Nov. 25, 2013
By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- Following Saturday's game against Vanderbilt, senior Daniel Hood spoke passionately about head coach Butch Jones and the foundation that he is building at Tennessee.
Monday, Hood's comments were echoed by teammates, while Jones credited those senior with the leadership that has helped a young football team buy in to what he is doing at Tennessee.
Hood recounted his experiences Saturday night, including tough last-second losses like he one that had just taken place. He said things were changing, though, because Tennessee "finally" had the right coach in place.
"I believe the culture is finally starting to change," Hood said. "We are finally working the way a Tennessee program is supposed to work. We are starting to build the right foundation. Sometimes good things you have to wait for, right now is one of those times. We have to push through."
Jones said Hood had been a block in that foundation from day one as vocal leader, but more importantly, by leading by example.
"He's been a tremendous resource for me coming in here and has been a great spokesperson for our entire football team," said Jones. "He's brought so much but when it comes from him it's credibility, an illustration to our younger players about the buy in and what you need to do. It's an understanding that to go from good to being great you have to do things outside, you have to do it on your own, you have to come in and do the extra work. When practice is over, the great ones go over and do extra and work on their craft."
The work that Jones has done has also left an impression on Hood's fellow senior Ja'Wuan James.
"The program is going to be great, it is way different than what I had in the past," James said. "He has done so much in this little period of time. The underclassmen have now built that relationship and trust built with him. They can now do everything the right way, which is Coach Jones' way, in order to be successful."
James admitted last week that his dedication in the weight room had not been where it needed to be earlier I his career. Jones said James has been able to use the lessons he learned from that to make sure the underclassmen know what it takes to be successful in the SEC.
"This football team means everything to him," Jones said about James. "He holds court at the training table and lectures everyone on the mistakes that he made early in his career from the weight room to that standard of performance. Your body is your weapon. When the younger players hear that, it helps everyone."
Punter/kicker Michael Palardy, who has experienced his best season in the orange and white, feels that Jones and his staff have been a big factor in the strides he made this season and he's anxious to see how they help the rest of the Volunteers grow beyond this year.
"I have so much confidence in this coaching staff and the young guys on this team," Palardy said. "I know we lose a lot of seniors, but the fact that we have so many young guys that have experience in games; they get to show the new guys coming in during the spring or fall how things should be done. Coach Jones is implementing a system where situations like this never happen again. I have the upmost confidence in this coaching staff.
Jones himself is quick to deflect the praise from his player back on them, but he did admit it was rewarding to see progress made. Though the record is not where he wanted it to be, he can see plenty of that progress in his program.
"When you invest so much in your players, your football program, in wining, a lot goes into it," he said. But I have to be able to step back and take the emotion out of it. From December to where we are right now, I see tremendous strides. From the mentality of our football team, to the energy, to the work ethic, to all the demands we placed upon them."
Now that Team 117 is down to its final act, James and Palardy said the team is focused on getting one more win, another piece of the foundation for Team 118.
"We are focused on this game, it starts a win streak," said Palardy. "We don't want to give up on ourselves or on this team because we want to end strong, positive, and 1-0 to start a winning streak for teams to come."