1-on-1 with Butch Jones, Part II

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Returning 19 starters from a 2014 team that got back to the bowl season and finished with a winning record has Tennessee fans as excited as they've been going into the winter in some time.

Head coach Butch Jones recognizes that enthusiasm and embraces it but the rebuilding of Big Orange football is nowhere near completion.

From the possibility of having the youngest roster in the country in 2015 to the Players Staff leadership council to the orange-collar work ethic, Jones provides his thoughts on a number of topics below:

Given the number of commitments for 2015 and what you brought in for 2014, which I believe was 32, four were JUCOs, but adding those two classes to the 2015 roster, you are looking at 50 – something freshmen and sophomores out of 85 kids. How do you win in this league with that many 19- and 20-year-olds?

Butch Jones:
Thank you for saying that because obviously the expectations, the excitement is at an all-time high and very rightfully so. But as the leader of this football program I also have to be realistic. We still have a long ways to go because we still arguably are going to be the youngest football team in college football. So, again, you have to rely on the experiences of your players they gained valuable experience this year and continued to build that leadership. We are still in the infancy stages of our program where we are going to rely on freshmen to play critical positions in critical spots. We are not anywhere near where we need to be it in terms of overall depth in our football program. Last year will be, from an experience standpoint, extremely beneficial but we are still in the development stage of that.

Do you already have a team leadership group set up for 2015?

Yes. We have a leadership committee called the Players Staff. We actually added a number of players to that Players Staff during bowl preparations and it's voted on by their peers. It's an honor and a privilege to be on that Players Staff. It's not a popularity contest. It's a leadership position. It's a position of great responsibility. I will meet with them once, twice a week. The great thing in the evolution of our program is you can see it start to continue to develop with our leadership. By the time we got to the ballgame, we had some individuals really step up into leadership roles, which I think will be critical moving forward for this year and the following year and onto the next year. But I could see the leadership continuing to grow and grow and grow. It's the largest Players Staff that I've ever had as a head coach when we went to the bowl prep, but those players earned that right to sit on that Players Staff by their body of work, their commitment and their leadership skills.

The definition of leadership is influence. Great leaders have the ability to influence. That's why there's good leaders and that's why there's bad leaders. Leaders can also influence in a negative way. So, we are always working on leadership and our football program and defining it and what it is and giving them opportunities to lead — that’s how you grow into a leader. You can see that happening in our program.

Can you tell me who some of those kids are that will be on that group?

They will be voted on. I see Todd Kelly Jr. stepping up and leading. Jalen Hurd. Cam Sutton. Dan O’Brien has come a long way, so proud of him in our football program. Obviously Josh Dobbs. Everyone has led in one way, shape, form or another. You look at Von Pearson. I thought that Von Pearson played the best game of his Tennessee career in the ballgame. We always talk about a style of play, style of play. We have a rule called ‘First Up.’ When you get tackled with the ball for Tennessee, you are always first up off the pile. Then, we had a ball rule when you find the referee and you hand the ball or flip the ball to the official. You never leave the ball on the ground because the ball is our dreams, goals and aspirations. In Von, you can see the habits starting to come out — playing fast, made some big plays, first up, ball rule, even the score standard. When you score, we look the same and he handed the ball to the official. All these things now are creating habits that become instinctual and you can see that starting to manifest.

You are a guy that talked about the blue-collar approach to coaching to get you where you are now, whereas some other guys grew up with a coaching dad in certain leagues in the NFL or whatnot. Talking about Von and what he has been through and what you have been through to get where you are, do you see some of your path in Von?


(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)

I don't know if you were ever completely out of it and working at McDonald’s or wherever. I know (Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni) Z talked about how Von had $41 or something and was ‘Hey, what kind of gloves and cleats do I need to have at practice?’ and didn’t have a concept of what it would be like here. Just Von at his core, does that kind of make your heart flutter a little bit?

Absolutely. I now like to refer to that blue-collar mentality as an orange-collar mentality. It's like New Year’s Day he walks into the team meal — Von Pearson never has a bad day — and he's got a smile on his face, he’s got a bounce and he walks around the tables and says ‘Happy New Year everyone! New year, new me! New me, new year!’ He just kept going back and forth. He's one of those individuals that is not forgotten where he came from. He goes home over break and what does he do? He goes back up to the rec. center where all of his friends and people are in the community back home. He remembers the struggles. He remembers working at McDonald's. He remembers having to do the extra. That's why you can never forget your path when you get somewhere as special as Tennessee. You can never forget your roots. You can never forget where you came from.

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