By Steve Williams
It’s that time of year when I send you a list of things I would like to see in the world of sports. This year though it’s going to be a little different.
I’m focusing on Tennessee football and specifically head coach Butch Jones. He didn’t have the kind of season most Tennessee fans were expecting. The 8-4 record was far from it. Even the 5-0 start was shaky.
The Vols still had a chance to win the SEC East after the upsetting loss at South Carolina, and things were looking good until LSU failed to help us and beat Florida.
A trip to the Sugar Bowl would have been a sweet consolation, but Tennessee got run over at Vanderbilt. Former Vol Tim Irwin, on his Sunday morning radio show, described it best. He said the Commodores’ running lanes looked like “interstates.”
While Tennessee fans’ feelings ranged from disappointment to disgust, Butch spent only 41 words in his opening statement about the loss to the Commodores in his post-game media conference that night. That was nowhere near enough to make us feel better. For comparison, after the unbelievable win at Georgia, Butch tossed out 374 words.
Stability is a key to having a solid program in major college football. And with that said, the UT program will be better off if Jones can be successful and return the Vols to SEC title contention like they’ve been many times before. On the other hand, every disappointing season makes it that much harder to get back to that level.
Not having an athletic director aboard (lame duck AD Dave Hart seems to be just soaking the clock until retirement day) makes things even worse. A true AD could issue Jones a vote of confidence or put his fanny on the hot seat. As it is, Jones’ status is up in the air. He lost support from a good portion of the fan base this season. It’s not good when one becomes the butt of jokes.
Santa, my fondest memory of this past campaign was seeing an ecstatic Butch Jones break down on the field after Josh Dobbs’ Hail Mary pass to Jauan Jennings beat Georgia in Athens.
Butch was overcome by emotion. The TV camera caught a glimpse of his deliriously happy face before he dropped down to one knee I believe to say thanks. That brief look reminded me of Johnny Majors’ facial expression when assistant coach Bill Higdon jumped into his arms on the sidelines after the Miracle at South Bend in 1991.
As a Tennessee fan myself, it warmed my heart to see Coach Jones show so much excitement about a Vol victory. It wasn’t planned, that’s for sure.
Butch needs to let his feelings out more often. He needs to celebrate when Tennessee fans celebrate. He needs to hurt when Tennessee fans hurt. He can’t just say it. He has to show it.
So I’ve put together a list of things I would like to see from Butch in the future. Change, remember, can be good . . .
Butch, don’t be so uptight. Loosen up. Unbutton your collar. Let your shirttail out sometimes.
Come to work a little later. Let others do their job and trust they will. Work smart but find time for fun and maybe a few pranks. (Rick Barnes, I’ve heard, could assist you in this area) Enjoy the moment. Cherish how fortunate you are to have the job you do. Go home a little earlier. Stop and smell the roses occasionally on the way.
Have faith in your players. Give them opportunities to make big plays. Coach them in such a way that they will be comfortable and not looking over their shoulder every time they make a mistake.
Smile more, scowl less.
Communicate professionally with the referees. Kid around with them when there’s a time for such. They are human just like you. They make mistakes just like you do. Let them referee and you coach. They’ll respect you for it. And every now and then when you do have to growl, they’ll pay closer attention to your complaint.
Reduce the number of slogans. Eliminate the clichés. Talk like the rest of us and off the cuff. When times call for it, speak from the heart.
Admit your mistakes and learn from these experiences. It’s okay to be wrong. Being stubborn can be worse and prevent progress.
Throw away the notebook in your back pocket that has the names of those who have criticized you. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
I’m not seeking to change Butch the person. But I would like to see a different Coach Jones. We need to see him hurt when we’re hurting. We want to see him jump for joy when we celebrate.
We’re in this together. Let’s make it a long ride for the sake of the program.
So Santa, not for 1-0 but for a new beginning, how about a win over Nebraska in the Music City Bowl for Butch, the Vols and all Tennessee fans come Dec. 30. And wrap it, please, in Orange and White.