Deciphering a Butch Jones press conference is what I like to call the “Southern Da Vinci Code.”
On the surface, Butch doesn’t say anything, but underneath his cliche-laden filibusters are plenty of subtle jabs, excuses and soundbites to keep fans tossing and turning at night.
It might be a new season, but it’s the same old Butch.
“First of all, our in-game operations did a good job of keeping us posted throughout the day and the spring game to let us know what was going on. I would like to thank our fans. You all are amazing. We had 35,000 people despite the weather conditions. We had families waiting in line since 5:30 this morning for the autograph sessions. I’d like to say thank you to them.
“We came out, and I liked the way we competed for a spring game. You always want a clean game. You don’t want to have turnovers or penalties, so that part was great. The thing that is invaluable that you can’t coach until you are in an in-game situation is the game management, such as substitutions. It was great for our players and coaches as well. Those are things that our players did a good job of handling. I think it was a very clean spring game.
“This team has taken major steps [this spring], but we still have a lot of work to do. It starts with getting back to the weight room and getting bigger and stronger and continuing to build team chemistry. We held 20 players out today. Some were precautionary reasons. Some were post-surgical reasons.
“It was great to have all our Vols For Life back. All eras were represented, and it was great to have our former players show up like they had been. I thought it was a great day. Unfortunately, it was cut short, but I liked the way our players competed.”
What Butch actually said: Tennessee’s brand took a massive gut punch after last season and it showed with a measly attendance figure of 35,000. Don’t buy into Butch’s “weather condition” diatribe — perfect weather conditions maybe would’ve added 5,000 more butts in the stands, making an attendance of 40,000 still 20,000 below Butch’s average attendance at Orange and White games. Whether he wants to admit it or not, Butch understands how his poor performance last season has negatively affected the program.
On the quarterback’s progress
“They made tremendous progress. We talked all spring long about don’t compare just compete. I think a lot of times younger players have the tendency to look over their shoulders and focus on what the other individuals are doing instead of themselves. I thought they competed all spring, and I thought that was evident today. The quarterback challenge is a great measuring stick for us when they go out there. We can see how they respond when all eyes are on them. There aren’t 10 other players on the field. I’ve been pleased with the quarterback position all spring. Going into the summer months, the evolution of Team 121 will be doing a good job of continuing to grow and build on momentum. Most progress occurs during the summer months in terms of leadership and getting the details, accountability and toughness.”
What Butch actually said: Butch’s definition of tremendous is different than the rest of ours. For example, a quarterback going from a completion percentage of 56 percent to 73 percent is deemed tremendous by the average person. In Butch’s world, tremendous progress doesn’t hold the same level of expectation. Tremendous is simply a buzz word he uses to make everything appear better than it is. Remember, this guy is a magician with words. And based on the limited access the media has to spring practices, nobody outside of the Vol football inner circle truly knows what progress Dormady or Guarantano have made.
On timetable for determining the starting quarterback
“There is no timeframe. I want them to compete. Competition is extremely healthy, and they’ve all elevated their games because of it. I want them to compete. We have no timetable. I was really pleased with the way they competed today. I thought the receivers caught the ball well. But again, there is no timetable.”
What Butch actually said: Dormady is the starting quarterback. Given that Butch is in a do-or-die season with a new athletic director breathing down his neck, and especially given how Dormady left Guarantano in the dust, Butch knows who his quarterback is. But this is also a coach who wants to replicate the Bill Belichick media model: Say as much nothing as possible to avoid narratives that could potentially distract the program. I don’t understand the logic behind not announcing Dormady as the starter unless Butch is genuinely undecided. If he is, John Currie needs to start searching for Tennessee’s next head coach.
On if anybody has the edge in the QB competition
“No, the great thing is that every day you get the opportunity to better yourself. I feel comfortable with all of our quarterbacks. I thought they progressed exceptionally well. They just need to continue to do that and compete on a daily basis and not worry about anything else. They don’t need to let clutter or distractions get in the way. They’ll be just fine.”
What Butch actually said: Butch is lying here. Let’s not even entertain the idea of Will McBride or Zac Jancek at quarterback. If 0-12 is the mission, then those are Butch’s guys. Sheriron Jones is the Flavor Flav of the team — he’s a great hype man, but he can’t throw, just like Flavor Flav couldn’t rap. Since the beginning of 2016, the talk of Tennessee’s future at quarterback has centered around Dormady and Guarantano. And as I mentioned before, Butch knows Dormady got the best of Guarantano.
On the narrative that the team has lost a lot from last season
“Well I think, however you want to describe it, the word would be opportunity. It’s a great opportunity for a lot of players that maybe haven’t had the opportunity in the past. That’s the great thing about college football, a third of your roster turns over every single year. So within that turnover, it’s new leadership opportunities, new roles; some individuals were role players on special teams, (now their) roles have expanded. That’s what makes college football very special. We’re going to have to rely on some true freshmen as well. This is a football team that works. They don’t consider outside noises and what people think, they just come to work every single day. And again, we’re going to need that mentality and we’re going to need that focus. Obviously we lost a lot of production, but I’m proud of these seniors who have left the program, and their lives are about to change in another week. You look how far we’ve come and you know, draft weekend is going to be very special here at Tennessee.”
What Butch actually said: Butch uses opportunity here as another way to put a positive spin on a dire situation. Sure, there are plenty of opportunities on Team 121, but only because Butch hasn’t managed his roster properly since his arrival in 2013. Elite programs plug holes immediately after a drastic roster turnover, but the Vols don’t possess that luxury. Instead, they face uncertainty across the board, and as much as Butch says his players “don’t consider the outside noise,” the outside noise has a point here: Tennessee football has more questions than answers.
On the wide receivers
“Well you mentioned Jauan at the wide receiver position. I think he had a great and consistent spring. I think he did some really good things. I think he improved his craft. There is going to be a number of individuals who are all youngsters, so every rep they get is going to be valuable. I think Marquez Callaway had as good of a spring as anyone on our football team. He was consistent. He practiced (in practices) 1-15, and he continued to grind and get better. We asked a lot of him in terms of reps. He had the highest rep count on the team. Latrell Williams is growing up right now, so for him to get the valuable reps during (practices) 1-15 was very critical. In moving forward, it will be great to get Brandon Johnson back in June. I think he adds another dynamic to the receiving core. Getting Josh Smith back will help us as well. I think that entire group continued to grow and get better, but we will be extremely young there.”
What Butch actually said: The wide receivers might be the offenses Achilles heel. Butch has literally described essentially every player in the same fashion he described Jennings, Callaway and Williams. Notice how he didn’t get overly specific — that’s because he probably can’t. When Jones is genuinely praising a player, he usually provides more detail and conviction in his tone. But the real humdinger of this quote is the ending: “I think that entire group continued to grow and get better, but we will be extremely young there.”
Built-in excuse. Classic Butch.