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Tennessee Football: A Family Affair

Butch Jones-1-15

As much as I love what Butch Jones has done, it’s too early to anoint him as a great coach. Much of his legacy is yet to be written. But it is safe to say that the worst case scenario for Jones as it pertains to Tennessee Football is that he’ll go down as one of its most important coaches. Because he’s stopped the bleeding. At very least, he’s given Vol Nation hope that better days will arrive sooner than later thanks to the potential he’s helped create.

Last year my kids got their first taste of that potential when they witnessed the entirety of the South Carolina game (thanks, in part, to an obscene amount of cotton candy). And in so doing, they felt the stadium come alive like they never have before.

“This,” I yelled after the circus catch by Marquez North, “THIS is what it used to be like. And THIS is what it will be like again soon. All the time.”

Butch Jones isn’t Phillip Fulmer. And he’s not Johnny Majors. His accent will tell you that. He’s about as far from an East Tennesseean as it gets. But he understands something as well as those two men or any other Tennesseean, for that matter, and that’s the irreplaceable role that family and tradition play at a place like Tennessee.

In the presser right after he was hired, Jones said that Tennessee was his dream job and I remember thinking he’d laid it on a bit thick with that one. But the more time that passes, the more I’m starting to believe him.

I really do think this was his dream job. Maybe not Tennessee, per se, but a place like Tennessee. One steeped in greatness, supported by zealous fans, yet a place that had lost its way. Because I believe that Jones believed he knew how to fix such a place. By going back to its roots and reinforcing the tradition and family atmosphere that forever surround such a program. Look no further than to today’s press conference when Jones said something that combined tradition and family at once:

“We get to raise this team as Vol Nation.”

So how appropriate is it that Jones was the one to procure the legacy class? Sure, some of it was luck. It’s not every year there’s a legacy crop like that. But there was no guarantee these kids were going to come to UT. Ask TK, Jr. He’ll tell you. It took a lot of hard work to keep those boys in the family. Hard work that Jones and his staff were willing to do because they understood how important family is.

The reward? Young men like Todd Kelly Jr, Vic Wharton, Neiko Creamer, the Berry twins and Dillon Bates. Guys whose DNA is not only orange, but also hard coded to know what it was like to be a Vol back when it all began. At least for this fan.

Coincidence? Maybe.

But to me, it feels more like the beginning of the next chapter. Because this season, as I continue to try to explain to my kids what it used to be like, Butch Jones will be doing the same with his kids. Only with the influx of the 2014 class, he’ll have several real-live examples he can single out to help drive that point home.

Jones understands Tennessee’s history. He respects it. And he gets the importance of the UT family. Had he not, he’d never have successfully recruited the young men who will not only be playing for their school, but also for their fathers who once wore the school’s colors.

None of that means that the return to glory will happen this year. But all of that means that the return to glory is a lot closer than it used to be.

And that makes me think back to the man who first introduced me to Tennessee Football. He’s probably sitting up there in heaven right now having a cocktail before dinner. Who knows if time exists there, so he may not be able to tell you what year it is. But I’m positive he could tell you this:

The Vols play Utah State this weekend.

And Tennessee football is once again as it used to be. As it always should be.

A family affair.

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