When Bruce Pearl first came to Knoxville to take over the University of Tennessee men's basketball program, he brought an energy and enthusiasm for that program that had not been seen in many years. And it didn't take long for the fans on Rocky Top to catch basketball fever.
In many ways, it seems as if new coach Butch Jones has brought much the same type of energy and enthusiasm to a downtrodden Volunteers football program. Evidence of this renewed enthusiasm can be seen on the message boards that host Tennessee fans.
Like Pearl in his early years at Tennessee, Jones has done much to reach out to a fanbase that has in recent years lost its fervor for the Big Orange. A number of public appearances, a media blitz and interaction on social media has put the coach and his program front and center since his hiring back on December 7 as the replacement for the fired Derek Dooley.
Also like Pearl, Jones has embraced the storied past of the Tennessee program along with the school's sacred traditions. Former players have been made to feel as though they are still a valued part of the school.
As an example of both Jones' reaching out to former Vols and his use of social media to re-energize the program, he recently took to Twitter to congratulate Dallas Cowboys star Jason Witten on breaking the season record for receptions by an NFL tight end.
"@UTCoachJones Congrats to #VFL @JasonWitten Sets #NFL Record For Catches By TE(103) In Season! Once a Vol, Always a Vol!"
And to further demonstrate how Jones is using media to excite the Vol Nation, he tweeted the following after appearing on the morning radio show hosted by former Tennessee quarterback Eric Ainge:
"@UTCoachJones Thank you to @EricAinge3 for allowing me to come on your radio show & keep spreading the word about the Orange & White!"
Jones' predecessor, Derek Dooley, was rarely seen in such public forums and often criticized for not welcoming former players back into the program.
Obviously, the similarities to Pearl in terms of media relations and interactions with fans and former players is where Jones would like for the comparisons between he and the former basketball coach to stop. Pearl's tenure at Tennessee ended in disgrace after recruiting violations and a misinformation campaign were revealed.
For now, however, coach Jones has only demonstrated the same qualities Pearl brought to Knoxville in the early part of his tenure, and that's a good thing.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. Please visit RacingWithRich.com for NASCAR news and views and TennesseeRacer.com for dirt racing news from around the Volunteer State.
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