The first-year Tennessee football coach was scheduled to speak to the UT Student Government Association.
Since the group was installing new officers, it thought the leader of another group in transition would be an appropriate speaker. So it asked. And Jones accepted.
He has done that a lot.
“Put it on my calendar,” has become a common response by Jones to requests that won’t necessarily help his team gain a yard this fall.
That raises a couple of obvious questions: What’s wrong with him? Doesn’t he realize he’s in the SEC?
Based on how openly and often Jones has promoted his program, you would think he’s trying to sell tickets to a Pay-Per-View boxing match.
He has made former UT players feel so welcome they might start showing up unannounced at his house for dinner.
The media isn’t that cozy with the coach, but it does have more access. Most importantly, so do the fans. And they don’t need a Twitter account to realize it.
Jones’ fan-related references pop up in almost every interview. He keeps including them, empowering them and reminding them that they’re in this together.
“They’re part of our football program,” Jones emphasizes. “100,000-plus fans in a stadium is pretty special.”
No matter how many of them show up for Saturday’s spring game, he wants them to leave hopeful, a challenging goal perhaps for a program that has endured three consecutive losing seasons.
He’s asking fans to invest in the program he’s building, not just the team he’s fielding.
“We want them to see a vision,” he said. “To see a style of play that’s disciplined and fundamentally sound. We will be a blue-collar football team, a team they can relate to.”
Jimmy Stanton, UT’s associate athletic director for communications, hasn’t been surprised by Jones’ fan-friendly, media-accessible approach. He expected as much after his first conversation on the subject with Jones.
“He understands that if you are out there trying to convince recruits about investing their college experience and talking about all the great things Tennessee has to offer, then you have to grant access,” Stanton said.
It seems simple enough. Yet, some SEC football coaches operate their program as though they’re running a covert military operation.
Conversely, Jones opened up his spring scrimmages and a greater portion of practices to the media. As of this writing, the program hasn’t collapsed.
Meanwhile, its new leader has further endeared himself to the fan base, which has gained greater insight into how the coach conducts his business.
The coach will be multi-tasking Saturday. He will have a spring game to manage, fans to entertain and scores of recruits to win over.
Many of those recruits will form a first impression of Tennessee. And sometimes, those first impressions still resonate on signing day.
You can bet Jones will be fired up for the occasion. Maybe the fans will be, too.
After all, they’re in this together.