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August 16, 2013

Vol in: Brick by brick, in by inch

To prove just how much Butch Jones pays attention to detail, just how much one play can change a game, the first-year Tennessee head coach turned on film of a game he had nothing to do with.

The image displayed on the film-room screen was a seemingly irrelevant punt during a scoreless game in Lexington, Ky., on Nov. 26, 2011.

Matt Darr punted the ball away on fourth-and-7 at the Kentucky 27, but not before a personal foul -- a block in the back to be more specific -- wiped out 15 yards of the 42-yard punt.

Kentucky went 62 yards on the ensuing drive, going 15 plays in seven minutes and 57 seconds, capping the methodical march with a 24-yard Craig McIntosh field goal.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Kentucky ended the second season of the Derek Dooley era by leaving the Vols in stunned silence, ending a 26-year winless drought against the Vols by the margin of that first field goal, 10-7.

"He told us if we don't give them that 15 yards, they never kick that field goal, then it's 7-7 and you go to overtime," Daniel Hood said Thursday, during Tennessee's media day promoting the opening of a new era, under the detailed watch of Jones. "It's the little things like that really make the difference."

The little things don't make the difference in Butch Jones. The little things make Butch Jones.

When Jones mentions "A.T.D." --- concise Jones-speak for attention to detail --- he means it. But even that sometimes seems vague in the new era in Knoxville.

Finer still, there's "Six and Three," Jones-speak for "six seconds, three great strains," which breaks the play down into three parts that are required to guarantee a full effort, covering the average length of time from whistle to whistle.

"He's always trying to find ways to get the kids an edge with an opponent, whatever that may be," offensive line coach Don Mahoney, who first worked with Jones at Central Michigan in 1998, said Thursday. "He's relentless. That's the way he is, that's way he's always been. He's just wired differently."


Jones went to work on December 7 --- the day he was introduced as Dooley's replacement --- to build his new team in its new coach's image.

Almost immediately it was no longer simply the 2013 Tennessee football team, it was "Team 117" -- defining these Vols as the 117th version of the orange and white.

Before long "Brick by Brick" was a household recruiting term. Then "Rise to the Top" started showing up, first as a website, later as a poster, now as a t-shirt.

As recently as Wednesday, when Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, a close friend of Jones, visited campus, it was christened 'Championship Wednesday' on white t-shirts dotting the Neyland-Thompson Athletic Complex and Haslam Field to mark the occasion. Within the facility, flat-screen TVs showed highlights of Spoelstra's Heat winning the 2012 NBA title.

"He's got slogans, he's got things," Mahoney said. "But the biggest thing is he's got the things kids can relate to.

"He wants to have the kids to have the mental picture of the prize we're working towards, of what we're constantly preaching and believing and seeing and sticking to it, driving towards it," Mahoney continued. "His mind never stops."

Jones never expects his players to stop, either. That's unofficially been labeled the "Tennessee standard," a term that's hard-pressed not to find its way into a Butch Jones press conference.

"You have to live it everyday," Hood said. "He does that in the things he does. You've seen all the changes he's made for us ... He's going to reward, give us these things we don't necessarily have to have, but he's going to demand a lot.

"Anytime he sees you not doing the Tennessee standard, he's going to call you out on it."

But to Jones' credit, he demands that standard based on his own daily routine.

"He is nonstop, from the time we come into work in the morning until the time we leave," Mahoney said. "He has some coaching-word phrases ... things the kids can relate to, things that motivate the kids.

" ... People like to say everyday is fourth-and-one, and it is, the championship is on the line. I think to a lot of people, and the players especially, that's how we approach everyday. There are no off days."


Slowly but surely --- through spring practice, summer workouts, the start of fall camp --- Jones' slogan-drilling language became habit, not just in the mindset of his players, but physically, too, changing the practice-field intensity one snap, or one "great effort," at a time.

"If we watch film now, it's so obvious when you see a guy that, maybe a year before think it's normal, if we see a guy that's jogging or not sprinting hard it's so obvious because you have 10 other guys doing it," redshirt senior safety Byron Moore said.

On Steve Stripling's defensive line, Jones and his staff have the pass rush broken down into a 1.9-second window to rush the passer, using an 11-yard arc, often quoted by Jones.

Defensive end Marlon Walls, another fifth-year senior, has played his share of football. But he's never heard of getting after an opposing quarterback put in those terms.

"That's the significance of Coach Jones," Walls said after practice Tuesday. "He's always studying, always doing his homework. Every time he hits you with a certain stat, it's something you don't even realize, but it's like, 'man, that makes that much of a difference.'

"Whenever he hits you with something like that, we all come out and start working on a pass rush or whatever, and we start timing ourselves."

Timing isn't enough, though. They count their steps, too. As a defensive line, they know if they don't, Stripling, or Jones roaming the practice field, microphone in hand, will.

"By a certain step we need to be in that [offensive] lineman's body and start hitting that corner," Walls said. "That definitely helps. When you have it broken down like that you start focusing on it.

"We're trying to answer the challenge."

Answering that challenge, as a player, means filling that Butch Jones mold.

Defensive backs coach Willie Martinez, who started coaching alongside Jones in the late '90s at Central Michigan, has seen that transformation before. Now, he's seeing it again.

"That's part of being a great teacher," Martinez said. "You can see the kids picking up on it.

"I think the whole staff does a great job of feeding off of him, of what he wants. You can see it everyday."

Every day. Every play. Every effort. Every inch. Every last detail.

In those details is where Jones makes his living as a football coach, and it's those details that have transformed "Team 117" into a reflection of himself, digging for the inches that sometimes even he doesn't demand.

"That's what I've been probably most impressed with, his ability to create that hunger, and just take it and intensify it," Hood said. "For myself, I've never had a better summer, a more intense and in-depth training camp.

"It's really learning those little details. Sometimes the difference in winning and losing is just an inch."

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