Tennessee football coach Butch Jones finished up a workout with his team on campus Wednesday morning and drove to a speaking engagement while trying to regain his voice.
Even a pre-speech sweet tea couldn’t eliminate the hoarseness.
“The players saw a little bit of Butch Jones this morning,” Jones told the crowd at the Big Orange TipOff Club at Calhoun’s on the River. “They’re going to have my mentality ... But this team has been really receptive. It’s more like, ‘Just teach us, Coach. We want to win.’”
While fans have seen the affable and friendly side of Jones during his first three months on the job, players have started to learn that he also means business. When they arrive for workouts Friday morning, players will be wearing one of three jerseys.
“They’ll be graded in three areas,” Jones said. “If they play at a championship level, they’ll wear orange. If they’re average, they’ll be white. If they’re awful or not up to our standard, they’ll be in blue.”
What does Jones expect to see?
“We have a lot of guys in white and a lot in blue, but we’ll get that corrected,” Jones said.
His players are being graded in what Jones calls the “Standard” workouts, a series of seven extremely intense four-minute stations designed to push players to their mental and physical limit.
“It’s about playing up to what we call the Tennessee standard,” Jones said.
Jones likes to add a competitive element to the pre-spring workouts as a way of breeding leaders while making the drills more engaging.
“There’s a winner and loser in every drill,” he said. “We’re trying to develop the mind and the mindset.
“Our players have really gravitated to it and really been invested in it. I can see the progress we’re making in all facets of the program right now.”
In other news, Jones said that defensive backs coach Willie Martinez will be given the title of assistant head coach for defense.
Defensive line coach Steve Stripling has been designated assistant head coach. John Jancek is the defensive coordinator.
In response to a question about his staff, Jones told the crowd that offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian had been approached by two SEC schools this offseason, and receivers coach Zach Azzanni, who came to UT from Wisconsin, had “turned down three SEC jobs this year.”
Jones also had some surprisingly forceful opinions on changes to NCAA rules that would allow more contact between coaches and recruits.
“As coaches, as peers, we’re trying to get (the rules) stopped,” Jones said. “I can’t believe we didn’t have a say.”
The changes, which end restrictions on phone calls and text messages and relax limits on the number of staff members allowed to recruit, were meant to simplify an increasingly difficult rule book.
“We have a speed limit for a reason. Law enforcement agencies don’t say, ‘Well, we can’t enforce the speed limit, so we’re going to do away with it,’ ” Jones said.
Jones also referenced a conversation with former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel.
“Jim Tressel called me last year and he said, ‘Butch, we have to protect the integrity of our game. It’s not pro football,’” Jones said. “We have to make sure it doesn’t turn into the entertainment business.”
The rules were passed by university presidents and are scheduled to go into effect in July, but many believe the backlash will prompt the presidents to override the legislation next month.
Jones also predicted that rules concerning player safety would have a dramatic impact on the game, including the elimination of kickoffs, perhaps within five years.
Jones was well-received by the crowd of devoted basketball fans, and he praised the success of UT’s men’s and women’s basketball teams.
“We’re one Tennessee,” Jones said. “When basketball does well, football does well. When baseball does well, football does well. We’re one family.”
The last question went to a woman who said she was “just a simple housewife,” but predicted Jones would have great success at UT.
“I want to be here the rest of my career,” Jones said. “Maybe one day they’ll have a street named after me.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.