Jones living up to his own hype
By Grant Ramey | (email@example.com)
It’s easy to roll your eyes at the introductory press conference of a new college football head coach.
Pick the program. Pick the name. Pick the quote.
Every coach will have the best staff in the country. Every coach will recruit the best players in the country. Every coach will build that coveted fence around his state.
A lot of people — fans, media, etc. — rolled their eyes when Butch Jones, Tennessee’s fourth head coach in six years, said similar things last December.
“We’re going to do some very special things,” he said.
Sure, every new coach is. Derek Dooley said something similar standing in the same room three years earlier. AS did Lane Kiffin the year before that.
“We will be a champion in everything that we do,” Jones continued. Opposed to?
“You win with players,” he said.
Of course you do.
It’s all your standard program pep talk. The problem with the eye rolling at that Dec. 7 press conference, though, is that if you did it, you apparently wasted your time.
Barely six months on the job and Jones has lived up to the standards he set for himself on his first day in town.
Right now those ‘special things’ have been hitting the recruiting trail — and hitting it hard.
Tennessee currently has the No. 3 class in the country according to Rivals, behind only Texas and Kentucky (yes, Kentucky). With 16 commits, the Vols have spent their share of days at No. 1 in the class rankings.
Jones has verbals from 21 players in total between the 2014 and 2015 classes — including six 4-Star Rivals prospects and ten 3-Stars in the ‘14 class.
‘The Legacy Class,’ as they’ve coined themselves, has stayed within the confines of that fence every coach builds around his state to keep the talent crossing county not state lines.
Starting at the top, with the state’s top-rated prospect, Hendersonville Beech Senior High School running back Jalen Hurd has been on board with Butch since mid-March — three months and a week after that December press conference. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound tailback is a consensus 5-Star by every recruiting site except for Rivals, where he’s the highest rated 4-Star in the country.
For the record, he never seemed to have much interest in Dooley’s Vols.
Then there’s Webb School’s Todd Kelly Jr., a 4-Star safety and son of the former Vol by the same name, who’s rated as the No. 4 prospect in the state. He started the snowball effect for the ‘14 class with his commitment on March 10, four days before Hurd’s.
That’s not to leave out Vic Wharton, the 4-Star athlete from Nashville’s Independence High School and nephew of former Vol basketball player Brandon Wharton. As the state’s seventh-best prospect, he committed on Christmas Day, just under three weeks after Jones was hired.
“We are the state institution and we will own our state,” Jones said in December.
Apparently he really meant it.
Outside of Tennessee, Jones has managed to recruit 12 prospects from nine different states, three Southeastern Conference states (Flordia, Georgia and Alabama) included. Five of the 12 out-of-state commitments had in-state offers.
All told, the ’14 class has 54 total Rivals stars, 67 SEC offers to have chosen from and still roughly 15 slots to fill. And, oh yeah, it’s only June.
“If you can recruit, you can recruit,” Jones said. And he’s proven that by selling a program that’s 24-27 over the last four years, and selling it to kids that were barely born when Peyton Manning had Tennessee at its traditioned peak.
“It doesn’t matter what school you come from or where in the country,” he said in December, “recruiting is selling.”
And it’s selling in the most competitive, most successful football conference in the country, where most member schools — even Vanderbilt, remember 41-18? — have more to sell than the current state of the Vols.
“I don’t know how long it will take,” Jones said of getting the Vols back on their feet.
But right now, even if it’s just on the recruiting trail, it’s ahead of schedule. And it’s living up to what Jones was selling on Day One.
Grant Ramey is a sports writer at The Daily Times. He can be reached at grantr@thedailytimes. You can follow him on Twitter @TDT_Sports.