I'm traditionally a traditionalist.
I hated the black uniforms when the Tennessee Volunteers wore them that late October night back in 2009, and I've harrumphed with the rest of you as Adidas has screwed our orange up multiple times throughout recent years.
But with Thursday's release of the new University of Tennessee alternate gray -- or "smokey," if you want to get technical about it -- I believe the Vols finally got it right [with the exception of the gray helmets that would match].
I like it, I can accept it, and while Butch Jones and crew are keeping the traditional homes and aways [with some tweaks that will be unveiled at the UT press conference later in the day], they're also giving a nod to the newer generation with these jerseys.
adidas Football | 2013 Tennessee Vols TECHFIT Uniform (via adidasFootballUS)
Let's call it like it is, dear readers: this is being done for recruiting purposes and recruiting purposes only.
Whether or not you like the jerseys, you've got to appreciate Jones's reasoning for coordinating these, working with the manufacturer for getting them just right and succumbing to the desires of prospective players. For somebody who loves recruiting, I can live with this reasoning. Kids love things like this, and new merchandise sells. It's plain and simple marketing.
There are people out there who will hate them regardless. This is one of those endeavors that is not going to receive 100 percent of approval. Ever. But when Volquest broke the story this morning and Twitter caught hold of it, the response among players, opponents, media types and prospective recruits were overwhelmingly positive. Volquest has a story with quotes from UT commitments and top targets. All the comments indicate they are hyped about the changes. Here are a couple comments pulled from the Twitterverse:
@dillonbates The new jerseys .... thank you @UTCoachJones
@vwharton3 THE NEW UNIFORMS OH MY GOD.
There are many, many more comments like those.
Let's be frank here: we all want to win again. To win, you need good players. Sometimes to get good players, you've got to mix things up a bit. Do I buy into Todd Kelly Jr.'s quote about "if you look good ... you play good"? No. Not really. I believe to play well, you've got to have better players than what UT has had recently and the players they currently have on the roster. That may not be a popular belief, but it's what I think. Obviously, we've got to have better coaching than we've had the past three years as well. That goes without saying.
I think moves like this do help in the pursuit to market to prospective players. That said ...
I also don't think that new jerseys recruit for you, which is an argument I've seen from several proponents of the new jerseys. I think that if coaches or a program are banking on marketing to sell recruits, that means they're not very good salesmen.
But you cannot dispute that positive publicity helps. You also cannot dispute that young players love whatever is new and fresh. Jones's staff has embraced this newness in its recruiting pitch. I never once believed I'd love to see coaches and players take to Twitter and other forms of social media to recruit and promote. I've always been old-school when it comes to self-promotion, and I believe if you've got a good enough product, it sells itself.
The fact of the matter is, though, while Tennessee's brand is still strong, it never hurts to do a little bit of a re-launch. Folks need to remember that it's not like we're moving away from anything. We're still keeping our traditions. As a matter of fact, I don't think anybody can have any qualms with Jones with it comes to embracing Tennessee traditions. He's done a better job at it than pretty much anybody. Want to bristle about tradition? Look at tweets from former players about the uniforms. Those have been overwhelmingly positive, too. And these are men who gave their all for Tennessee.
Let's face it: the year Tennessee last competed for a national championship in 2001, the players who are being recruited in this year's class were around 4 years old -- too young to remember any football and certainly too young to care. Now, Jones is tasked with having to recruit these players with an eye toward the future. I don't know how many of you follow recruiting, but the only prospects who I've really heard talk about Tennessee tradition are the legacies and the in-state players. That's because people who they know and love -- not they themselves -- remember the good ol' days. Today's recruits are more worried about tomorrow. So, Jones is going to be hard-pressed to sell yesterday to any of them, especially when our "yesterday" was more like "last month."
Look at the recruiting boost Georgia had after the "black-out" -- a game they lost. Look at the resurgence Oregon [the team with a thousand uniforms] has enjoyed. You still can't go to a Tennessee game without seeing 50 of those godawful black jerseys.
There are just a handful of teams out there who haven't made alterations to their uniforms, and -- reality check! -- we ain't one of them. Between the 50 shades of orange, the black pumpkin uniforms from '09, the creamsicle uniforms worn in our last SEC Championship Game appearance and the atrocious orange shoulder pads on white road unis, we've changed more than most. This change is just more out in the open because we're marketing it, selling it to the masses and promoting it the way it should be. Tennessee has dominated social media this morning, and it has been very, very positive. That's not bad publicity for a team coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons.
So, in closing, I'm not trying to sway the detractors into loving the uniforms or even into acceptance. Your voice -- your opinion -- should be as loud as the ones out there trumpeting the changes. But at least understand the reasons for doing this. The current players -- who've been through a ton in their tenure -- love it. The coaches love it. And, perhaps most importantly, the prospects love it. We've been able to really keep our traditional look the same while making one major alteration that won't be seen more than once this season. I like that. I can accept it. The little recruiting boost this could generate could pay dividends as well.
Things change. When it comes to Tennessee football, hopefully things will change on the field as well.
Then, nobody will care what we're wearing.