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Seth on Sports: A tough sell

UT football coach Butch Jones speaks to reporters in a press conference inside the Tennessee locker room on Friday.
Published: 4:34 PM, 12/08/2012 Last updated: 4:45 PM, 12/08/2012

Author: Seth Butler
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

New Tennessee football coach Butch Jones better get his best recruiting pitch ready.

He's sure going to need it.

Recruiting players to Tennessee, a state largely devoid of high school football talent, has always been the make or break result on the football field. Now recruiting a fan base might be the make or break statement for the athletic department's future financial footing.

Tennessee, and Jones who becomes the Vols' fourth coach in six seasons, now must sell the fact that their beloved program has just hired someone who lost to the guy they just fired. Fans thought hiring anyone would be an upgrade over Dooley, who lost almost 10 percent of Tennessee's SEC games in history.

While the Dooley era showed some flashes of promise over his three-year tenure, the wins were few and far between. Now Tennessee fans are expected to root for the coach of one of the teams they beat?

Some fans went to the extreme on Thursday evening to send hate messages to Jones' Twitter account. While the anger of having a coaching search blow up in the national spotlight is understandable, the news brought even more of a black eye to the Tennessee brand.

It's no wonder fans are angry, or even apathetic.

After recorded attendance at two of the final three home games of the 2012 season dipped into the low 80,000s - the Volunteers already strapped financial budget took another blow with lost anticipated revenue.

So Tennessee did the only thing possible. They whacked Derek Dooley and hoped for a reboot of their football team to reenergize fans.

The coaching search probably did little to energize a fan base starving for one ounce of success.

The search which began with visions of a certain former Super Bowl winning coach dancing in fans' minds and then quickly turned into a bottom of the bargain bin hunt.

Sights were set on Florida State's Jimbo Fisher - a guy who Hart worked closely with in the past - but he didn't even interview. The search then went to Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy and Louisville coach Charlie Strong. Both spurned the Vols publicly. Gundy however claimed talks with Tennessee were never serious and Strong received no raise, but only a contract extension to stay with the Cardinals.

That led Tennessee to turn to Jones, likely the fourth choice of the search and to some, the last resort for an already divided and petrified fan base.

However, schools rarely get their first pick. They rarely get the home run hire. Nick Saban to Alabama is the exception, rather than the rule.

Les Miles was barely a winning coach at Oklahoma State. Mark Richt and Will Muschamp were upper echelon coordinators. Steve Spurrier arrived in the SEC way back when from Duke University.

Jones mentioned as much in Friday's introductory press conference.

"It's a process - you have to look at the body of work," Jones said. "It hasn't been just formed at one institution, it's now been formed at two institutions along the way.

"I will be the first to tell you that Nick Saban and Les Miles had zero SEC experience when they came into the league," Jones said.

Jones actually inherits a Tennessee program on its best footing since the close of the 2008 season.

He comes across with a solid resume, including four league championships in six seasons as a head coach. Some in fact say his resume is better than Strong's, who Tennessee was set to sorely over pay had he accepted the job on Wednesday.

Unlike Strong however, Jones was ready and willing to accept the job. Two days ago he was being courted by former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning to the University of Colorado. Friday, he stood in the Peyton Manning Locker Room quarterback at Tennessee.

Jones took a job when no one else wanted to. He was excited. Now his job is to excite a fan base desperate for a win.

That will be a hard sale to make, with three trips to Top Five opponents in the first eight games of the 2013 schedule, but fans should be thankful Jones took the gig and thankful he was still available when Tennessee was left standing at the alter.

Hart told the media on Friday that Jones was energetic and sold him on his passion for the Tennessee job.

Now it's that passion that Jones will need to turn into victories to sell his vision to the Tennessee fan base.

It'll be a hard sell, but one he absolutely must make.

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