10 Questions With: Tennessee head coach Butch Jones
In six seasons as a head coach, Butch Jones has compiled a 50-27 record with four conference championships. In their last six seasons, Tennessee has gone 38-38 with three head coaches. In December, the Volunteers brought Butch Jones to Knoxville to be their fourth head coach since 2008 with the task of continuing his success at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
We talked to Jones about his trip to Miami for the NBA Finals, demanding toughness from his program, finding good leaders and how his upbringing in Michigan helped bring him down to the South in the latest installment of 10 Questions With.
To view past 10 Questions With interviews, please visit the archives.
1) You were at Game 7 of the NBA Finals. What did you think of the game?
Obviously it was a great experience. I think you were looking at one of the most anticipated Game 7's in NBA history, one of the best world championship series in NBA history. It was great to watch and just see the competitive spirit, the competitive greatness that both teams displayed, the will to win. It was a tremendous experience.
2) Are you going to have Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to Knoxville for a game?
He obviously has demands on his schedule and all of that but we've spoken briefly about him making a trip to Knoxville. I would fully anticipate at some point, whether it be for a game or for practice or for preseason camp that we would see him in Knoxville.
3) You spent a lot of time this off-season trying to install a sense of toughness to your team. Was that always part of the plan, or did it become a priority once you analyzed the roster?
Great teams have a style of play. Great teams have an edge. It's not just coming into Tennessee, but we take great pride in being a tough, physical football team, a team that prides itself on effort. A team that has great team chemistry, that has a collective energy about themselves, a collective toughness about themselves. That's the way we always build our football teams. We call it mental conditioning, conditioning for success in terms of the mental part of it. I think that goes into winning. That's part of playing winning football. That's been a staple of anywhere we've been but obviously coming in here, for us to continue to move forward and compete in the SEC, we have to become a much, much more tough football. That's just not physically, but that's also mentally as well.
4) We read an article during spring practice about the use of distracting sounds like a car alarm or a baby crying during your practices. How often did you actually do that?
We waited a little bit until the foundation was being set but it became a regular at practice. I think that's just a big thing, being able to manage distractions. Manage the clutter. Everything is about the art of communication in learning how to block certain factors out and the ability to communicate and keep your poise under pressure. I think those are the big things, just being able to not let anything phase you. Obviously we're going to be forced to go on the road this year and play in some very, very hostile environments. Everything is about a command presence. Everything is how you communicate in adverse situations. Anybody when it's 70 degrees and sunny. Anybody can lead when things are going great but your true leaders are when nobody's watching but also when everything's hitting the fan and you need a leader to step up and have a command presence. I think that's the big thing and that's what we try to instill in our players. In order to do that you have to practice those adverse situations. You try to simulate as many game type of situations as possible.
5) Are you going to conduct the VOLympics again next off-season? How did that event change your team?
That's the basis of our off-season program. That's the basis of developing our football team, developing every person individually and collectively as a football team. You look at it, we're developing our players in the classroom, we're developing them in community service, we're developing them in team building and we're developing them in our standards and our expectations football-wise, and then we're developing them on the field and in the strength and conditioning area. The Vol Olympics incorporates all that. All you have to do, first of all, is look at the results. We had 46 individuals with a 3.0 (GPA) or higher. We had a 2.82 overall team GPA. But it also develops leadership. If an individual can't lead a group of nine to 10 individuals, they're not going to be able to lead a group of 105 individuals. We find out very early who our leaders are, how they hold each other responsible. Being a leader is all about responsibility of command. Did you accomplish the mission? I think the other thing that Vol Olympics is at Tennessee we have so many great traditions here and it's a pride of who we are, so it's also educating them with the responsibility that comes with playing football at the University of Tennessee and educating them on our great traditions as well.
It forces the details. The details are what define us. The little things define us. It's that overall discipline. It's those overall standards. That's what Vol Olympics brings to the table for us.
6) How were you able to get senior associate AD for football Mike Vollmar away from Michigan? How important is a guy like that to creating a successful program?
Mike Vollmar has come in and he made his impact felt immediately. I've known Mike for a number of years, I've watched him from afar. His reputation speaks for itself. I believe he's regarded as one of the best in the business. To be able to bring in an individual with the caliber of Mike Vollmar has meant so much to our football program. We share the same vision. He has that knack of getting things done. He pushes every day. We always talk about that relentless mentality that we want in our football program, Mike brings that relentless attitude each and every day. We're very fortunate to be able to have him here at Tennessee.
He had a relationship already established with our director of athletics, Dave Hart. They worked together at Alabama, so obviously Dave knows what Mike is all about. They had that pre-existing relationship, that mutual respect. So obviously when Dave came to me about Mike it was a no-brainer.
7) When you come to a new program, do you coach a senior any differently than you coach a freshman?
I think it's all a standard and an expectation of what you demand from your players. It doesn't matter if you're a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior. The standard, the expectation will never change, and if so, the responsibility of being a senior in our football program is very high. One of the things we did coming in here right away is really trying to educate our seniors about what it is to be a senior in our football program and the responsibility that comes with that term 'senior.' There are no do-overs. There are no reset buttons. You're only a senior once in your life. You can't go back in time, so this is the most important year for them. They have one last opportunity. It's also the leadership that a senior class has to have. Every championship that we've won, they've all been bound by a common characteristic and that's been a very, very strong senior class. Every team that has struggled on and off the field that we've coached had not a very strong senior class. You win championships with strong senior classes that understand the standard, the expectation. They buy into the responsibility that comes along with it and the leadership that's required from them.
8) With a schedule that includes Oregon, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama and a program that still has a lot of work left to be done, what will make this season a success for you?
We have to focus on the task at hand. We can't get ahead of ourselves. We have to focus minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week by week in being a better football team, and we have to focus on the process and we can't focus on the end result. I think that's the big thing. Our football team will be defined in how we manage our adversities and how we persevere from them. That gets back to leadership. Leadership is influence, that's why there's good leaders and bad leaders. It's the ability to influence. Great leaders do three things. They command, they coach, they mentor and the great leaders are able to do all three. I think the big thing is us focusing on the process and not getting ahead of ourselves, and I think that's going to be critical for us.
9) Being from Michigan, you're one of a number of SEC coaches with roots in the Midwest. What is it about that area of the country that produces so many successful coaches?
You are right, there are a lot of coaches in the SEC that have Midwest ties. I don't know if it's one particular area in the country. All I can do is speak for myself, I grew up in a blue-collar household. My father was chief of police, that really helped me to develop and study human behavior. I love studying human behavior, body language and what every human being is selling. Over 87 percent of males communicate through body language and not verbal communication. I think growing up with that background, my mother was a hospital administrator, I was forced to have a job at age 14. I think just coming from a blue-collar, and also coming up in the profession - having to first volunteer, then be a graduate assistant, then going Division III, Division II, Division I. A lot of experiences are born in the Mid-American Conference. I have such a tremendous amount of respect for all the coaches in the Mid-American Conference. I just think a blue-collar mentality that was formulated by my parents, where we grew up. It was Saugatuck, Michigan, which is a small resort town so all my classmates had to have summer jobs, and so you had to have a balancing act of having your summer basketball, your summer football workouts and maintaining a summer job. I believe I had 62 individuals in my graduating class, so you basically didn't have competition to motivate you. You had to have that inner drive by yourself to be the best that you could possibly be because you really didn't have competition being the motivating factor. Those were a lot of things that when I speak for myself growing up in the Midwest that helped me.
10) What's the best piece of advice you received as a young coach that's stuck with you through your career?
The first thing was having a plan to win and following your plan to win. The road to success is always under construction but you have a plan, you have a belief and you don't waver from it. You follow that plan. You're going to have setbacks along the way, you're going to have to go through the adversities but at the end of the day, they say adversity is the greatest teacher in life. I think just staying the course each and every day, never getting too high or too low. I was a full-time Division III offensive coordinator making $25,000 a year and in order to move up in this profession, I went back to Ferris State, took a part-time job with no benefits making minimum wage for nine months. I had to have a summer job to make ends meet with my family. This is a great profession and it's an honor and a privilege to coach. Football is life, just sped up a lot faster. I think sacrificing, staying the course and when you get that job, no matter where it's at, you put everything that you have into it. You treat every job as though it's going to be your last job. You don't take a job to take the next job. You put everything that you have in that job and you treat it as though it'll be the only job you have.
10a) That had to be a pretty big leap of faith to accept a nine-month job with no benefits. Can you describe the thought process for taking that job?
I was at a stage in my career where I wanted to move up the ladder, so to speak, in our profession. Sometimes in order to move up you have to sacrifice and a lot of times it's hardest on your family. I have a very supportive wife and so sometimes in order to move up, I think in the world of today it's instant gratification. Everybody thinks, "I can go from being a graduate assistant to being a big-time major offensive coordinator." I think those are very rare circumstances. I'll tell you what, having to first be a Division III offensive coordinator and an intramural director and the head men's tennis coach, I still draw a lot from those experiences. I think when you get to a place like Tennessee, it makes you appreciate what you have even that much more.