KNOXVILLE-Excitement and enthusiasm.
Over 61,000 fans.
Positive vibes oozing from every crevice within the University of Tennessee football program.
It was not the ideal backdrop for a SEC football team coming off three consecutive losing seasons and a diatribe of negativity from former coach Derek Dooley, but it’s the work of new Vols football coach Butch Jones.
Hired in December, and not the first-choice of athletic director Dave Hart, Jones has placed his stamp on the Vols which has envigorated a fan base looking for shards of hope and a group of former lettermen, that was shunned from the program by the prior regime.
It’s all part of developing a message that Jones is determined to get the Vols back on top. That message has been loud and clear thus far, with the Tennessee program already bringing in eight 2014 recruits and holding the fifth-rated recruiting class according to Rivals.com
That tone again was set on Saturday, according to Jones.
“The message is loud and clear: There is no other place in the country like Tennessee,” Jones said following Saturday’s annual spring scrimmage. “All you have to do is look at the evidence--the success of the program, the leadership from our administration, the fan base and our coaching staff.
“We are going to attract the right players to come play football here at Tennessee. Why would you not want to come here?,” Jones said. “You see the environment, the chance to build something special. I think that today spoke volumes.”
The entire day, which was almost a throwaway day for action on the football field, was built around a fan-friendly experience. From the pregame fan appreciation availability, Jones also honed in on a number of opportunities to get fans more involved in the game experience.
Twice during the scrimmage, young fans were allowed to pick plays from a list provided by Jones. It is all part of the method to continue to broaden and deliver the message of the Tennessee football program.
“Everything we want to do, especially in events like this, is fan friendly,” Jones said. “I think it is a way to have fun, keep your serious side, but also a way to say thank you for your support.
“Those young people, those little kids, will remember that for the rest of their lives,” Jones said. “It’s all about growing up with an affinity for the University of Tennessee and that just helps that process.”
Trying to develop that affinity is everything that Jones has centered his four months on the job around. On Friday night, the Vols had over 500 former players visit as the program dedicated the school’s new football facility. On Saturday morning, former players Erik Ainge and Al Wilson spoke to the players at a captains breakfast.
“We had over 500 former players back on Friday night and you saw them all here at the game today - we are all in this thing together,” Jones said. “They understand the work that needs to be done, but you can just feel their presence around this football program and it’s great.”
While the feeling around Saturday’s spring scrimmage, which have become more festival-like in nature across the SEC, was positive, there is still tremendous amounts of work to be done on the field between now and the kickoff of the 2013 campaign in August. The Vols have a quarterback battle to determine and a number of key offensive personnel to replace.
“I think our players see the amount of work that needs to be done in the summer months,” Jones said. “There is a lot of work that needs to be done over the next couple of months.
“I can feel this football team growing closer and closer together, but we have to get a lot better over the summer,” Jones said.