December 7, 2012
Jones' task won't be easy
The last time that Butch Jones was in Neyland Stadium, back in September 2011, his Cincinnati team fell under a second-half barrage to Tennessee, 45-23. Today, Jones heads back to Knoxville, this time with the Peyton Manning locker room on the north end of Neyland Stadium as the location for what should be a much happier moment.
And for how hard that Jones has worked to become the head coach at Tennessee, he deserves to feel some pride and excitement. He's earned it. But his first task as Vol skipper has little to do with football and more to do with a full understanding of the situation on The Hill. Here's hoping that someone is really honest with him.
Jones needs to walk into the room today with his eyes wide open. And he might want to wear a jacket, because he's going to feel a strong breeze of discontent.
Jones cannot win today. Regardless of what quotes that coaches around the country say about him. Regardless of what the commitments say about him, and regardless of what his suddenly, and if Jones wins big only temporarily, much-maligned boss Dave Hart says about him. He cannot win today.
Tennessee fans are angry. Angry over losing. Angry over public turndowns. Angry that Jon Gruden isn't coming around the corner. Just angry. And frankly, many are depressed.
None of that is Lyle "Butch" Jones' fault. All Jones has done is gotten a pay raise and landed the job he has told people he wanted since he walked out of the south end of Neyland Stadium 14 months ago.
Tennessee fans should be excited about how excited Jones is about his chance with the Big Orange. He wanted to become Tennessee's coach badly. And by all rights, he is well-qualified to do the job. The fact is that Jones, according to many you talk to throughout football both in the college and pro football, draws rave reviews.
But the only reviews Tennessee fans are interested in seeing are on autumn Saturdays; the product with their own eyes. Never has the Vol fan base had as overriding "prove it to me" mentality as they have right now.
A cute statement about "britches" won't fly. Neither will quips about General Neyland's Game Maxims or a public challenge to a league rival. No one is going to grab a slogan from today's news conference and immediately start to believe. Now, don't say something foolish or offensive, but don't expect a glowing review of how you "won the press conference."
For Tennessee, with three of these press conferences since 2008, there is nothing to win. Vol fans know that going 2-0 when introducing Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley won them zip in the SEC. Vol fans have seen this circus so the trapeze, human cannon ball and fire-eaters just don't have the same appeal.
Indiana Jones' task running away from that boulder might have been easier than Butch Jones' challenge hitting Knoxville today.
That's not Jones' fault, but that's the landscape of where things are with Tennessee football. Jones needs to understand this and not be put off when no one is ready to carry him out of the room on their shoulders.
The first step for Jones in winning over the Vol nation is the assembling of his staff. It must have an SEC-feel and must be able to make an SEC impact. Not on the football field, but on the bigger playing field --- living rooms of prospects this winter.
Jones has won everywhere he has coached; he's 47-26 in his career as a head coach. The X's and O's are not the concern for most. It's can he land the "Jimmys and Joes" that are needed to compete and win in the nation's most competitive football conference.
Butch Jones doesn't coach a football game at Tennessee till August 31st (270 days) when Austin Peay comes to Knoxville. Jones needs a win before then, as does Hart, who is facing intense criticism from the Tennessee fans for his management of this coaching search the last 19 days.
Vol fans need a win this winter. Jones' first opportunity to get a win with them is in who he hires to assemble his staff.
The second opportunity comes February 6th, National Signing Day.
Hart may have indeed hired a winner. Jones might very well be the next Brian Kelly or Urban Meyer. Both started in the MAC, and moved to a second-tier conference before heading to the big boys in the SEC and college football.
Only time will tell, but through no fault of Tennessee's new head coach, the 24th in school history counting Jim Chaney's one-game cameo, he won't leave his new locker room with a win today in the eyes of many Vol fans.
But Jones leaves in the position he's long wanted. Now it's his time to seize the opportunity.
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