Former Vol placekicker and National Champion Jeff Hall said the first thing he told his wife after getting home from meeting head coach Butch Jones and his staff Tuesday night was that he was finally excited about Tennessee football again.
"Last night, I was looking around and I'm looking at Charlie Rosenfelder (class of 1968) all the way up to Nick Reviez (class of 2010) and I'm thinking 'You know, here's our family again.' This group has one common bond and it's something that Butch Jones said. The logo never falls off. All of us share that logo," a passionate Hall shared. "That's something that the outside world doesn't share with us. We were the ones who played on the field. Like he said and I won't do this justice. He said we were the architects, the builders and the bricklayers or something like that. I thought it was a great illustration. Here is is the new coach welcoming us. Introducing his coaching staff and letting us ask him questions. Then giving us a tour of the facility. It was family. It wasn't a fundraising event. It wasn't a glad-handing event. It was a 'Hey, you guys were here long before I was. I'm the new guy in town. I'm going to do my best to get this ship righted and I want you all to be involved with it.' I left incredibly encouraged. For the first time since 2008-2009, I'm excited about Tennessee football again."
Hall was among some 60 lettermen from all eras of Tennessee football that broke bread and spent time meeting their school's new head coach. For Jones, who has seemingly made all the right moves in nearly two weeks on the job, the gathering was much needed and was a smashing success.
"I thought it was great," former all-SEC quarterback and Vol network sideline reporter Andy Kelly said. "I told coach Jones that I thought he was saying and doing the right things so far from what I've seen. Not only do the former players appreciate things like this, I think when the fans hear about things like this they appreciate that you're reaching out to former players as well. I think it's important to them.
"It was just a very welcoming environment. I feel very comfortable coming up there any time and walking around. The weight coaches were the same way. They said anytime you are here feel free to come on in and check everything out and talk to us. It was a good feeling (Tuesday) night."
And it's a feeling that the former players all say has been much needed around their alma mater for a while.
"I think it meant a lot to be invited, especially after the last coaching staff kind of made it a hard thing to do to say it very kindly," former defensive end Will Overstreet said. "I think to kind of get back more to where coach (Phillip) Fulmer had it in 'Hey this is a family. You played here. We don't treat you with distrust. It's a sign of trust that you can come to practices. We don't see it as a pain or a hassle to have you around.'
"I like the perspective of coach Jones. I think he comes across in the same way that I respected my coaches at Tennessee and the reason I probably came to Tennessee was the way that they interacted with their players. In the sense of, it is a teaching environment. It's a place where you are trying to train young men and not just teaching them football. You are trying to be a part of their lives and I think that is a much needed change. I think it's what has made our program special in the past."
As John and I were leaving the complex Tuesday night we bumped into several former Vols who were waiting for the meet and greet to start. The lettermen fraternity is bond that's not replicated. When two or more gather the stories begin to flow. Tuesday night those stories were flowing before Jones ever entered the room and they didn't stop when he did meet the former Vols. Perhaps most importantly, the head coach made it clear he wanted to hear more of them moving forward.
"It was very casual. He came in and talked to us a little bit. He welcomed us and let it be known that not only are we welcomed there but he wants us there. He said something to the effect of there's nothing better on a ballgame weekend then when former players are around. It adds to the excitement. Not only does he welcome it, but he's encouraging it," Kelly said.
"He opened the floor and said does anyone here have any questions for me or us (coaching staff). The main question that got asked a couple of times a couple different ways was what as players can we do to help you. The main question we had was let us know how we can help. Basically his answer in a nutshell was to just be here. Be known. Be seen. Be around us."
Added Hall, "There was no agenda. They were not asking for money. They weren't doing it as an obligatory thing. It's a 'Hey we are getting the family together and we are going to introduce the new family members.'"
A feeling that Hall and many others have been hoping would return.