So far, Jones has pushed all the right buttons and said all the right things — as any incoming coach would — with the possible exception of the dearly departed Lane somebody or another.
Derek Dooley certainly pressed all the right buttons. He said all the right things and played all the right cards. But for a couple of missed tackles against Florida and a few more against Georgia and maybe a handful against South Carolina, Mr. Dooley would still be in Knoxville. Derek did everything he knew to do — except win.
But now, the Tennessee Volunteers — and fans of the Volunteers — have to for the third time in the last four years get ready to again start a new season with a new coach.
At least this time, the head Vol brings a winning record to the table. Jones holds a combined 50-27 mark during his stints at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
The combined total of coach Dooley and Lane what’s his name was 23-27.
UT athletic director Dave Hart hopes — as we all do — Jones will be the jolt the Tennessee football program needs after five years of dismal football in Neyland Stadium including Phillips Fulmer’s last year when the Vols went 5-7.
Hart appears to be more than convinced that Jones is the right man in the right place. More than a few fans voiced their disappointment when the relative unknown was hired away from Cincinnati last December over the likes of Jon Gruden, — who, let’s face it was never a serious candidate — Louisville’s Charlie Strong and Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State.
“Before we even got into this (hiring) conversation, we sat in that hotel in Lexington (Ky.) and stayed up all night,” Hart said in a recent interview with the Cincinnati Inquirer. “He was already laying it out for me. So, when you overlaid the profile of what I wanted and listened to where he wanted to go with this program, I knew we had the right guy.”
It would be reasonably safe to say the Tennessee faithful have been won over to this point by the new man in charge. Jones has been hotter than a meteorite during the offseason and his recruiting appears to be paying early dividends. The fireball effect is scheduled to continue this weekend when Jones comes to Cleveland for a meet-and-greet with fans.
His pedal to the metal approach also carries over to the practice field where the Volunteers got their first look at the new direction the good ship Tennessee is currently sailing.
Carryovers from his approach at Cincinnati include a voice amplifying microphone he occasionally uses to fire off background noises. A jet aircraft taking off and the shrill noise of a crying baby are just a couple of the sounds used to prepare players for the unfriendly confines of visited stadiums.
Another tactic Jones plans to deploy is the "Fist-Up-Defense" he tried at Cincinnati. Jones wants the Volunteers and the fans to raise a fist when the defense gets a stop on third down. Not a bad idea. Getting the fans involved as much as possible is always a good thing.
As for the new surroundings Jones finds himself in at Neyland Stadium? Well, let’s just say there were 21,121 fans at the last home game Jones coached for the Bearcats in a stadium that holds some 35,000.
At the 2013 Tennessee Orange & White game, 61,076 fans showed up to watch a coach who has never called a play on the home sideline of Neyland Stadium. Add some 39,000 more screaming voices in the seats on any given home Saturday and Jones has to be chomping at the bit to turn the Big Orange loose.
Suffice to say, the fans are ready to win again. And if more than 61,000 fans at a meaningless spring game isn’t enough to let Jones know there is support in them there hills, then maybe he really isn’t the man for the job.
In reality, Vols fans do not expect to win the Southeastern Conference championship this year, or even next, if the truth be told. But, they do expect to see a team that will compete for four quarters, make tackles, open holes and show signs of a program ready to once again take its place at or near the top of the SEC heap.
And there is an expectation, particularly from Hart, Jones will make that happen again soon.
“We have to learn to win again. It’s been a long time since we expected to win,” Hart said in the Inquirer interview. "Will it happen? I’m convinced it will.
“The other thing we desperately needed was a lot of energy. Positive energy. We needed someone who could galvanize the fan base, re-engage the lettermen, make certain high school coaches a priority, recapture the recruiting base in our own state and North Carolina. When our program was at the pinnacle of success, those things were in place.”
Well Dave, so far, so good. Now let’s see if the Cincinnati Kid can truly follow through and get us back where we deserve to be.