The new Vols football coach has a plan to get Tennessee back to the top, and the degree of detail is outstanding.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Three years ago, a plan and detail-work was pretty much all Tennessee fans were given as reasons to support Derek Dooley as head coach. For obvious reasons, you didn't see many people making the same claims when Butch Jones was hired. Once bitten, twice shy and all that.
The irony here is that in the case of Butch Jones, unlike in the case of Dooley, it seems to be true. His overarching plan is obviously working as well as it can in the offseason--the Vols currently sit #1 in the Rivals recruiting rankings and #3 according to 247. But Jones has shown the kind of attention to detail in his first few months that we never saw in three years under a coach for whom detail was supposedly a strength.
Over the last three years, what sort of detail work did we hear about that actually seemed likely to lead to wins? I remember some to-do about the placement of the trash cans at practice and shower discipline, as well as some changes to the new football facility. But was there anything that promised to deliver wins on the field or elite players in recruiting? I can't remember anything. The details on which we focused had more a feel of micromanagement than of an effective plan. They certainly didn't seem to resonate with the recruits, nor did they limit false starts and too-many-men penalties.
So what of Butch Jones? I'm not going to try to sell you on Jones having lined up a great recruiting class entirely because he shows attention to detail. I'm not even going to tell you it's mostly because he shows attention to detail. The fact is, he's working hard, he's a personable guy, and he has a great product to sell (even when Tennessee is down, it's still Tennessee). Those three things alone take you a long way in recruiting. And, while the line between detail work and big picture stuff can be fuzzy (and I'm sure my impressions will differ with some of yours), it seems to me that the brick-by-brick slogan, which has been highly effective, falls into the big picture category.
But Jones has done a few things that absolutely convince me that he sweats the details. Is he doing the big picture work of recruiting well? Absolutely. He's putting in the effort, and people like him. But he also has a t-shirt that has only been given to class of 2014 commits--not the coaches, not the players, not the other targets, just the 2014 commits. That's the sort of thing that can be easy to overlook. It's not a grand gesture like sending 102 letters to one recruit or spending all your free time hanging out at the high school of a key target, but it's the sort of thing likely to foster camaraderie in the recruiting class as well as making being a Tennessee commit an exclusive club.
Another of my favorite examples is the black stripe on the helmets of the freshmen. For those of you who haven't heard, the freshmen on this year's football team have a black stripe instead of an orange one on the helmets of their practice uniforms. Each freshman is assigned a mentor among the upperclassmen. When the upperclassman decides the freshman has "earned his stripes", there is a team ceremony in which the upperclassman removes the black stripe from his freshman's helmet.
Again, it's not unusual to have programs to try to foster camaraderie in a team (and Jones has already implemented another such program with the VOLympics in the spring), but here is a program designed specifically for the integration of freshmen into the team as a whole, a special case of fostering camaraderie which can be easily overlooked. And Jones says it's worked like a charm. He said it was "one of the most effective things we do" and that it's an amazing experience to be in the room when one of the black stripes is removed.
Is any of this going to win football games? By itself, no, although Jones notes "you win with team chemistry" and claims he's instituted these programs so that the Vols team will not just talk about chemistry but "live it every day." But while these may not be the last pieces to winning football, it's not hard to see that they promise to have a positive impact. A team that plays together is better off than a team that's fractured. And any detail that affects recruiting will also affect the play on the field.
Will Jones show the same sort of aptitude with significant details on the field? I can't say, as I haven't seen any of his practices, and the games haven't started yet (although perhaps Big East or MAC fans have some insight). But his detail work off the field is excellent, and that's a good sign.