Aug. 10, 2013
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.-- The sounds of a football field are a sure sign that fall is just around the corner. Pads pop, players grunt and coaches shout instructions. It's a scene that plays out across fields at all levels all across the country.
But Tennessee is different. Sure, all those sounds are present. The pads pop as loud as anywhere, the players vocalize every hit and every assignment and coaches actively lead their athletes in each period. But Tennessee has more sound, and you never know what's coming next.
SETTING THE SCENE
Each afternoon, Jessica Leifheit sets the tone for football practice at the University of Tennessee. Odd that you've never heard of her, then?
That tone comes from a set of speakers that dot the outer rim of Haslam Field and the Anderson Training Center. Prior to practice and during the opening drills, those speakers are connected to the iPod of Leifheit, a video assistant on Joe Harrington's crew.
The playlist each day varies, and it makes wide swings in genres, including an odd transition Friday from country star Jason Aldean to the early-90s vibes of Vanilla Ice.
"We try to do a collaboration of different genres, because everybody likes something different," Leifheit said, reviewing the playlist for the Friday session. "Some country, some rock, some rap, some Motown for Coach Jones, whatever the feel is for the day."
Jones said he was guilty as charged for bringing the Motown feel to the playlist, but that the variety mirrored his own musical selections.
"I do like Motown," Jones said with a quick smile. "But I like all kinds, so that's why you see the variety out there."
"A lot of us listen to the same type of music," sophomore receiver Alton "Pig" Howard said, probably not referring to the Motown beats. "That just kind of gets us going and Coach Jones knows it. We get going and get the vibe."
Leifheit has found that the best response comes from the early 90's hip-hop, including the Vanilla Ice and Will Smith that dotted the playlist during the pre-practice periods during the team's seventh workout of fall camp.
"Everyone seems to like the old school stuff," she said as Smith's "Getting' Jiggy With It" began playing over the speakers.
Is anything off limits?
"Definitely no `Sweet Home Alabama,'" Leifheit said.
DISTRACTION COMES IN ALL FORMS
While the sound of cars crashing or glass breaking may not be particularly unusual on a college campus, having those sounds blare from the same speakers that blasted music not long before is a bit unnerving. And that is exactly the point of Jones ordering them played.
"It's being able to think in wild situations," senior defensive tackle Daniel Hood said of the distractions that also include horns and a screaming baby. "You have to key in to focus on what's happening in your play call, your technique, and try to tone out the baby crying or the car wreck."
Those sounds have become a signature of Jones' practices, sometimes coming out of total silence, other times as a sudden change from the crowd noise coming from the speakers.
The distractions and crowd noise come from another playlist on Leifheit's iPod. And she admits that sometimes those sounds creep into her other playlists.
"Sometimes, I find that my workout playlist has a little too much variety," she said.
JONES SETS THE FLOW
The most frequent thing heard on the speakers isn't the music or the distractions. It's the voice of the head coach. Jones uses a handheld wireless microphone to shout instructions and encouragement to the players as drills and team periods go on.
And when a player isn't bringing the effort that Jones demands, he lets them know it with the microphone, even if he's three feet from them.
"I appreciate it," Hood said of the active coaching that Jones does over the speakers. "He got on me today and rightfully so. I wasn't ready to play and he got after me. Things like that get you going, when your head football coach tells you that you need more passion, then you've got to go or quit. So it's a reality check, and it's better to happen at the beginning of practice than to watch it on film later tonight."
The coaches aren't immune from Jones on the mic, either. If one group is slow to a team drill, everyone knows it. If a position causes a busted play, same thing. Jones even tracks coaches racing each other to position drills. When Jones called for a sudden 3rd-and-1 team drill in the middle of an early period Friday, he had to remind defensive coordinator John Jancek and his defense of the time constrains the team was under.
"This isn't huddle practice!" Jones yelled, drawing laughs from all not in the crosshairs.