Butch Jones flew down to Jacksonville, Fla. for the day to participate in the TaxSlayer Bowl press conference and to officially receive Tennessee’s invitation to the Jan. 2 game against Iowa. Jones and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz were also presented with honorary keys to the city by Jacksonville mayor Alvin Brown.
Here’s what Jones had to say at the press conference (via the live stream from News4Jax.com):
Opening statement after receiving the formal invitation to play in the TaxSlayer Bowl:
“Happy holidays to everyone. Mayor Brown, Vince and Rick, thank you for this tremendous opportunity. On behalf of Tennessee, the entire state of Tennessee, our student-athletes, our alumni, our student body and our great fans, we very humbly and very proudly accept your invitation to be a part of this tremendous bowl game.
“It’s very fitting for us. This will be our 50th bowl appearance in this program’s proud history and tradition, and what more fitting than to spend it than in Jacksonville, Florida?
“Just like Coach Ferentz said, we called an emergency meeting at 5:30 and Dave Hart, our Vice-Chancellor and Director of Athletics came sprinting into my office at about 5:20 and informed me of what was about to occur, so within about 10 minutes we called an emergency team meeting at 5:30 and I kind of watched our players as they gathered to go in our team meeting room, not knowing what was coming before them and to be able to have that opportunity to stand in front of those young me, all 120 of them, and we’ve gone through a lot of natural adversities that a long football season presents and to be able to explain to them the magnitude of a January bowl game and the magnitude of the TaxSlayer Bowl was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had as a football coach.
“We’ll only have one player on our football team that’s ever experienced a bowl game before, and that’s our punter Matt Darr, so you can tell we have a lot of questions and a lot of things associated with going to our first bowl game in a number of years, but we’re very excited, very proud to represent Tennessee. Congratulations to Iowa, Iowa is a program that I have watched from afar for a long period of time and have admired their toughness, their consistency in performance and it’s going to be a tough challenge. I look forward to seeing everyone, thank you for this tremendous opportunity, happy holidays and Go Vols.”
On rebuilding in the SEC…
“It’s a challenge in any conference to build a football program, but I think when you’re in the SEC, just the resources, the commitment, the fan bases – it’s all magnified and it’s a great challenge. But you have a plan in place and it all starts with building a culture. It’s a standard, it’s an expectation and that’s what’s expected of winning football games at Tennessee and doing things right. So as a leader you have to paint that vision and you put your head down each and every day and I’m very, very proud of our players. We’ve played 24 true freshmen, we’ve started nine true freshmen and that’s sometimes been out of necessity because of where we’re at as a program.
“But you get a chance to basically, I referred to our team as an expansion team when the season started, and really to see these individuals develop over the course of a season and the leadership that’s continued to be formed and I’m extremely proud of our seniors, the individuals that we’ve had provided stability to the program and they’ve provided leadership. We have a great, great commitment at Tennessee from our athletic administration and Dave Hart, Chancellor Cheek and everyone involved. It’s been a great team effort, you look at the academics, how far we’ve come – we had a perfect score in the APR last year and with coaching transitions that normally does not occur, so there’s a lot of positive energy and positive things helping us rebuild this very proud football program.”
On how far the team has come and where they need more work and how valuable are the bowl practices to the young players…
“We’ve come a long way in terms of our toughness and our mentality. We’re going to be a blue-collar football team and we coach effort on every single snap. And so I think just the total investment by our players, the toughness, the consistency in performance, all the mental effort and intensity that we talk about that it takes to prepare. Our players have done a very good job with that.
:Where we’re at in the program: We still lack depth. The only way you correct that issue is through recruiting and developing your players. You know, we signed 32 individuals last year and we had 13 newcomers at mid-year, we’ll have at least 8-10 newcomers at mid-year this year and we’ll sign another full recruiting class, so you just have to continue to recruit and develop.
“These practices are invaluable for our football team. It’s another opportunity – we spoke to our team about every team has a life expectancy, we’re Team 118 at the University of Tennessee, we’ve been playing football for 118 years. So every team has its own life expectancy and that life expectancy is coming to an end, so it’s another opportunity for this football team to become even closer to what they are now, but the practices are invaluable for developing the younger players –but even off the field – when you play an inordinate amount of freshmen, we don’t have the luxury right now of redshirting, so their growth and development in the weight room has been set back because of that. So now we’re able to go back a little bit and really spark up our strength and conditioning program so it’s going to be invaluable to us.”
On if he’s studied Iowa and if there are any similarities to any SEC teams…
“I have a little bit, not much, but a little bit just because of being on the road recruiting – we’ll (look more at Iowa) next week. But like I spoke about earlier, I’ve followed Coach and I’ve followed the Iowa program for many, many years and you know in where we’re at in the culture of football, everyone wants to make changes. When you look at Iowa, you think of stability, you think of consistency and you win with consistency in everything that you do. And they’ve had great consistency, great stability, their teams are always very tough, very physical, very well-coached, you know, and when I became a head football coach eight years ago, Iowa is one of the programs that I studied and I looked at in terms of toughness and a mentality. So I’ve studied them from afar, have I really dove into them in-depth on this year’s team? No, I’ll have that ability when we get back next week, but just the respect we have for their football program and for Coach and what they’ve built there, it’s at a very high level.”