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December 19, 2012The meeting will not go uninterrupted.
As if Butch Jones has either the time or inclination to sit overly still for any length of time. Tennessee's new head football coach has an inexhaustible to-do list, and the corresponding energy to tackle the task at hand.
The break, however, isn't really a break nor is it a waste of time; wearing a dark Tennessee pullover adorned with a 'Power T' and a bright-orange polo beneath, Jones rolls back into his palatial new office and declares to no one in particular that the Vols are lining up an additional official visit from a potential difference-maker.
Across the ensuing meeting, Jones addresses his recruiting philosophies, why he calls Tennessee his "dream job," meeting with current team members and how Jones will put his stamp on the Volunteers' team long before spring camp arrives in this exclusive, first sit-down interview since his hiring Dec. 7 to resurrect Tennessee's storied football program.
VOLQUEST: We talked a little bit on the radio when you joined me Sunday night, but some of your recruiting philosophies and where you are going to put guys on the road in terms of regions and things like that. Dive into that a little more if you will.
BUTCH JONES: You know right now we really haven't assigned recruiting areas. We are just trying to inundate the areas where the players are and areas where we have been successful in the past, but also reling on the knowledge base of our staff. Once we finish this recruiting class we will move on and assign coaches to different areas. We are in a people relationship business. It's all about relationships. We will place coaches in areas where they have the best relationships. I have already talked about it's going to start first in Tennessee then obviously the Carolinas and the entire southeast regions of the country. Then the mid-west. The great thing about Tennessee is that we are a national brand. People understand our tradition and our product that we have here in Knoxville. Obviously recruiting is the life line of any program and we will recruit each and every day.
VQ: Because of NCAA punishment you only have 34 visits left to use to assemble this recruiting class. How delicate of a balance is that?
BJ: You have to be very selective. We have to make sure an individual coming here and not just with the limited visits but I think in general that they have a passion to be at Tennessee. That they want to be at Tennessee. So when I think you look at that, there is a lot that goes into the recruitment of a prospective student athlete, but again is there passion from them in wanting to be at Tennessee. Again, I'm biassed already. I look around and say why wouldn't a prospective student athlete not want to come to the University of Tennessee. It's a great education. It's a great area of the country. It's in a great town. It's got the most passionate fanbase in America. You have an unbelievable tradition of winning. We are the all time winningest college football program I believe since 1926. You look at all the great players that have come before them. You look at all the ingredients that are here. Why wouldn't a player want to be one of the best of the best and come to the University of Tennessee. That's the way I look at things right now.
VQ: What does a football player have to have besides the measureables with a 40 time, height and weight? What does a player have to have for Butch Jones to sign him?
BJ: I think it first starts with their make up mentally and physically. First and foremost it's character. It's the passion to want to gain a college education. We want players that dream of playing on Sundays, but also dream of getting their college education it goes hand in hand. But it's the personal make up. It's the mental condition and the toughness part of it. College football is a grind each and every day. So your passion and your energy level (are vital). I'm a big believer in body language. I want guys who need football in their life everyday. That they are full of energy that they bring everyday. I don't want to have to be chasing guys making them go to class. I want self starters. I want guys who are goal oriented. As must time as we spend on the physical make up we spend on the mental make up as well. We have specific characteristics we look for in an individual and it's finding the right fit for Tennessee.
VQ: How difficult is it to identify those things when you time with a prospect is so limited?
BJ: It gets tougher and tougher every year because the process is so accelerated. Individuals are making decisions very, very quickly. That's why those phone calls when you get them on the phone are so critical. When I get my one visit. That visit is critical. It's trusting your gut and your feel. It's being around them, being around their family and being around their friends. It's a very tedious process. Just as much as they are evaluating us we are evaluating them as well. Then I think it's once you get them on campus do they fit with your team. Do they believe the same beliefs you do. Everything we do is going to be based on the core value of family and brotherhood. Understanding what they represent with the 'Power T.' It's all those things. I'm going to rely heavily on our current players as well.
VQ: Where does your passion for recruiting come from?
BJ: It think it stems from my parents. My father was the chief of police for 35 years and my mother was the administrator of a hospital. I have been around people my entire life. I'm a people person. I started working when I was 14 years old washing dishes in a restaurant. Then moved up to manage and all that stuff. So I think it's a foundation that has been with me from a very early age. I love the people part of it. I love the recruiting process. I love getting to know these prospective student athletes. But also their families. There is a lot that goes into it. They are going to entrust us with their son. We are picking up where they left off. My biggest thing is making an impact in an individuals life. That they are better when they leave our football program they are much better than when they came in because they developed both mentally and physically. I take great ownership in the development of the total person and total football player. I enjoy the recruiting aspect of coaching. As we know, if you go back to your grade school days and you play pick up football or basketball and you are able to pick who you want then usually the guy who picks the best team wins. That's what it's all about. I enjoy the developmental process of it. The relationship part of it. Really researching the individual from high school coaches to the mentors to the aunts and the uncle's and everything that goes into it. I think at point in time where we are in the world of college football, you have to love recruiting. If you don't then you are going to get passed up.
VQ: You called this your dream job the day you were hired. Were there memories along the way that made you say you wanted to be at Tennessee. What led you to make that statement?
BJ: Well there are a lot of things. First of all growing up watching Tennessee football. At the press conference, I was reliving a lot of those memories of sitting on a couch in Saugatuck, Michigan watching a lot of big games with Tennessee. Seeing Peyton Manning go over and direct Rocky Top with the band after games. What I always saw growing up was a passion. A passion for Tennessee football. It was always one of those places that resonated with me. I always followed it. I followed their tradition. Then obviously when you have the opportunity to become the head football coach of a program that you basically grew up watching it's something special.
VQ: You made it a point to share that passion with a lot of your current players. Some might have said wait and do that in January after the semester break, but you despite all you have going on made it a point to meet with those guys as quickly as you could. Why was that important to you?
BJ: First of all, we are going to benefit from the fact that this is my third time doing this. This is my third time taking over a job in December. So I have been here and done that. Same thing for the individuals who have come with me on staff. We have done it a couple of times. Change is uncomfortable to a lot of people. I think really to let them know that you know what change can also be very beneficial. There is a lot of positive in change. So I think the big thing is let them get to know me. I wanted to sit down and kind of pick their brain a little bit. Why did you pick the University of Tennessee? What does it mean to you to play for Tennessee? When you say your a Tennessee Volunteer what do you really think that represents? Then asking them about our current team. Trust is earned over time. I thought every spare moment we got at the end of the day it's all about the players. It's all about developing them to their fullest extent and their fullest potential. I'm a big believer in that I'm going to get as much as I can out of the day and it's been very rewarding. I still haven't met with everyone. Through this holiday break, I will call them on the phone. I will reach out to them. I think it's important that they know that I'm excited to be their head football coach and we are going to build a relationship. I really believe that the more you know about an individual the more you can push them to reach their fullest potential.
VQ: As you mentioned this is your third time doing this, but this situation is different. When you took over at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati you took over teams that has just won a conference title. What are the challenges of inheriting a program that has not won versus a program that hasn't won?
BJ: There are a lot of challenges in both situations you just spoke about. Probably that first year in Cincinnati when we took over that football team taught me more in coaching than any other year I have been in. I think sometimes a lot of things can be hidden when your winning. There can be entitlement. There can be losing that energy. There can be complacency. I think complacency is a part of human nature at times. There are also some similarities. Obviously when I took over at Central Michigan and Cincinnati expectations were really high. Even though we may not have had the success we wanted to the last few years here at Tennessee, the expectations haven't changed. The expectations are extremely high here and rightfully so this is a great place. But I think the big thing is we have to work on being a champion. And before we can be a championship football team. Every individual on our football team has to be individual champions. When you have a team comprised of individual champions that gives you an opportunity to win championships. So the big thing when we come back (from Christmas break) is we are going to be a champion everyday off the field. In the way we go to class. In the way we represent ourselves. In the way we work in the weight room. The way we attack the day. The way we attack off-season conditioning. The way we do the extra film study. That's the way you build momentum. That's going to be the whole theme. If every individual improves individually then we improve collectively as a football team and a football program. The I also think there is an onus on everyone associated in our football program to understand what the represent when they are a University of Tennessee football player. They are going to understand the past. They are going to understand the tradition. They are going to understand the expectation that comes with wearing the orange and they are going to understand it everyday. I think the big thing is having a standard in place. Having an expectation and not deviating from the plan. We have a plan to win. It's been very successful everywhere we have been. But it's going to come down to how quickly they are going to buy into it to working extremely hard to outwork and dominant your opponent everyday. That's going to be a process, but I'm looking forward to it because I really think we have a bunch of eager players here that want to win.
VQ: Would your passion for your players to understand the history and tradition be the same at a different place than here, where you referenced you grew up watching the Tennessee traditions?
BJ: I think it helps because I have followed this program so I understand a lot of the traditions that are in place. But again as someone growing up in the state of Michigan and following Tennessee like I have those traditions are pretty special. Those traditions are what separates this University and this football program from anyone else in the country. First of all the ability for a young man to play in front of over 100,000 people each home game every Saturday is special. That doesn't happen many places. Look at the Vol Walk and there's over 40,000 people there. Look at the Vol Navy. You look at all those special things. I remember seeing pictures of the Vol Navy and all the boats and the passion our fanbase has. Our players need to understand that. We use a term that the logo never comes off. Once a Vol, always a Vol and the logo never leaves you. Our players have to understand that.
VQ: It's still a long time until spring practice and a chance to work with your players on the field. How do you put your stamp on the program and instill and infuse that passion into your program between now and the first spring practice?
BJ: Well I think it starts when our players come back from the holiday break and we have that first team meeting. That standard and expectation with our team will be born in the weight room. That's the great thing for us. Having Dave Lawson (strength coach) who has been with me for six years who understands the standards and the expectations. Your strength coach is one of your most critical coaches in your program because really the strength coach sets the temperament. He sets the temperament with the mental toughness and the physical toughness and the demands of your program. Basically in the month of January, our coaches are going to be out on the road recruiting so our team is being born with Dave Lawson and his staff. There isn't anyone that I trust more in the weight room than Dave Lawson. Then any coach that is off the road will spend time with his players. The foundation of our football program will be born in the strength and conditioning area.
VQ: Do you fear any resistance because this group has gone through so much change? You have some positions who have never had the same position coach two years in a row.
BJ: I don't know about resistance. But it gets back to that term we call change. You will hear the term we use a lot in our program called sudden change. That's the game of football. How do you answer sudden change. But I think the big thing is and it's why I met with the players and it's why a lot of our assistants have called their players and tried to meet with them as much as possible because trust is earned over time. We are looking to build their trust and vice versa. It goes both ways. We are all building trust in each other. But I think it should be an exciting time. In college football today you win with continuity and consistency. Now these players have closure. They know who their coaches are. They know that they are going to have consistency and continuity. They know the passion we have for wanting to be here. We are working to build that trust everyday. But there is going to be that standard and expectation by the way we got to class. By the way we represent ourselves and our work ethic.