Butch Jones on his message to Tennessee fans
As much as Tennessee fans wish it were otherwise, their football team cannot compare in talent or depth with several of its SEC opponents.
Said another way, on the field, the Vols are behind.
However, there are areas where Tennessee can look Alabama in the eye.
This is exactly the time of year when the Vols can outshine anyone.
“We use the term TNT, Takes No Talent,’’ coach Butch Jones said Monday between swings of a golf tournament at Willow Creek that raised $240,000 for Variety, the Regal Cinemas charity.
As in it takes no talent to be a master of the intangibles. It takes no talent to be a team leader.
I know, I know. You’d rather read about how Jones plans to attack Georgia on third-and-6 on Oct. 5. But that can wait. It has to wait.
This is May. Spring practice is done. The semester is finishing. Fall camp is three months away.
This is the hands-off time for Jones and his coaches, per NCAA rules. The primary supervision comes from the strength staff.
In short, it’s a nervous time for coaches, who by nature are control freaks.
That’s why Jones spent an inordinate amount of time in his first months on campus emphasizing leadership and accountability.
And it’s why he believes his Vols can and will excel between now and fall camp. TNT.
It’s not as if there is no talent. And it’s not as if Jones isn’t hoping his best players are also his best leaders. But 40 times and recruiting stars are irrelevant when it comes to building chemistry.
“Some of the best teams I’ve been a part of may not have been the most talented individually,’’ Jones said, “but as a collective unit, we were the best team.
“We have to be a team that overachieves in the way we play, our effort, our mentality, our toughness, our brotherhood.
“Those are all things we can control.’’
Only for the next few weeks and months, Jones can’t control them himself.
“Now,’’ he said, “it becomes a player-led football team.’’
Toward that end, Jones had the team vote to elect a 14-man “player staff.’’ He personally has been the lead contact with that group.
He asked them to come up with three prime goals for the offseason. They responded.
One is to be a tougher team, both mentally and physically.
Two is brotherhood, building chemistry.
“I’ve watched,’’ said Jones, “not only what we did on the field last year, (but) what was our sideline morale like, what was our demeanor, our collective spirit?’’
Three is that every individual take accountability for his own personal development over the summer.
While Jones can’t work directly with his players for now, he’s plenty busy. Recruiting momentum must be maintained. UT is off to the races with 12 commitments for 2014 already and two for 2015.
“We have a great product to sell,’’ Jones said. “So it doesn’t surprise me.’’
There’s nothing new on suspended tailback Marlin Lane. Jones is waiting on his semester grades: “Just like I am for everyone else in the program.’’
On Thursday, the Big Orange Caravan cranks up in Memphis. By now Jones is prepared for the kinds of turnouts he will see. He knows he’s not in Cincinnati anymore.
He’ll tell the crowds how he’s building a foundation, brick by brick, and they’ll love it. They’ve loved virtually everything about his first months on the job. Jones is well aware there’s a reality check ahead.
“Come the fall,’’ he said, “we have to win some games.’’
For now, though, his players have to keep building a team.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.