Since Butch Jones arrived in Knoxville, he’s been all about the slogans. He arrived with a major rebuild of the Tennessee Volunteers staring him in the face. “Brick by brick” became the motto of the program. Everyone bought in. Jones was killing it on the trail and seemed to have some positive momentum growing with his rebuild.
Most Tennessee fans knew how bad of shape the program was in, so Jones had some leeway here. Knoxville was set to take the patient approach and embraces his “brick by brick” mantra.
Everything was fine until the day Jones defended his lack of a championship by saying that his senior class had won the “championship of life.” This coming after a disappointing 2016 season that saw the Volunteers squander a trip to Atlanta by losing to South Carolina, then Vanderbilt.
That’s when it went off the rails.
Butch and Tennessee became and instant source of comedy all over the internet. Instead of recognizing the mistake and saving face, Butch doubled down. He then threw gasoline on the fire when he rolled out “five star hearts.”
As Butch explained on Sunday, every team has those mottos.
"I kind of chuckle because I’ve educated some of the members of our local media that every coach has those. For some reason at Tennessee, I think it’s all kind of blown out of proportion because that’s the one topic to talk about."
Nobody has an issue with “Own it” or “brick by brick.” I understand those. You want a clear message to support your goal for the team. You want to play a certain way and you want to instill a mindset.
That’s fine. That’s needed.
“Champions of life” wasn’t needed. It was an unnecessary attempt at some sort of compensation for a disappointing football season.
This year’s slogan is DAT way — an acronym spelling out Details, Accountability and Toughness. We’ve seen the shirts and the banners around the facility all summer long. Again, this is fine. It’s a vision and it’s a way of operating your program.
Butch Jones needs to separate the team vision slogans from the “Life Champions” and “Five Star Hearts” comments. The fans don’t have a problem with DAT Way, Brick by Brick or Own It.
They do have a problem with celebrating winning the championship of life instead of celebrating the SEC East championship.
The hotseat talk for Butch is interesting — seeing that he’s put together back to back nine win seasons. Nine wins certainly isn’t good enough at Tennessee, but the progress is there — albeit slow. There’s been some disappointment along the way, but you have to wonder how his comments have hurt his perception around the college football landscape.
SBNation’s Jason Kirk took a look at this and came to the same conclusion. Would his perception be different if Jones was a little more savvy in the media?
I think there’s two segments of the fanbase that hold two very different opinions of Butch Jones. You’ve got those plugged into Twitter and see the day to day reaction of Butch’s comments and the now never-ending punchline he’s become. (I kid you not, I get “life champion” or “five star heart” jokes sent my way on the Rocky Top Talk twitter account daily.)
Then you’ve got the other segment of the base that might not see all that negativity, but sees the progress in the program. The stark contrast between the negativity towards Jones on Twitter and the positivity towards Jones on Facebook is staggering.
All of this has polarized Jones, as my friend Nathanael Rutherford wrote about a couple of months back.
I’m not trying to bash Coach Jones here, that’s not my intention. I also realize that none of this really matters if you win big on the football field. But for a coach that’s still building and wants to make Tennessee a powerhouse again, he needs to guard against any future media gaffes. You want the Tennessee Football program to be associated with success on the football field. Lately, it’s been associated with bad internet memes and constant jokes.
He had a chance to put his words into action and “Own It” at SEC Media Days last month, but he didn’t. He said that last season wasn’t a disappointment, firing up the internet once again.
It’s a frustrating spot. You see the progress. You see his success on the recruiting trail. I don’t want to see that derailed by meaningless phrases. Keep DAT Way, keep brick by brick — keep your predetermined yearly visions. Just don’t give the college football world anymore opportunities to make a joke at the expense of the University of Tennessee.