Since their arrivals some 26 months apart, both Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart and head football coach Butch Jones have made it clear that the focus is on the student-athletes.
Hart has shown that by making athletic training centers and modernized athletic dwellings the priorities for his facility blueprint.
Thursday evidence of that focus on the athlete resonated in the team meeting room when Jones introduced to his team their new 'Smokey gray' uniforms to be worn at one home game this season.
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"Well, it is all about the student-athletes," Jones told VolQuest.com. "That's why we're here. It's to develop them, develop our football program. They're our greatest resource. They are the ones that represent the University of Tennessee, on the field and off the field and in the community and in academics. They are our greatest resource. That was one of the first questions that they came to me. They see all the other institutions around the country and all that, but a way to do that and continue to respect our traditions. Like I said, build upon it. And they're ecstatic. The response that they've had, the excitement. It was a great dynamic to see."
The excitement with from Jones' players was evident with their reaction which was shown Thursday afternoon, via utsports.com. Senior offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James admits he's jealous he only gets to wear the uniform once, but said the statement from Jones by doing the uniforms speaks volumes about his head coach.
"It means a lot," James said. "It means that he really cares. Like I have said, he's a players coach like I have never seen before. He respects what we have to say. He's genuine when he asks what do you need or what do you want. He's not just asking to make us feel better. He's going and getting things done. To see this happen in like 8 months and we have been asking for it for three years, I'm kind of jealous because these freshmen get to have them for four years. And you never know what else is going to happen with coach Jones. It's exciting I can't wait to go out there and wear them.
"It was exciting (when we saw them). I was just happy. I was like is this real? Are they messing with us? Did they just make one to show us. But we are actually going to wear them and I can't wait."
Defensive lineman Corey Miller agreed with James in that it's just another step by Jones to continue to gain more locker room credibility with team #117.
"Coach Jones has always kept his word," explained Miller, who was dressed down by Jones on the practice field earlier this week. "His credibility is high with this team. You want a coach you will run through walls for and we are going to do it for him because he has shown us he cares about us.
"You see coach Jones coming in and he's done a lot of work in the last 9 months. He's done so much for us. The way he explains it is if you work hard for me then I'm going to going to represent you guys as well as you represent me. For him to come through with his word, it shows a lot about his character. We really respect him."
Some would say it would be easy for Jones to win over the team coming off last year's disastrous 5-7 season. This is a program with a group of players who have gone through experiences no college player expects so it would only make sense that players have a see it to believe it kind of attitude. Left tackle Tiny Richardson has seen it and he is definitely believing.
"I think it shows that they care about the players," Richardson said of Hart and Jones' decision to do the new uniforms. "These last couple of years we have been talking about black jerseys. For them to bring out the gray jersey's it was really good. As players we always want that extra swag.
"It just shows that they care about us. Some coaches will say they care about your opinions and will take it into consideration but they don't really. For coach Jones to really take it into consideration I think that is really good for us and it's a really good recruiting tool also."
Senior placekicker Michael Palardy noted that the color of a jersey doesn't make a tackle nor does it make a program. But the Florida native admits they certainly bring energy to the locker room, which is very good for a program looking for footing.
"I think it just brings a different type of energy to us and I think a lot of people around the country, showing that coach Jones always says, if we work our butts off, he'll repay us," Palardy said. "And I think this is one of the things he's repaying us with. They're awesome, they're sweet. Ultimately, the game is still the game but I think it will bring a lot more energy to us, whatever game we wear them. Hopefully the fans love them too and everybody else loves them and we'll look good in them."
For Dave Hart the decision to sign off on an alternative uniform was an easy one. Yes, Hart, Jones and other athletic department members worked countless hours modifying, tweaking and making sure the uniform protected the traditions of the school and represented the University the right way. Some will say they do, a few will likely suggest other wise. The players obviously love them and for Hart showing the players through actions not words is what he is charged with as an athletics director.
"I think that transcends dealing with student athletes," Hart said, "whether you are a coach or staff. If you are in a leadership position, I think privately human nature dictates people say don't tell me. Show me. I think the great leaders follow through on the priorities. That's what generates trust and establishes credibility."
And it was trust and credibility that walked through the team meeting room door on the 'Smokey gray' shoulders of Curt Maggitt Thursday morning