By Alex Norman
It is the unofficial start of college football season… the return of SEC Media Days to the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama.
It is a people-watching paradise, especially the hundreds of Alabama fans that converge on the small lobby of the hotel, standing around for hours just for a glimpse of their heroes.
There is no greater comedy then the look on the face of known curmudgeon Nick Saban as he takes the escalator to radio row, which is a stone’s throw from those adoring fans. Saban isn’t exactly the most warm and fuzzy guy, and would rather jump into a cauldron of fire than shake hands with the fans that love him unconditionally.
But I digress…
On the first day (Monday, July 10) of the festivities the Tennessee Volunteers made the trip to Hoover, and head coach Butch Jones got many Tennessee fans riled up when he was asked if he viewed last season as a disappointment.
The Vols were the preseason choice to win the SEC East. They beat Florida and Georgia in 2016 but somehow still managed to miss a trip to Atlanta.
“I don’t view it as a disappointment,” said Jones. “The way I view it is we didn’t accomplish everything we set ourselves out to do. And, again, our goal every year is to win a championship and compete to win a championship. So, was it a disappointment? No. Did we not accomplish some of the things we set out to do? Absolutely. We have to learn from the things that went wrong that we could have done better.”
Jones added, “I told our football team this. The lessons you learned from last year, the resolve, the resiliency, are going to serve you for many years down the road in life. And that football team went through a lot of things… I knew where we were at as a program, and still needing that competitive depth across the board, and we have some position groups where we couldn’t afford to have injuries. But, again, this is a results-oriented business and we fell short of our goals. But I don’t like to use the term ‘disappointment,’ because when you still look at it, it’s hard to win in this conference.”
This doesn’t sit well with a substantial chunk of the Tennessee fan base, which has been waiting since 2007 for the Vols to win a division title and since 1998 for an SEC championship to return to Knoxville.
Those words ring louder than all the success Jones has had here. Sometimes fans forget about how low the program was in 2012, after the inept Derek Dooley was fired. Still, to some fans and media alike, Jones is on the proverbial hot seat entering the 2017 season, fair or not.
“It’s a little disrespectful,” said Tennessee defensive lineman Kendal Vickers. “When I got here, we were 5-7 and I was redshirted. Things were bad. For us to win three straight bowl games, us being 9-4, we haven’t won every game and we go out there to win every game. He’s changed this program so much, and he’s done everything he’s possibly been able to do to change the culture at Tennessee. So yeah, I think it’s a little disrespectful, but we don’t worry about that in the locker room.”
“We aren’t really paying much attention to the outside noise, but as far as Coach Jones goes, he really appreciates all of the things we’re doing day in and day out,” said Tennessee offensive lineman Jashon Robertson. “We feel the same way about him…. We’re one of three teams who have had back to work 9 win seasons. Also we won three consecutive bowl games, and that hadn’t been done at the University of Tennessee in 20 years. There are a lot of positives.”
“We don’t really worry about that,” said Tennessee cornerback Emmanuel Moseley. “We only focus on what we can control, and that’s summer workouts, on the field workout, and just trying to have a successful season.”
Tennessee lost a lot of talent to the NFL, including six draft picks. So this could be a rebuilding year for the Vols.
We’ll find out if Jones can keep Tennessee at the level he has brought them to.
Anything more would be a bonus.
Anything less and that hot seat could get hotter… whether he deserves it or not.