meet local media before getting started with the rotations downstairs in the ballroom. The players are up first with the media while Jones heads to the SEC suite on the 14th floor to sign over 100 souvenir footballs that the league uses for giveaways and charity events throughout the year.
Jones makes his way into the UT suite and spends 15 minutes fielding questions from local media. The first question of the day is on the momentum that seems to be surrounding the Tennessee program coming out of the summer.
"It's all about having that relentless approach to everything," Jones says, referring to all aspects of a question that covered offseason workouts, fan engagement and recruiting.
He also sees this time as an opportunity to get to know the three team leaders accompanying him to the event.
"Your time is very limited," he said. "Anytime you get quality time with these guys, I enjoy it...it's like a family vacation."
Since the Tennessee sessions will run the length of many of the mid-day radio programs across the state, Jones also takes a few minutes to record a wide-ranging interview with the Vol Network's Nashville affiliate, 104.5 The Zone.
12:20 - 12th Floor Lobby
After a quick lunch in the suite, the players and Jones pick up their sign boards and head for the lobby. While waiting for the elevator, Jones looks up at Spognardi and says "Spags, you get a haircut for this thing?"
John Brice of VolQuest.com suggests that the laughing Spognardi just wanted to look good in the background as TV outlets shoot b-roll of Jones walking through the ballrooms.
12:25 - SEC Digital Network
Jones' first stop of the day is with the SEC Digital Network, the conference's website and online video arm. The first question is again about the program's momentum, particularly on the recruiting trail.
"Tennessee is a national brand," he answered. "And we want individuals that want to come in and represent that brand the right way. We're not building a tradition; we're building ON a tradition. It's a part of who we are."
12:35 - ESPNU
Jones heads next door to the ESPNU suite, where various still photos are taken to be used in promotion of ESPN's college football coverage and the upcoming SEC Network.
After the photo session, Jones heads out to the SEC set, where he joins Cara Capuano for an interview aired moments later as a part of ESPNU's day-long coverage of the event. Jones left an impression on Capuano, who also serves as the sideline reporter for the SEC Network syndication package that will air the second game of the Butch Jones era against Western Kentucky.
"My first impression is his energy," Capuano said. "This is a very intimidating arena, and obviously this isn't his first big head coaching job, but the Southeastern Conference is a completely different deal. I just loved his poise, his enthusiasm and you can really feel his positivity."
12:50 - Main Hallway
After a session with CBS recording thoughts on the upcoming college football playoff and other "hot topics" in college football for the network's season preview show, due to air the Saturday before the season kicks off, Jones heads back out into the crowd where he meets one of his fellow rookie SEC head coaches, Mark Stoops of Kentucky.
Each coach has generated an offseason buzz and excitement around their program that hasn't been seen in some time. Stoops leaned in and told Jones he was "killing it out there." Jones had similar words for his counterpart as they parted ways and headed off to the next room in the rotation.
12:55 - ESPN.com Writer's Room
Jones and his entourage had to wait a few minutes outside the room as the writers finished with Smith. When he walked in, the energy level wasn't up to Jones' standards. After a swig of Diet Coke, he told the room it was time to step it up, too early in the day to be tired, drawing a laugh from all assembled.
Chris Low, who runs the SEC blog for ESPN.com has been impressed by what Jones has brought to the table so far in his time in Knoxville.
"I think he's done everything off the field that he can possibly do to this point to return the buzz to the Tennessee program," Low said. "From recruiting to reaching out to lettermen to getting out and interacting with the fan base, I think you get out and talk to Tennessee fans and it's a huge breath of fresh air."
One topic that came up in the room was non-conference scheduling and the run of series that UT has had with Pac 12 teams that included Cal and UCLA and concludes with Oregon this season. Jones said that making the Tennessee fans would be a priority in his non-conference scheduling, focusing on sectional series that fans can more easily travel to. When a follow-up question asked if he was worried about losing a recruiting advantage by not taking trips to play on the west coast, his answer was simple.
"Recruiting advantages come with winning."
1:25 - SEC/IMG Radio Network
After a brief visit with CBS's Tracy Wolfson in the main hall, Jones sat down with the SEC Radio Network to talk about a variety of topics that will be used on the league's Sirius/XM channel throughout the season.
The offensive style that Jones has brought to Tennessee has often been the top topic of conversation, but the new UT head coach got a huge smile on his face when he was asked about defense.
"Winning championships is a byproduct of playing great defense," Jones said.
1:35 - Sirius/XM College Sports Nation
Former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel and longtime college football commentator Jack Arute welcomed Jones to their studio, where Neuheisel was excited to talk tempo with Jones.
Neuheisel, who led UCLA into Neyland Stadium in 2009, said that the venue was among his favorite in college football.
"There's only one Tennessee," Jones said in response. "It's a very special place and I'm proud to be its football coach"
2:00 - Main Print Room
Jones takes the big stage for the main media session, which goes out live on ESPNU. Check out a full transcript of the press conference here
2:30 - CSS Talkin' Football Set
Jones headed for the CSS set to film a 10-minute segment with the crew, including longtime SEC writer Tony Barnhart.
Host Bob Neal first asked Jones about his seemingly seamless transition to the University of Tennessee. Jones was quick to credit the people around him for the quick success.
"You win with people," Jones said. "And we have the right people in place at the University of Tennessee. The fans have been outstanding, and that's what makes Tennessee such a special place in college football."
2:40 - Radio/Internet Room
Jones' first question was from a reporter that talked about Tennessee being a "rebuilding project." It was a term that didn't sit well with the head coach.
"I don't believe in the term rebuilding," he said. "We're building our team brick by brick, and each brick is important."
2:50 - TV Interview Room
On the way to the final stop of the day, Jones and Smith cross paths in the main hallway, where the senior embraces his head coach. Jones wants to know if the orange blazer has been a hit as Smith has made the rounds. It's an overwhelming yes from Smith.
3:10 - Radio Row
With the van to the airport waiting, Jones makes three stops on radio row, including interviews with The Sports Animal, the Vol Network's flagship station in Knoxville and 92.9 The Game in Atlanta. After the stops are complete, Jones is led through the back exit by SEC Assistant Director of Media Relations Sean Cartell and a couple of Birmingham's finest.
In the van to the airport, there's food ready for the traveling party, who leave the hustle and bustle of the Wynfrey to the relative quiet of the airport shuttle.
4:55 - Wheels Up
In the calm of the airplane, one moment of tension for UTAD photographer Donald Page. The head coach wants to see the camera.
6:05 - Back in Knoxville
The UT party departs the airport in Knoxville. 2013 SEC Football Media Day is in the past for the Volunteers, and the countdown to the opening of fall camp and kickoff of the 2013 can begin in earnest!