Butch Jones leaning on 'life labs' for Vols newcomers

Reinforcements arrived in Knoxville this week as Tennessee welcomed over a dozen signees to campus. Much must be learned before these teenagers even run through the T for the first time.

DESTIN, Fla. — Momma isn’t here anymore to plead with the athletics director. No coach that’s been around since the pee-wee days is going to describe how a run-in with the law was out of character. The sheriff that’s chosen the warning route over a citation now resides a time zone away.

Now what happens when classmates want to hit “The Strip” on Cumberland Avenue later tonight? What if your buddy from Under Armour All-America week has already thrown down the contents of seven red Solo cups and is getting rowdy?

Don’t forget that college coursework starts Wednesday and it’s time to report to the serious grind in the Anderson Training Center on Thursday.

It doesn’t take long remembering back to the adolescent days to realize why Butch Jones has “life labs” to help the newest additions to the Tennessee roster understand expectations with much of the 2016 signing class moving in over the last few days.

“I told them, ‘It’s been a very, very short period of time where we came in and rebuilt the program,’” Jones said Tuesday at the SEC Meetings. “Now, they’re walking into an established football program. And making sure they understand what’s required of them in the classroom, in the community, in the Anderson Training Center.”

The fourth-year head man made it a point to mention the veterans on the Team 120 roster that have spoken to the rookies and parents as well as helping them move their things into Vol Hall.

Selfies by the Volunteer statue and SnapChat images of the new digs in the Peyton Manning Locker Room are memories to keep near and dear. Freshman year only comes around once. But, quality decisions must be made or a black eye could quickly swell up.

Jones spoke with his incoming teenagers Monday about understanding that the landscape changed dramatically this week. They don’t operate in a vacuum. The iY Generation “brought up on broadcasting every emotion that you have” and “understanding that you represent and the program is always bigger than you.”

Bend the rules and getting a second chance may not come, especially when eyes already glare down upon Rocky Top with the Title IX lawsuit causing concern.

“We’ve all raised children and we raise them the right way and we raise them the same way,” Jones said. “When you have multiple kids, they’re all different. Sometimes, unfortunately, that’s part of growing up is they make not the proper choices. Part of it too is developing young men and helping them grow into manhood.”

Making mistakes is part of growing up. Many of us could shank a golf ball down the highway, streak across the quad or turn over a garbage can without it being on the “crawl” on national television. Three-star signees at places like Tennessee aren’t afforded that opportunity.

Jones and coaches just like him need sociologically advanced athletes that can be engineering into weapons of gridiron destruction without the headache. They don’t want to have to read a 2,500-word prepared statement in a setting like the SEC Meetings.

“I believe that you do everything the right way,” Jones said. “You have clearly defined and articulated standards and expectations and objectives and you stick by that and those are your guiding principles no matter what it is. I’ve always believed that in life and I just think that you have to have morals and guidelines with everything that you do from your day-to-day life to running your football program and your expectations from your players and everyone in your organization.”

Jones said he doesn’t use private investigators at Tennessee but social media internet searches can sometimes open eyes. Somewhere in the Tennessee offices there resides a set of graduate assistants and recruiting staff personnel that are combing through the tweets and Instagram images of every potential target.

Relationships are the lifeblood of recruiting and a different set of relationships helps Jones fight the public relations nightmares that plague some programs. Jones said his law enforcement background is extensive with his father being a police chief for 30-plus years, a post commander of an uncle and a “great deal of friends in the FBI.”

It’s all about identifying potential problems before they happen. However, when they do — and no 105-man roster is perfect — the staff must act swiftly and properly, sometimes even without an arrest or serious questioning by Jonathan Law.

Baylor coach Art Briles got a pink slip for allegedly being a part of the cover-up in Waco, Texas, placing wins and the two-deep over cultivating a safe environment and churning out quality men into society.

Jones has $3.6 million reasons (not including career suicide) to not venture the path of Briles.

“I feel strongly as (does) everyone in our organization that we’ve done the right things,” Jones said. “I’m proud of the culture that we’ve built. We’ve tried to do everything the right way from everyone in our organization. I feel very strongly with what we have at the University of Tennessee, what we’ve built. We’ll continue to grow and build upon that as well.”

Find out more about the topics of discussion at the meetings by clicking on the video of SEC commissioner Greg Sankey below:


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