HOOVER, Ala. — Butch Jones takes command of nearly every room he enters, a fact not particularly remarkable considering his position as head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers.
But at an event full of big personalities like SEC Football Media Days, his command of a room and the impression he leaves in each stop is remarkable.
For ESPN’s Tom Luginbill, the genuine, passionate nature that Jones brings to events and interviews is also what has allowed him to connect quickly to the future Volunteers that Jones needs to build the program. That passion also helps sell those players on the plan he has to complete that building process.
“I think it’s the passion and I think it’s a clear blueprint that he’s laid out for prospects and their families, of ‘Here’s where we are, here’s where we need to be and these are the steps we need to take to get there,’” said Luginbill, who is National Recruiting Director at ESPN. “It’s a very clear vision and it’s laid out there in black and white. The prospect comes away and sees enhanced facilities, enhanced academic support, tremendous fan base, a history and tradition of winning and then a model of how to get back to prominence. That’s not something that happens overnight, you can’t waive a magic wand and all of the sudden everything is going to be fine. It’s going to take a little bit of time.”
The results on the recruiting trail speak fro themselves to this point. The Volunteer staff pulled in a top-five recruiting class in February and is well on its way to a repeat performance in the national rankings in 2015. Part of the sales pitch is the building process, being a part of it with early playing time and seeing the fruits of the labor as a career goes on. That honesty is another factor that Luginbill sees as part of Jones’ appeal.
“Where I think they’ve really made inroads is that they haven’t tried to hide that from prospects,” he said of the growing pains that have come from a building roster in the SEC. “They’ve come out and said ‘This is where we are, this is where we need to get and to get there, we need players of your caliber that can come in and help us sooner rather than later.’ Those guys have the opportunity for 10, 12, 15 years later for people to say that these were the two or three classes that got you back on track.
“When you don’t hide from where your difficulties and challenges are and you acknowledge them and face them, and the prospects understand the vision, I think that pays off.”
Dari Nowkhah, who will serve as the primary host of the SEC Network, has long been impressed by Jones.
“He’s one of my favorites in this conference,” Nowkhah said after having Jones on the ESPNU set on Tuesday. “I knew him a little bit when he was at Cincinnati from various stops at ESPN and I liked him immediately. He’s a people person, he tells it like it is and as a coach, he’s demanding and has expectations and he makes that clear. Over the last couple of years, people have asked me if I think Tennessee got it right with Butch and I’ve always said there’s no question in my mind that he’s the right choice.”
Luginbill, who also serves as a sideline reporter for ESPN during the fall saw the growth and the direction on the field first-hand last October when his crew was assigned to call Tennessee’s win over ninth-ranked South Carolina.
In that contest, it was one of Jones’ recruits from his first recruiting class, Marquez North, that made the game-changing play. That moment helped solidify the lessons Jones was teaching his football team and it helped to confirm the vision that he was selling on the recruiting trail.
“You’re a fumble at the pylon from beating Georgia and South Carolina in the same season,” Luginbill said, recapping a two-game stretch in October. “Enthusiasm and a positive outlook are infectious. There’s no negativity that can come from that.”