The transcript of Butch Jones’ press conference at SEC Meetings Tuesday in Destin, Fla.
Opening Statement: Good to see everyone. Kind of an exciting time in our football program. Sunday we welcomed most of our signees and their parents to campus. We really set a three-day orientation with them. Kind of a life skills, development into college and being a student athlete from the academic side of things and just life labs with everything and making sure they understand the standards and the expectations and I told them, its’ been a very, very short period of time where we came in and built the program and now they’re walking into an established football program. Making sure they understand what is required of them in the classroom and the community and the Anderson Training Center. I think the most gratifying thing for me was the amount of upperclassmen and veterans that showed up to welcome our freshman class to help them move into the dorms but also come into the meeting to talk to the parents and the players. As we all know when you have children go away to college, a new life begins, and the anxiety. I went through it last year. So just to have our players, I think that speaks volumes for the culture that we have, the character of young individuals we have in our football program. We will actually get started with school on Wednesday and we’ll start our summer strength and conditioning program on Thursday. Make no mistake about it, we have to have a great, great summer and be a much more explosive, a much stronger football team in moving forward.
Question: Do you think there should be background checks for recruits?
JONES: Everything is about giving a young man an opportunity. Every circumstance, every situation is different. We’re all parents. But we try to do our background checks. We try to be as thorough as possible from social media to Google. But there are some things that hamper you in terms of background with being minors and the age laws that go into that. There’s a lot of things that we’re not able to do. We try to do our due diligence with every individual that we welcome into our football program. I think it’s a challenge in and of itself. But make no mistake about it. The first thing in our recruiting profile is character. We try to research that to the best of our ability, and then make a decision. Do they fit your program? Do you have the players in your program that can help them along the way as well. I think there’s a lot of extenuating circumstances that go into that.
Question: Would you like to see the transfer ban expanded?
Jones: I do, I think, getting in a room and discussing everything that goes into it. Like I said before, Every circumstance is different in and of itself. Being able to make wise choices, educated decisions and choices when you welcome individuals into your football program I think is very, very critical and very key. I know for us because we take those situations very seriously.”
QUESTION: Should it be expanded to encompass coaches?
Jones: That’s something I have to continue to research. This is a new topic. We’re going to continue to discuss and make some decisions on how we can continue to improve our profession as well. Every circumstance is different. I think there’s a lot of times individuals don’t know all of the circumstances. I think people rush to judgment in today’s world. So I think stepping back and being able to make some good choices in moving forward for our profession. I’m interested to see how the meetings go and be a little more educated on these topics.
Question: How would you compare what has happened at Tennessee to what has happened at Baylor?
Jones: “I’m not into comparisons,” Jones said Tuesday in a wide-ranging press conference Tuesday at the SEC Spring Meetings. “All I can speak on is the University of Tennessee. I feel strongly as does everyone in our organization that we’ve done the right things. 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 strongly about what we have at the University of Tennessee, what we’ve build and what we will continue to build as well.”
QUESTION: What are the factors in your mind for when you grant a player a second chance?
Jones: There’s a lot of factors, but the factors are evolving because every situation and circumstance is different in and of itself. Knowing the situation, do you have the resources to give an individual a second chance? We’ve all raised children. We raise them the right way. We raise them the same way, but when you have multiple kids, they’re all different. Sometimes, unfortunately, part of growing up is they make not the proper choices. Part of it is developing young men and helping them grow into manhood. It’s looking at the circumstance on an individual basis, do you have the resources? Do you have the people in place? What is the true character of the individual? Is it a genuine person? All of those things that go into it. It takes time to make those decisions.
QUESTION: Have you ever used investigators to check out recruits?
Jones: No. There’s so many things with laws that you’re able to do and not do. Everyone in Knoxville knows I have a law enforcement background. My father was the chief of police for 30 some odd years. My uncle was a post commander in the Michigan state police. I have a great deal of friends in the FBI through relationships built through my dad that I stay in contact on a weekly basis. There’s a lot of resources we have, but there are a lot of things that limit you in doing that.
QUESTION: What civic and societal responsibilities do you believe coaches have above and beyond the football team?
Jones: There’s a responsibility that comes with being a head football coach regardless of the pay structure. It’s helping and guiding young men into adulthood. It’s developing a family. It’s sometimes being a spokesperson. It’s being out there in the community leading civic things within your community, within your state. Being a positive figure. I don’t think it’s based on the pay structure. I think it’s based on the obligation and part of the duties of being in the education business, not just in football, but life in general.
QUESTION: Do those responsibilities sometimes conflict with football?
Jones: I believe that you do everything the right way. You have clearly defined and articulated standards and objectives and you stick with that. Those are your guiding principles no matter what it is. I’ve always believed that in life. I just think you have morals and guidelines with everything that you do from your day to day life to running your football program to your expectations from your players and everyone in your organization.
QUESTION: What has been your assessment of the cost of attendance stipends and its effect on recruiting?
Jones: When you get into something that’s kind of the unknown like it was last year and how is it gonna work, everyone gets into comparisons and all of that, but I think it’s been great for our student athletes. I know it’s helped their families. But really there hasn’t been much said about it or talked about it after the initial month of it. I think it’s gone very, very well. Those are formulas the federal government dictates so we have no say in those matters.
QUESTION: Have you heard of any prospect who has picked a school over another because of the cost of attendance stipends?
Jones: No. I firmly believe young men pick the school because they feel it’s the right fit for them socially, academically, athletically and relationships that are built over time and in the recruiting process.
QUESTION: Were you asked about it more or less than you expected?
Jones: Less. Very rarely did that even ever come up. Sometimes they were unaware of it. Every young man has a profile of what he’s looking for and choosing a university, school to attend. But that was never a deciding factor or any factor at all in the recruiting process.
QUESTION: Do you like the bravado of your players and their confidence to beat Alabama or do you wish they would dial it back?
Jones: We spend a lot of time educating social media and this is a generation that has been brought up on broadcasting every emotion that you have. We’ll continue to educate them. We have tremendous respect for Alabama, and who wouldn’t for what they have there? And everyone in our conference. I think it’s just sometimes individuals are excited to play, excited about the season. That was one of our topics yesterday with our freshman class. Not broadcasting every emotion that you have and understanding what you represent and the program is always bigger than you.
Question: The Ivy League is cutting down on tackling in practice. Is that something that could work at the SEC or D-1 Level?
Jones: Every coach structures their practice differently. I’ve talked to a number of NFL coaches, GMs and sometimes, to learn how to swim, you have to get into the pool. The thing that would concern me is if you’re not tackling, if you’re not hitting, how do you really teach the proper techniques? We hit very, very seldom during the season. We even changed our entire practice structure last year where we didn’t even go one day of full pads. We’ll continue as we progress, being a veteran football team, we’ll see what we can handle. I do think you can be a better tackling thing by teaching thud properly, by even teaching tag and palms up and your body position and all of that, but I would be concerned about taking away the overall hitting. I think coaches today are very smart in how they structure their practices. We spend an inordinate amount of time. I spend countless hours planning training camp and when we’re going to hit and what’s best for the overall health of the football team. I think if you completely take it away, how are you really teaching the proper fundamentals and techniques, but also giving a young man confidence that he’s going into the contact phase of a play, we call it the junction point, that he’s repped that, that he has the tools necessary. It goes back to the overall teaching if the fundamentals. That’s how you win football games.
Question: If you decide to take a week without pads during the season, what do you need to be able to do that and not lose on your fundamentals?
Jones: Good question. You have to have a veteran football team. You have to have a mature football team. That’s where I thought we took the next step as a football team last year toward the tail end of the season of never going full pads. There were a couple of days where we just went helmets or helmets and vest, but we really stressed the small details of what it takes to play winning football with the body position, palms up where you tag off and really doing our due diligence and making sure that those fundamentals are in place and we never compromise that or compromise the physicality with which you want to play. Football is a physical sport with a lot of demands. I thought our players did a great job of handling that, then when we start training camp, we’ll see how much they can handle as well because every team is different.
Question: How is the Florida series weighing on the program and the players and the fanbase?
Jones: We have the same, follow the process and one game at a time. I’ve always said, the teams that win in November and December are the teams that can handle the natural adversities that a long football season brings about. There’s always great opportunities to learn. Unfortunately most learning opportunities occur when you fall short in a game, but our players have been very focused every game. That’s one thing about this conference. No one game is more important than the other. I know the fans get into it and all of this, but when you go through a long season of SEC play every game is critical because of the competency of the teams, the coaches, all of that. It’s the reason why it’s the best football conference in the country.
Question: How big would it be for the program to end that streak?
Jones: I haven’t even thought of that. They’ll be one of the best teams if not the best team in our conference, when you look at their defense, when you look at their returning starters. You look at Georgia. I think Georgia is one of the best football teams in our conference as well, not just on the East side, but total. When you look at the competition on our side, it’s going to be a great challenge for us.
Question: What are your thoughts on the NFL draft and helping guys who think about coming out early?
Jones: What we tried to talk to our players about, and we do an extensive NFL education, it’s part of our life skills, it’s part of our fourth-and-1 program, there’s a difference between playing in the NFL and having a career in the NFL. It is two totally different things. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people get in the ears of individuals and putting things in front of them. We try to educate them to the best of our ability and we lived it this year. Fortunately we had three individuals return. That really speaks volumes for what’s going on with Cam Sutton, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Alvin Kamara. There’s no coincidence that all three have been named team captains voted upon by their peers. They could have very easily chosen to leave. They wanted to A) finish their degrees, which I’m exceptionally proud of. Cam Sutton will graduate in the fall. Jalen Reeves-Maybin has already graduated. Walking down here, I just got a text message from Alvin Kamara with one of his classes he’s in right now. He got a B in it. That’s kind of the culture of our football program right now. Leaving Tennessee with a degree. That’s first and foremost. To have them, I think they set the standard for many years to come. I think every individual has goals, dream and aspirations but the more more we can help these young men make the decision that’s best for them. One of the most troubling things is, and I know Bret talked about it, is you want what’s best for your players. All of the sudden an individual leaves early, and he’s not drafted, and all the sudden they go to training camp and they’re out of a job and they didn’t get their degree and they’re not able to come back to college football. For us that invest in the lives of these young men, it weighs on you. The more we can do to provide a platform to educate them, the better.
Question: Would you support the idea of an undergrad combine?
Jones: I’d have to do more research with that and see what that would entail and the timing of all of that, and how is that still going to help them make an educated decision. You could have a combine, do exceptionally well and still not be drafted. So again, I think it’s a challenge because what’s gonna really help them be educated. Maybe it’s being able to sit down face to face with NFL personnel or something like that to help these young men. ‘Hey, look, this is where we see you. This is what you need to do. You’re getting advice from us. This is our livelihood. This is what we do for a living.’
Question: Do you think it makes any sense to consider realigning divisions?
Jones: I think it’s extremely competitive. It’s all cyclical. It all goes in cycles. I was in a conference a few years ago where one side was in paper stronger than the other and then it flipped. I think it all goes in cycles. We have something very special at the SEC. I’m in favor of the way it is.
Question: Why do you think Georgia is one of the best teams?
Jones: You look at their skill set. You look at the line of scrimmage at their offense and defensive lines. You look at the success that program has had over a very long period of time. They return a number of starters. That’s going to be a challenge. You look across the board on our side, there’s a lot of returning starters a lot of very good football players, as does the West as well. I have a tremendous amount of respect for their program and everyone. Unless you compete in it every day… being in this conference is a grind, day in and day out.
Question: Can you assess the value of having broadcast footage available for halftime as opposed to coaches’ film?
Jones: Anytime you have coaches’ film it helps, but it is a game-changer. I still don’t know how much benefit you truly get. It may be more benefit to the coaches than the players, but to have that avenue to show them, to be able to gather up as a coaching staff, maybe there is something that happened in the first half that you want to look at. It is a game-changer. It’s different. We have to make sure that we’re prepared for all of that. Then how do you use it. That’s the biggest thing. You still have time demands at halftime. So I think the biggest thing is how much do you truly use it because there are a lot of other things that go into your halftime preparation as well.
Question: Bret (Bielema) favors a Big Ten-SEC football challenge. Would you favor that?
Jones: With the schedule, it’s challenging. Our schedule is tied up all the way to 2020 or 2021. Making a schedule is a challenge in and of itself. I’d be very curious into how that would work just because of us growing our schedule. We don’t’ have any open dates. Who are you moving and the structure of the SEC in conference play. Make no mistake about it, we haven’ t hid from non-conference opponents. I believe in our first three years, two of our first three years have been the toughest schedule in the country. We lived it. We’ve proven we don’t bac k down from any challenge outside of our conference.