In his first few months on the job Butch Jones has already endeared himself to many Tennessee fans. He’s made a great first impression by bringing in former players and making them feel welcome and more then just fans. Jones and his staff have reached out to fans via Twitter, often interacting with them and retweeting their well wishes. These are all things Volunteer fans are not accustomed to after the last three years. Former coach Derek Dooley was known for limiting access to former players and never embraced social media, until after he was relieved of his duties as head football coach. Butch Jones so far has done everything right, but his first real test comes with his first recruiting class.
Why is this first class so important for Butch Jones?
A lot of coaches operate as if they are given a pass in their first season. I’m sure we all remember Derek Dooley’s comments about his first year as head coach really being “year zero”. Butch Jones does not share this sentiment. When he was hired he understood he only had a little over a week before the recruiting “dead” period and he got right to work. He understood that he had less then two months until national signing day and he has shown to be a relentless worker along with his entire staff. Some might argue that Derek Dooley had a more difficult hill to climb in his first year as head coach, and in some ways they’d be right. He was hired after a whirlwind 72 hours that saw former coach Lane Kiffin bolt for the west coast in the middle of the night, leaving then athletic director Mike Hamilton searching for a replacement in mid January. Just because the hiring of Butch Jones was a carefully thought out process where new athletic director, Dave Hart, could take his time, doesnt mean it’s a perfect situation for Jones. The athletic department is $200 million in debt and will be paying buyouts for the next several years. On top of that the Times Free Press published an article in late November, after the firing of Derek Dooley, that detailed the blatant disregard Dooley had for the tri-state area high schools. Tennessee was seeing players in the their backyard because of Dooley’s actions, or non action, towards them and their schools. Players that normally Tennessee would’ve had locked up were getting more attention from Auburn, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.
Butch Jones has already went a long way in repairing those relationships. He’s reached out to high school coaches in the area and let him know their importance to him and this football team. It was reported Thursday that Jones went to Georgia to have dinner with five star recruit Von Bell’s high school football coach Mark Mariakis. The Times Free Press quoted Mariakis as saying “it’s something that hadn’t been done with previous UT staffs, so for him to take time out of his busy schedule just to meet with me says a lot about him”. This tells you how serious Butch Jones is about repairing these relationships in the tri-state area. This also tells you how important this first class is to coach Jones. He isn’t taking a pass, he isn’t “playing for 2014″ when many coaches would be judged by having “their own recruits”. Butch Jones wants to win in 2013, he expects to win in 2013. On Wednesday night when the number two wide receiver in the nation, Marquez North, committed to play football for the University of Tennessee, it added instant legitimacy to the 2013 recruiting class and set the stage for more commitments to come.
Butch Jones and his staff understand what Tennessee is all about. He came here with a vision, and it’s a vision we all as Tennessee fans share. He wants to see the big orange back on top, where it belongs. He believes in the traditions of Tennessee and he’s embraced those traditions. I personally can’t wait to see coach Jones leading the Volunteers down Peyton Manning Pass for the Vol walk. I can’t wait to see him leading the team through the T onto the field at Neyland next season. Butch Jones has a lot to prove as head coach at Tennessee. He hasn’t had a team take the field yet, and other then his comments and the way he presents himself, we have little to judge him on so far. The 2013 recruiting class will be the first time we can fully see a glimpse into what’s in store for the Volunteers. If he can get this recruiting class in the top 15 it will go a long way towards rebuilding the somewhat rocky foundation of Tennessee football. That’s why this recruiting class is so important to Butch Jones.