With the regular season over, Tennessee now switches from helping itself on the field to helping itself behind closed doors when lobbying for the best bowl position available. The Vols, who ended the season 8-4 with five consecutive victories, are hoping their hot streak to finish out the regular season will help the program sucessfully jockey for a Florida bowl destination like the Citrus Bowl in Orlando or Outback Bowl in Tampa.
"As you expect, there have been conversations for a little more than a week now, but they’ve accelerated, obviously, this week," athletic director Dave Hart said. "The season’s officially over, we know that we’re 8-4, we know what the records are in the regular season and what’s coming ahead this weekend, so those conversations with the conference and with the appropriate bowl officials have taken place and will continue to take place until we get to the call from the SEC on late Sunday afternoon or early Sunday evening.”
When selling the program to bowl officials and the league office, Hart said he first points out how well Tennessee's fan base travels, citing 56,310 mostly-Vol fans that filled EverBank Field in Orlando for the TaxSlayer Bowl during last year's bowl season.
"We are going to fill stadiums and that’s really their first priority. because we are blessed to have such a great fan base we are going to take people. It looked like a home game in Jacksonville a year ago. That’s because of the passion of our fan base."
Another selling point for the Vols is how well they closed out the season and the strength of schedule to potential bowl suitors to help make his case for the most attractive bowl bid.
"We lost to three teams that a week ago were 30-3 between them," Hart said. "Two of those teams, most likely, will be among the four people to play for the national championship. Like I said, we were not only competitive, but those were games we could have won, so that’s a point that doesn’t escape the conference office, doesn’t escape the executive directors of the various bowl games."
Fielding Field Questions
Butch Jones has been fielding questions about the playing condition of Shields-Watkins Field for the better part of two months now as fans and analysts discussed the perceived slippery nature of the grass and torn up conditions before and after games. Athletic director Dave Hart
"There are several factors in play here, and we're not alone in that battle of taking care of practice and game fields," Hart said. "There's been a lot of that in the region we live in. There's been a lot of torn up fields. I won't mention any names, but if you watch football in late October, November, you see a lot of that."
Hart said Tennessee has one of the "smallest practice footprints in the country", and the university is adding another practice field and changing the current Haslam Field layout to provide more space.
The bigger footprint will allow Tennessee to practice less in Neyland Stadium in 2016 to curb foot traffic on Shields-Watkins Field.
"When we get to mid-October, those of you who go to practice know, our field gets pretty beat up beacuse only so many places we can go," Hart said. "We'll have three full practice fields on that site. We'll go to the stadium probably less because we won't have to go to the stadium."
Raise The Roof
Dave Hart confirmed Tuesday that he has been in talks with Butch Jones about a possible raise and contract extension after Jones led his team to an 8-4 season in 2015, ending the year on a five-game win streak.
"Butch and I communicate, as we do with all of our coaches, on a very regular basis," Hart said. "We've already opened those conversations, and we'll continue to have those conversations."
Jones' currently salary averages out to approximately $3.6 million per year before bonuses are factored in. The third-year Tennessee coach will receive a $200,000 bonus if the Vols receive an Outback or Citrus Bowl bid and $100,000 for any of the other current available bowl.
"I'm a big believer in loyalty, and right now, Tennessee is where I'm extremely happy," Jones said. "This is home to me and home to my family."
With the bowl game looming, it's almost decision time for players like Cameron Sutton and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who are juniors with high potential draft stock, and senior Curt Maggitt, who could apply for a medical redshirt to come back for 2016. Butch Jones said he'll discuss the decision-making process with those players after the bowl game.
"We still have time. We'll provide the necessary means," Jones said. "That's the thing with the resources and the NFL personnel that we have on our staff, and the relationships we have on the next level, it's about educating your players on how to make the best possible decisions for them and their careers, the longevity of their careers, and their families."