Butch Jones’ mantra has been so well received that Tennessee fans have smuggled bricks across state lines.
Determined to restore the Volunteers football program to its former glory, the first-year coach has compared the rebuilding process to laying a foundation on a house – brick by brick.
And the UT faithful are taking that quite literally.
Not five minutes into signing autographs at the 2013 Big Orange Caravan’s final stop in Franklin on Thursday, Jones was handed an orange brick from Clement Ledbetter. The Tennessee alum and Nashville native found it on the banks of the White River in Cotter, Ark.
Though the slab is from enemy (Razorback) territory, Ledbetter’s not worried about bringing over any bad mojo.
“That’s why it is orange instead of red now,” he said with a smile. “We haven’t really had much to be excited about the last three years. So when he started the brick-by-brick trend I thought it caught on and it made me get really excited. Watching his videos from practice and how he runs around and is all over the place, I think he is the best thing that has happened in 10 years to our program.”
To build a powerhouse that can last, Jones has preached meticulous planning and commitment from all players in the UT revival.
He developed the brick-by-brick approach one day when he looked out his office window and watched the construction of the football program’s new home – the $45 million Anderson Training Center. As the patio unfolded, Jones noticed the importance of each building block.
“If they forget to lay one brick or one brick isn’t properly aligned, it is out of place and they need to start to the project over,” Jones said. “It is just like building a football program. Everyone has to be totally aligned. I always speak about total alignment. Whether it is our support staff, training staff, equipment staff, coaching staff or our players, we’re looking for everyone to be all aligned. That’s kind of where the ‘brick by brick’ started and it is the basis of a foundation.”
Jones arrived at Tennessee after head coaching stops at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. Unlike jumping into a Volunteers program in turmoil, he took over those programs when they already were on the rise.
At both earlier stops Jones replaced current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. He stepped into places not in need of reconstruction but a good tenant to maintain the success and add to it. He did just that with four conference championships and 50 wins in six years.
Whether he has a reclamation project in him remains to be seen. But Tennessee fans like they what they see so far.
With less than two months at his disposal, Jones compiled a 2013 signing class that Rivals.com ranked 21st in the country. Already he and his crew have picked up 12 verbal commits for 2014 to contribute to Rivals.com’s third-best class in the nation.
“Tennessee football right now has a lot of momentum and a lot of energy,” Jones said. “I think it is being felt not only within the great state of Tennessee but throughout the country.”
Among the commitments is Hendersonville’s five-star running back Jalen Hurd. Jones emphasized the significance of attracting Nashville talent and establishing relationships with their high school coaches.
“It is critical,” he said. “Obviously there are great high school players in this region and area but also great high school coaches. We have a tremendous amount of respect for the football here. It is all about relationships. With all this, we are the University of Tennessee. … We are the state institution of Tennessee. We want individuals who have an infinity for the University of Tennessee and they know what they’re representing. I think that is big for us.”
What the UT faithful hope Jones represents is a welcome change.
After three straight losing seasons for the first time in more than 100 years, the Vols desperately want to see progress — quickly.
“I sense the hunger. I sense the expectation, the standard but that’s what you want,” Jones said. “Our fans have been outstanding and they’ve actually really energized me. Coming in and having sold-out environments like [Thursday] that’s what it is all about.”
The buzz and excitement isn’t lost anyone at Tennessee, including other coaches in the athletic department.
Men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin joined Jones on the caravan, which stopped in Memphis, Chattanooga, Kingsport and Atlanta. The third-year coach was amazed by the outpouring of support, not to mention bricks, that Jones received.
“There were two [bricks] in the truck when I got into the truck when we got off the plane,” Martin said. “I think it is a great gesture. I think the fans have really bought in. Butch is doing a tremendous job of selling it to everybody. Everywhere we go somebody is bringing bricks. Hopefully they don’t take one off my house.”