Blevins: Patience is a virtue

InsideTennessee provides you with the best Vols coverage around. Read Riley Blevins' column below to find out why there were positives on Saturday.

For Tennessee, there seemed to be no positives in its third-straight loss to a top-10 opponent.

But we're talking about Butch Jones here – the king of positives.

This is the guy who regularly deems his Monday press conference "positive Monday."

The only guy who could crack a smile minutes after a 55-23 beat down at the hands of No. 7 Auburn.

For Jones, the thrashing serves as a measuring stick.

"This was a great gauge of where we're at and where we need to improve," Jones said.

Yes, Jones voiced his displeasure with his defense and special teams. It would be impossible not to. But he didn't dwell on it.

Half smiling, half frowning, Jones talked about the future.

"I know exactly where we are at with this football program and exactly what we need to move forward," Jones said. "I know how we need to recruit and develop our players. But that still doesn't excuse what just occurred."

After three games now, Jones has sprinkled the sentence "I'm disappointed, but I'm not discouraged" in his press run-ins.

He expounded on his relentless efforts to right the wrong on Rocky Top Saturday.

"We will get it done. This place is too special," Jones said. "The only variable we have is time. I believe in Tennessee football."

Vol Nation is getting sick of losses. Understandably so.

But Jones' passion and resilience should make you smile – or at least think about doing so – despite the pounding.

"If it kills me, it kills me," Jones said. "But I'm going to put everything in to get Tennessee back."

After the drubbing, the Vols' first-year head coach has a clearer view of where improvements are needed.

Well, that part is not exactly difficult.

Anyone close enough to Neyland to hear the public address announcer say "Nick Marshall the ball carrier, gain of 15 on the play" over and over knows Tennessee's biggest blemish.


"I think all of you saw the speed differential out there," Jones said.

We did.

SEC may as well stand for "Speed Earns Championships."

On this cool, overcast Saturday afternoon in Knoxville, one team was clearly faster than the other.

Auburn ran over, around and through a sluggish Tennessee defense to finish with a jaw-dropping 444 yards rushing.

Everything about Auburn was fast – it's special teams, its quarterback.

Marshall posted 214 yards on 14 touches. Auburn's special teams found the end zone on an 85-yard punt return and again on a momentum-squashing 90-yard kickoff return to open the second half.

"There was a vivid, vivid speed differential today," Jones said.

The problems are there.

And they will get corrected.

Or so it appears.

Sitting feet from the checkerboard pattern imprinted on the north end zone were fistfuls of highly-desired recruits.

Patience is a virtue.

Jones has the drive, passion and dedication to resurrect Tennessee football.

Give it time.

He's been selling a team that plays other SEC opponents as tightly as Big Ten teams will come bowl season.

And somehow, recruits have bought in.

In a world of instant gratification, Jones is selling patience to 17 and 18-year-olds – the most now, now, now-minded age group on the planet.

As you all know by now, Jones has pocketed the second-ranked recruiting class in the country.

It's not happening by chance.

"I loved my visit, even with the game not turning out so well," said Kyle Phillips, a four-star defensive end and the top-ranked player in Tennessee. "There is something different here. It feels like family. I know it will get better in the future."

Phillips, like most Vols targets, has offers from Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State – programs that are winning now and programs that should recruit the pants off Tennessee at the moment.

"There's just a family feel here," echoed Derek Barnett, a four-star and Tennessee commit.


Barnett said it. Phillips did too.

They're not alone.

If you talk to most any Tennessee recruit, you'll hear it.

Jones has his team's back. Recruits don't just see his passion, they feel it.

There have been coaches at Tennessee in recent years – I won't name names (Dooley, Kiffin) – who haven't had their players' backs after big losses.

"I told our football team this: with me, love isn't conditional. You know, I love our football team, I love our players. I love them the same as I did in December and August and October and November and we still got two more games left to continue to get better."

Jones' compassion is infectious.

He may be the only person able to make a 32-point loss feel like a step in the right direction.

If you don't think Saturday was progress, just scan the faces sitting in the north end zone and look at the list of talented players who have pledged to play for Jones.

Butch Jones, per university

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