By Steve Williams
Since Butch Jones became University of Tennessee’s head football coach last December, everything he touches seems to turn to gold, or in this case, orange.
Even the weather for the Orange and White spring game on April 20 was perfect for football – around 58 degrees with blue skies for the 2 o’clock Saturday afternoon kickoff.
If Derek Dooley was still the head coach, knowing his luck, it would have been a record 90 degrees or pouring down rain.
The turnout of over 61,000 fans, I believe, was their way of saying “thank you” to Jones for being here and wanting to be here, and the changes he has made on and off the field to get the Vols’ program headed in the right direction again.
Over 500 former UT players reportedly were here for the game – the result of Jones’ efforts to make ex-Vols once again feel welcomed and appreciated.
Jones pointed to the big crowd as another example of Tennessee being “the best place in all of college football.”
Butch, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Just wait to you guys starting winning!
There’s still a lot of work to be done, obviously, after three straight losing seasons, but Jones has rolled up his sleeves and has said he is committed to being here for a long time.
Since the controversial forceout of longtime head coach Phillip Fulmer in 2008, Jones appears to be a much better fit for the program than the previous two replacements. He’s not brash like Lane Kiffin was or as rigid and hard to get along with behind the scenes as Dooley reportedly was.
Jones has been successful in previous coaching stops and now is genuinely humbled to be heading up one of college football’s most stories programs. It’s been especially good to see Jones’ efforts in reestablishing the “family atmosphere” in the Tennessee program, which was so strong in the Johnny Majors and Fulmer eras, and also reach out to strengthen relations with high school football coaches across the state.
Jones hasn’t coached a single game yet on The Hill, but he’s building a solid foundation. Some fans even say he resembles a young General Neyland.
POST-GAME QUOTES from Coach Jones that caught my eye:
On the quarterbacks: “It’s wide open.” That means freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson will be getting a serious look when they report to Knoxville.
Encouraged by: “Upfront, defensively.” That’s a bonus, considering the offensive line is suppose to be a team strength. So every time you look at that daunting 2013 schedule, just repeat that old football saying: Games are won and lost on the line of scrimmage.
On must haves: “What we have to find is playmakers . . . We have to force turnovers.” Some things never change.
On running back Alden Hill: “A great surprise.” Most UT fans had never heard of this guy until midway through spring practice. Hill is a red-shirt freshman from Alliance, Ohio. A physical runner, the 6-2, 217-pounder was the top ground gainer in the spring game with 101 yards on 18 carries. He also was one of the recipients of the John Stucky Iron Vol Award this spring.
On Corey Vereen: “He’s the type of individual we want to recruit . . . He is quick twitch, he is explosive, but now he needs to get bigger.” The 6-2, 230-pound freshman linebacker from Winter Garden, Fla., had four first-half sacks of quarterbacks wearing non-contact jerseys and five total tackles.
On the squad overall: “This football team is as eager and as willing as any football team that I have ever coached.” We can’t ask for anymore.
CODY BLANC, former Knoxville Central High standout, caught a 58-yard touchdown pass from Justin Worley in the second quarter. Blanc (6-3, 202) is a sophomore wide receiver.
Senior kicker/punter Michael Palardy, who has often been criticized by fans in his Vol career, had a good day, drilling a 52-yard field goal to end the first half. He also booted a 42-yarder in the first quarter and a 36-yarder in the fourth quarter and averaged 42.8 yards on four punts.
ONE CHANGE, PLEASE: The Orange beat the White 95-71. That’s a basketball score. This was a football game. Coach Jones, in the future, divide the squad anyway you want to get the most from the scrimmage, and reward points on paper however you see fit, revealing those numbers with the team later on. I think most fans prefer traditional scoring in the spring game. If the ones beat the twos by a score of 49-3, that’s okay. Just give us what we can understand. When we look at the scoreboard, we want to see a football score.
COUNTING THE DAYS: It’s 124 days until Tennessee kicks off the 2013 season on August 31 against Austin Peay. If Coach Jones continues to work at the pace he has been since he got here, that time will go by fast.