Vols Football: Why Leave Tennessee?


Nov 24, 2012; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers player A.J. Johnson (45) scores a touchdown against the Kentucky Wildcats during the first half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

“Who would want to leave Tennessee when you have a year left?”

That quote, from returning senior linebacker AJ Johnson, might be the biggest indicator of what Butch Jones has accomplished during his short time as the Vols’ head coach.

We haven’t been able to measure the success of Jones in wins just yet. That wouldn’t be fair. But we can measure his success in how he’s completely changed the atmosphere in Knoxville.

A year ago at this time, we were witnessing a mass exodus from Tennessee. Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Bray and Darrington Sentimore all left early for the NFL.

Two of those players, Bray and Sentimore, went undrafted. They both knew there was a good chance that might happen, but they decided to leave Tennessee anyway.

Sentimore likely didn’t have a choice, but Bray could’ve stayed one more season and improved his draft stock, but morale had dropped so far at that point that he just didn’t think it was worth it.

An example of how far morale had dropped can be seen in a telling quote from Cordarrelle Patterson from last year’s draft combine.

Patterson told scouts “I didn’t expect to be a one-year-and-done but we had the coaching change and everything was getting a little crazy, so I wanted to get out of there“.

To go from that to “why would you want to leave Tennessee” in a year’s time is beyond impressive — it’s unheard of these days.

You don’t just change the atmosphere at a fallen program that quickly. You don’t convince players who have a third round grade (as AJ Johnson did) to stay for their senior season when you’re coming off a 5-7 season. Those things just don’t happen.

But that’s exactly what Butch Jones did. He convinced AJ Johnson to stay and he did it by not even trying that hard.

Johnson said that Jones didn’t “bug” him about coming back. He said the Vols’ coach gave him his space.

“You only get a certain amount of time to play at Tennessee” is what Johnson told reporters on Tuesday after practice.

And oh how true that is.

This is time that Johnson, nor any other collegiate athlete, will ever get back. This is time that NFL veterans tell young players to cherish because it truly is the best time of their life.

For a brief period of time, Tennessee wasn’t the place where college kids wanted to stay. They wanted to get out and get out quickly.

Thanks to Butch Jones that way of thinking has changed. Thanks to Butch Jones kids are now saying “Who would want to leave Tennessee?”