Butch Jones, along with the other 13 SEC coaches, spoke to the media on Wednesday during a post-spring conference call.
Here’s what the Vol coach had to say:
I thought we had an extremely productive spring and made great progress as we continue to develop this overall team’s identity and style of play. We had to focus on the small details and really figure out what does it take to play winning football at your position individually and collectively.
50 percent of our players were going through spring practice for the first time. We’re still dealing with the realities of building a football program in an elite conference, but I thought out players were very focused. As we continue to move forward, this summer is going to be very big for our overall development in all phases.
I thought our program benefited from 14 newcomers. I thought they brought a whole other level of energy and competition and that competitive culture that we speak about each and every day. I thought we took tremendous strides improving as a football team and as a football program.
On the SEC retaining an eight game conference schedule
The first thing is that I was very excited that we were able to maintain the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry. That’s in our DNA. It’s a great tradition that we have here and it’s great for our fans and its great for the SEC and it’s great for the country. That was the big thing.
In terms of scheduling, eight games, nine games, I don’t really think there is any perfect solution. We have to do what’s best for the conference, as we continue to move forward, and I support that. This big thing for us is being able to maintain the rivalry with Alabama.
On the summer additions to the roster
I’m very excited. In the conclusion of spring, I thought the offense was a little bit ahead of the defense. I think that’s in direct correlation to the 14 newcomers. 11 were on the offensive side of the ball.
Most of our signees were early enrollees. Now we get the infusion of the depth and competition with the 18 newcomers coming in. I believe, 16 are on the defensive side of the ball, so we should be a different defensive football team.
We are extremely healthy in all aspects. I thought our older players did a great job of teaching the 14 newcomers our culture, our standard of excellence, our expectations, our mindset, really what it means to play here.
I think it was a big, not a wake-up call, but I think it was great that for the spring game. We had almost 69,000 people and we needed that to happen because, we needed to see those youngsters in that type of environment and see how they could compete individually. That’s the way we really tried to break the spring game down, competing individually, seeing which individuals would step up in that type of competitive environment.
On the importance of geography in recruiting
I think there are a number of things. First of all, the national brand that Tennessee brings about. I think it’s the product we are selling. You have an opportunity to compete in the best football conference in the country.
We have tremendous facilities. We have great academics. We have great campus life and it’s Tennessee. On top of it, we have great people. Our assistant coaches did a great job of really formulating relationships and trust, which is built over time, we are in a people business and selling what Tennessee has to offer.
I think its a unique opportunity for a young man to make a difference, to get Tennessee football back. I think there’s a lot of great things, with the ability to sell what we have here. But, at the end of the day, it’s all based on relationships.
On recruiting the midwest
It’s very important. But, we are going to start with home first, it starts with Tennessee. It starts with a six-hour radius. That is one of the advantages of being here, where we are geographically located.
We can be in a number of different areas of the country. There’s a lot of great football within driving distance. We have tried to use where we are located as an advantage.
On playing non-conference games in the new scheduling format
I do think it is good. Everything is about your quality of opponents. I found out at a very early stage of being here that we play the best of the best. You look at this year’s schedule and we have Oklahoma at Oklahoma. Nine of our 12 opponents on our overall schedule were bowl teams.
You look at last year having to go on the road and having to play at Oregon. In terms of meeting that criteria, we have always met that criteria here and that’s been one of the challenges. Part of building this football program back is that we have a very difficult and challenging schedule as well.
On the new rule allowing more contact during the summer with coaches
Being a player-led football team is critical. The leadership, and everything that goes along with it, the team chemistry, that’s necessary to win. To be able to have two hours in a classroom setting will prove to be extremely beneficial to us because of the influx of newcomers that we have in our program.
For us, its will be a balancing act, because you have to deduct that from your time in the strength and conditioning room. Having to play as many true freshmen as we are going to have to play this year, every rep in the weight room is as critical as every mental rep in the classroom setting. So, we will use a balancing act. But for us, that rule change is coming at the right time for us.