New beginning for Butch Jones

Marvin West
Sports

This is an exciting time in Tennessee football. Can you see the sparks and feel the thrill? It is the new beginning of Butch Jones’ coaching career.

He has a new boss. He has five new primary assistants. He will have a new quarterback.

This is Butch’s second-best chance to become one of the truly famous leaders in the game. His first was when Dave Hart coaxed him away from Cincinnati as the replacement for Derek Dooley. He received a motivational boost in pay and inherited great facilities and the rich Tennessee tradition.

Even with roster deficiencies, some degree of success seemed certain. There was almost no way Jones could do worse than his predecessor.

Butch, indeed, built brick by brick and made considerable progress but did not set the proverbial woods on fire. His recruiting classes were better than his 30-21 record. He lost a couple he should have won. Some pearls of wisdom were misconstrued. Critics sneered.

Timing wasn’t too good but “champions of life” and “five-star hearts” sounded noble enough to me.

Last season was a double disappointment. The Vols managed to miss out on the SEC East championship in that inexplicable setback at South Carolina. At Vanderbilt, the Vols played themselves out of the Sugar Bowl.

Just guessing, but there may have been some unrest in the ranks. Fans certainly fretted.

This is almost like starting over. New deck of cards. The youth movement is complete. The depth problem has been reduced. In theory, 32 of 44 from the two-deep chart are returning. That sounds really good until you notice that many of the best players are gone.

There is now more ordinary optimism where wild and wonderful expectations once lived. There is talent and better odds on development. Some who were injured have healed. Competition at several positions is already obvious in spring drills.

If what we hear from players is fact instead of fiction, Rock Gullickson lit the fire that is supposed to warm up the future. He was an all-NFL strength and conditioning coach who just happened to be unemployed when Butch called.

I can still hear Jones’ enthusiastic endorsement …

“We are ecstatic to welcome Rock … I know what he stands for as a coach and a person … he fits the culture we are continuing to build at UT … he has a comprehensive plan that I truly believe our players will greatly benefit from … he is passionate about his work, tireless, detail-oriented, and has a tremendous track record of developing and motivating players … he will provide the type of training needed to compete at the highest level.”

That sounded to me like Butch had a need and Rock had a chance to meet it.

No question about defensive backs coach Charlton Warren.

He got a very large pay increase to come from North Carolina to fill a void. If he teaches corners to look back for the football, he will be worth all $450,000 a year.

For another half a million, Butch purchased extensive experience and credibility in Brady Hoke. The former head coach at Michigan has a giant reputation among defensive line coaches. He does face a challenge.

The Tennessee head coach changed the offensive staff without changing the offense. Tight end coach Larry Scott made the big jump, to coordinator, and undoubtedly influenced the selection of quarterbacks coach Mike Canales and wide receivers coach Kevin Beard. All three have south Florida ties. Walt Wells’ Middle Tennessee recruiting connections helped him become offensive line coach.

What all this says is Butch Jones has improved his chances of moving on up in the world. Contract extension? Five million instead of four? Joy, joy, strike up the band.

All we need now are defensive tackles, outside linebackers, secondary solidity and results.

Nine more wins might satisfy John Currie until Butch can get to 10.

(Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is westwest6@netzero.com)

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