Typically, college football programs in great shape do not have to bring in new head coaches. Therefore, anyone taking over at any school most often has to come into the job expecting challenges.
That will certainly be the case for Butch Jones as he steps into his new job at the University of Tennessee. A myriad of difficult tasks will be penciled onto the new head man's list of things to do after he makes the move down I-75 from Cincinnati to Knoxville.
Perhaps the most immediate chore facing Jones will be to unite and excite his new fanbase. The Vol Nation began to show severe signs of fracturing late in the the Phillip Fulmer era. As the just recently inducted College Football Hall of Fame member wound his coaching career at Tennessee down, many had come to believe he was not recruiting and coaching up to the level he once had. This vocal group took to the sports talk radio airwaves and the message boards around Knoxville and beyond to let their opinion be know.
At the same time, however, there were many fans who still believed in Fulmer and wanted his reign over the program to continue. As the threat to his job gained momentum, this group also began to publicly voice their opinions.
All of this rivalry on Rocky Top resurfaced during this most recent coaching search, as a group of fans and media members began a campaign to reinstall Fulmer at the helm of the program.
Those fractures were not healed under most recent head coach Derek Dooley.
Coach Jones has now inherited a divided fan base in need of unification.
Aside from merely uniting the fanbase, as if that isn't enough of a chore, Jones also faces the need to reinvigorate them. Tennessee football has been at its lowest point in many years, if not ever, and fans have let their displeasure be known in the most potent of ways when they stopped showing up for home games in Neyland Stadium. Several games during the 2012 season played out in front of grandstands containing far fewer than capacity crowds.
It would seem unlikely that the hiring of Butch Jones will cause a mad rush by fans to the ticket office for the purpose of purchasing season tickets. So, the most obvious alternative for the new sideline general is to put a product on the field that fans will want to come out and watch.
However, it will be months before that effect might be seen. But there is one thing Jones can do to get the fans on his side before the start of the 2013 season. Unlike his predecessor, the coach can make some appearances to put himself in front of the people rather than sit behind closed doors for 37 days like Derek Dooley did after the 2011 season. A little public relations could go a long way in downtrodden Knoxville right now.
But more than pleasing fans, Jones is also confronted with the task of hiring a staff. In accordance with the idea of getting fans on his side, keeping and bringing in assistant coaches with ties to the Volunteer program would be viewed positively. Former UT standout Jay Graham served on Dooley's staff as a running backs coach and would likely be welcomed back by the faithful. Current offensive line coach Sam Pittman could also be beneficial to the new coach. And Tee Martin, the quarterback on the 1998 national championship team, is someone many have voiced a desire to see brought back into the fold in some coaching capacity.
Obviously, it's up to Jones to assemble a staff he is comfortable with but having a few former players around could be good for morale and recruiting.
Speaking of recruiting, that's yet another task for Jones to get started on. During his introductory press conference, Jones addressed the topic that provides the lifeblood of college football.
"You win with players," he declared. "Let me make no mistake that we are going to win first and foremost with the great state of Tennessee. We have tremendous high school coaches in this state. We are the state institution and we will own our state. We are going to be at every high in the state and our players are going to understand what is to wear the power T, they're going to understand what it is to represent their home institution. I take great pride in that."
But to win at Tennessee, recruits also have to come from outside the state, so Jones will have to reach beyond the borders to find the kind of talent it takes to win in the SEC.
As can be seen, Butch Jones has his work cut out for him. And with national signing day fast approaching, he has but a short time to get most of the assignments listed above completed.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. Please visit http://racingwithrich.com/ for NASCAR news and views.
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