Bruce Pearl has already started ribbing Tony Jones, his longtime assistant, joking on Friday that he heard "Tony wants to renegotiate his contract now.''
The last time Jones was a head coach when a basketball game mattered was in 1993, when he led Team Michigan to a 35-1 record during three seasons in the AAU ranks.
The Tennessee associate head coach will find himself in charge of the 24th-ranked Vols (3-0) on game days when the Vols open the SEC season on Jan. 8 at Arkansas.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive announced Friday that Pearl has been suspended for the first eight games of the SEC schedule.
It's a sure bet Pearl's plans will be well in place for Jones and UT assistants Jason Shay and Steve Forbes.
"Me and Jason and Steve have been doing this a while, so we know the ropes,'' Jones said. "Jason will help me with the offense, Steve will continue working with the defense, and I'll still do the substitutions while managing the game and dealing with the officiating.
"Coach won't be there physically, but he'll be there spiritually,'' Jones said. "We know what he would do in any and all circumstances.''
Pearl will be allowed to coach the Vols during the first half of the SEC season, but just not on game days.
Jones has wondered how he would do as a head coach for years now, and other programs have flirted with the same idea.
Jones was a finalist for the top job at Marshall in 2007, and he was reportedly the leading candidate for an opening at Boston University two years ago before withdrawing his name from consideration.
Jones doesn't like the circumstances that have led to his future assignment on the side court, but he plans to make the most of it.
"Bruce has prepared me well for this over the last 10 years I've worked beside him,'' said Jones who joined Pearl's staff at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "He's one of the best minds in college basketball.''
And while Jones has been bothered and upset over the situation the Vols' basketball program has been forced to deal with over the past few months, he's quickly able to put it into perspective.
"Nothing can or ever will be more catastrophic than that situation with my father,'' said Jones, whose father was murdered in August of 2009. "I still think of him every day, and those daily talks we had, and I know during that eight-game stretch he'll be looking down on me and guiding me.''
Jones has needed to fill in for Pearl just once before over the past 10 seasons, doing so at halftime after Pearl was ejected during a game with Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Illinois-Chicago during the 2003-04 season.
"They were first in the league and we were second, and we were down eight at the half,'' Jones said. "We came back to lead by 10 but we lost by four.''
Jones will have an opportunity during the eight-game SEC stretch to win on two campuses where Pearl has failed to garner a victory, at Ole Miss and at Auburn.
Mighty Melvin: UT senior point guard Melvin Goins, who injured his side in the Vols' win over Belmont on Tuesday, was back on the court Saturday, practicing his shooting.
"It felt a lot better,'' said Goins, who was held out of the Vols' scrimmages and contact drills as a precaution. "I'll definitely be ready to go on Wednesday.''
UT plays Virginia Commonwealth at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (TV: ESPN2, 7:30 p.m.) in the semifinals of the NIT Preseason Tip-Off.
Goins originally suffered the side injury on Nov. 12 in UT's season-opening win against Chattanooga, and he re-injured it the second half against Belmont.
"I tried to go, but I had to take myself out,'' Goins said. "I realized I was hurting my team.''
Adjusting Scotty: Shay worked with guard Scotty Hopson on Friday to help adjust the junior's shot.
"It was his shoulder angle,'' Shay explained. "It's just a minor adjustment, so I think he'll be fine.''
Hopson has started the season making two of 13 shots beyond the 3-point arc.
"I don't think I'm really in a slump,'' Hopson said. "I've just had some bad luck with a few shots that didn't fall. I've gotten it taken care of.''