KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Release) -- Butch Jones met with the media on Thursday. He touched on many topics including the Vols' success in the classroom, new additions to the roster and off-season workouts.
"First of all happy holidays; it's good to see everyone. I'd like to take this opportunity one more time to give some thanks, and that starts with our senior class. For everything they've meant to our program and really building the foundation and expectations within our football family and everything that they've been through throughout their careers here at Tennessee. But also to congratulate the 10 individuals who graduated last Friday. That was obviously a great day for me and I know they're going to be extremely, extremely successful in their future endeavors. They will always be Vols For Life. I'm very proud of that set of individuals.
"While we talk about graduation I think it's very fitting we start with the topic of academics. We just concluded a very, very productive semester academically. We had the second highest fall GPA in the history of our football program. We had 40 individuals earned a 3.0 or above and we had no individuals who are academically ineligible who didn't pass the required nine hours.
"It is all about the foundation of excellence and the standard within your football program. A lot of thanks go to Dr. Joe Scogin and the entire Thornton (Center) staff. They are a part of our football family and that standard of excellence we have throughout the entire athletic program. Joe and the Thornton staff are instrumental in that. So I want to say thank you to them.
"It is also very appropriate at this time to thank the best fan base in America. While other institutions are having attendance problems, we actually went up significantly in fan attendance this year. That is a testament that there is only One Tennessee and the passionate fan base we have. Our overall attendance was up about 6,000 per game, which is incredible. I'd really like to thank our student body. I'm really proud of this - we were up over 31 percent in student body attendance. That means the world to me because everything is about our fans and student body. So I want to say thank you.
"I would also be remised if I didn't bring up the greatest accomplishment in Tennessee football and that is the APR issue. I still don't think that gets the recognition that it deserves. It has really helped us in this recruiting class. It's a monumental feat, a tribute to everyone who helped us - our administration, Joe Scogin, the entire Thornton staff, our coaches, our players - to be able to put that piece of negative recruiting aside. I think you look at everything that's going on here is building a program of excellence. I said it last year, before you can win on the field you have to win off the field. We're starting to win off the field. We still have a long ways to go, but the APR issue and all the sacrifices and hard work that went into making that a reality was instrumental. It's critical as we continue to move this football program forward.
"I will have some time over the holidays and once the recruiting season wraps up, I will take time and evaluate anything and everything in our football program. Everything is under further evaluation as we continue to move forward. There are three criteria that our coaching staff will take time over the holidays and address. We're going to break everything down into three things: No. 1 is what do we need to change to improve and get better? The next thing is what do we need to adjust? How can we adjust and continue to build the best college football program in America? The third thing is what things do we need to emphasize? Those are the three ways we'll break things down. What we need to change? What we need to adjust and what we need to emphasize? Those will be critical as well all know in moving forward.
"Looking back on this year, I think we have taken some great strides, monumental strides. But we are nowhere near where we need to be. Losing is not an option. It will not be tolerated here at Tennessee. There are steps in the process. I've spoken about it the entire year - we have to focus on the process. We are still going through that process. There are no quick fixes. I think we all know that. We are going to do things right and great things will happen. I'm the worst one with having patients. It starts with your foundation of excellence, your standard of expectations, your culture and having the right people in the right place.
"When I look back at some of our deficiencies we have to improve to move this program forward - I think everyone sees it first and foremost is our overall team speed. We must improve our team speed across the board. That's offense, defense and special teams. We must be a much faster football team. We'll develop that in the offseason, but quite frankly you develop it through the recruiting process.
"The next thing is our overall strength as a football team. We're nowhere we need to be to compete at an elite level in terms of our strength. That is something that we addressed immediately - the Monday - after the Kentucky game. We started our offseason strength and conditioning program. There is no waiting around. Every single day is critical in the evolution of Team 118. We had a team meeting and started that program. We have split our team up into five different groups and they will compete with each other over the break. We tested everyone, their body fat makeup. The first thing they will do when they report back to campus is we will test them again. We will have a conditioning test and a strength test. We have assigned leaders to those five teams and they are responsible for holding their players accountable throughout the course of this long break. There are no off days in Tennessee football to get this program back to where we need it to be. We will continue to compete even during vacation.
"The next area is our overall depth and competitiveness across the board. Competitiveness lends itself to improving individually and collectively as a team. We need to generate and create competition across the board. You do that through the recruitment process. That's why we are excited to welcome 14 new individuals at mid-year and three Junior College signees that we welcomed to the family yesterday.
"The last thing is continuing - for everyone in our organization - to understand the standards and expectations of excellence that we've put forth for this great football program. And not deviating from that. Our players have done a great job. We talk about having a relentless approach to everything that we do. Whether it's in recruiting, whether it's in our community, the classroom, or whether it's this offseason strength and conditioning phase we're about to embark on. It is a relentless approach in everything that we do regarding Tennessee football.
"The other thing I spoke about briefly is the three individuals we welcomed into our football family yesterday. They will be great additions. They have not played one snap of football for Tennessee, but the great thing is they will be here at mid-year. Von Pearson is an extremely competitive young man. He's the No. 2 wide receiver in the country and was very highly-touted and sought after in the recruiting process. I thought Zach Azzanni did a tremendous job of building a relationship with him and formulating that trust. He's going to add another dimension to our wide receiver position, which we greatly need.
"The next individual is Dontavius Blair - an offensive lineman, an offensive tackle we've been on for a while now. He's going to give us immediate relief and competition at the offensive tackle position. We're very excited about him.
"Owen Williams originally from Macon, Ga., he is very, very sudden, very, very quick, explosive and when you watch his film you see a high level of productivity on every single snap. We are excited about those three individuals."
"Before I take your questions you might have, it is also very appropriate to congratulate Peyton Manning. We are very proud of him for winning the prestigious Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award. That is a great, great, honor, feat and accomplishment and it couldn't have come to a more deserving individual and person than Peyton Manning. I love everything that he stands for, he is a Vol for Life and I am proud to call him a good friend as well."
(On the QB competition)
"All even starting from ground zero. Every position is all even starting at ground zero. You are responsible at creating your football identity. Because some individuals may have had success in the past, that doesn't guarantee them success in the future. You have to earn everything that you get, it is by a body of work over time and that position, just like every other position will be up for competition."
(On the health of QBs)
"Everyone will be healthy. We have had some individuals stay over and do the extra rehab. Justin Worley is one of those individuals and he is back to throwing a football now."
(On Riley Ferguson)
"Anytime you have that valuable of experience being in that system for a year now and being involved in a program for over a year. Some will be their first spring practice. It will be Riley's first spring practice, it will be Josh's first spring practice. Continuity and consistency is critical, so having those individuals in the system for a year will expedite the learning curve, they are able to focus more on the fundamentals and fine details that it takes to play winning football at the quarterback position."
(On making first to second year strides)
"When you take over a program, each situation is different. It is based on the existing talent in the program, experience you have, size of recruiting classes, there is so much that goes into it. Leadership characteristics of the players in your program, staff continuity and consistency, everything goes into developing the program. Going from year one to year two it is monumental. The players understand the standard and expectation. They understand that we are going to win in the classroom. They understand the demands of the program, how we start meetings, where they are going. The great thing is, you welcome 14 new individuals, but we have a collective group of returning individuals that can teach them the standards and expectations of Tennessee football. It is monumental. I know much more now today than I did a year ago and that will continue to develop. We still have a lot of work to do and it is not going to be 100 percent corrected overnight. It is going to be a process. I see the successful steps that are taken and a lot of positive things happening here. It will happen. You rejuvenate your program with this great signing class adding 14 individuals in January, it is going to add to the competitive make up of your football team. In all my years of coaching, and I think I speak from our entire coaching staff and not to take away from any of the other teams we have coached but this is the most excited and most looking forward to an off season that I can remember in a very, very long time."
(On the staff moving forward)
"I know for the staff it has not been easy because going to a bowl game is what is expected here and competing for championships. I want disappointment. I want them to realize that it is great to be home for the holidays but we want to go to bowl games. They understand that and that temperament was set immediately following the conclusion of the Kentucky game. It is a new start, a new beginning. Team 117 is come and gone. All of our focus is on Team 118 and everything that we can do in developing the leadership that it is going to take to compete at a high level. Creating leadership, creating depth but also creating a love, a respect for each other. That is the big thing, being great teammates and having that brotherhood and building that team chemistry. I do sense some hunger and sense them getting back and ready to go. I have had a number of players that have said `Coach, I have had a great time at home, I am ready to come back. Individuals are coming back a week, week and a half early just to get started."
(On what sets this offseason apart)
"I think having been in the system for a year, our players understand the expectations, standards, that are required of them. I think they understand volume, the work ethic it is going to take and challenging everyone on an individual basis to improve in all aspects. From the way that they take care of their bodies, nutrition, health, strength and conditioning,. But also adding 14 new individuals. Some very highly recruited individuals, some skilled individuals, it will add to the overall competition and as we know competition is extremely health. We are going to compete this offseason in everything that we do. We may even race to the drinking fountain. A competition of who can keep their locker the cleanest. Who can be the best leader. We are going to compete in everything that we do and try and create stressful situations because that is when you really find out about leadership. I am excited for the players that are returning. They have been through a full year, they have gained confidence in the way that we want to play and our style of play. They know what we did well and what they didn't do well. The overall mindset in the building, the overall expectation, the coaches, the administration is optimistic and very rightfully so."
(On bringing in 14 new players mid year)
"There are challenges with that to now, there are some things we have to understand. Some of these individuals are 17 years old and going away to college for the first time. Everything is changing for them. Their friends, the expectations, the work volume of being in a collegiate setting with academics with the offseason strength and conditioning. We are going to have to rely on our older players to nurture them so to speak and bring them along. All 14 individuals are high character, competitive and looking forward to it."
(On replacing the entire offensive line and the majority of the defensive line)
"A lot goes into that, it is a great challenge, I have never been in that type of situation. That is when we talk about building this football program. We are down an entire recruiting class in the offensive line position numbers wise. The thing that we have to guard against in this recruiting class is we cannot fix all of our deficiencies in a recruiting class. It takes time. You can only bring in so many players, I know that has been one of the most talked about topics of conversation in the last month or so. We have to make sure we correct and improve every single position to have long term success. You are not going to fix all of your deficiencies in one recruiting class. It is going to be a big challenge to replace the offensive line but I am also encouraged because Marcus Jackson gained his redshirt year, Mack Crowder gained some valuable game experience,Kyler Kerbyson gained some valuable experience. I am excited about three freshman offensive lineman that we brought in last year, and you couple that with Blair coming in and other individuals coming in. Change is good, there is going to be a high level of excitement and competitiveness. Playing in this conference having to replace as many offensive and defensive lineman that we have to it is an area of concern."
(On the younger defensive linemen stepping up this offseason)
"Huge, monumental. That is why we started our off on Monday after the Kentucky game. There could be no wasted days. Our players can't go home and not do anything for three weeks, they can't do that or else they have set back their development and our team development. That is why we are in constant communication with them and why we are competing even though we are away for the holidays."
(On coaches commenting on UT prospects)
"I don't ever comment on and other programs because I am busy concentrating on the University of Tennessee. But if they have time to worry about Tennessee and the numbers then we must be doing something right."
(On holding on to commitments)
"I have been recruiting day in and day out. There is the reason why we have the No. 2 recruiting class in the country. Rankings are rankings. We have great recruiters on this staff. It is recruiting. It is part of the process. That is why I don't talk about numbers. Because it is always influx. Recruiting changes minute by minute, hour by hour. It changes. That is the nature of recruiting. In this conference nothing is set until they sign. I understand that, it has always been that way, the way we recruit. I am excited the way things are going but nothing has caught my staff off guard, I am excited with the individuals that we have. But we don't ever take anything for granted. We are in a people relationships type of business and I think individuals see we have tremendous people here and a great product to see and really they want to be a part of it."
(On when support staff begins working with possible midterm enrollees)
"A lot of times it starts now because of the change in the academic requirements. It really starts changing in their ninth grade year and into their 10th grade year. They have to have a great plan just because of the ever-changing academic requirements and having a plan. There are a lot of individuals who have already approached us for the future of wanting to enroll early. It takes a different person, it takes a very mature person to be able to do that. Like I said, their whole life is changing, you have to have a maturity about yourself and also you have to have a program in place to help the individuals succeed once they get on your campus. That is the great thing about Joe Scogin and our Thornton Center and our coaches. We have the best support services in the country. That is what separates us, our academic support services and everything, the resources that we have for an individual to be successful at Tennessee."
(On the benefits of bring 14 mid-term enrollees in)
"Many benefits. They gain spring football, they actually gain a half of year of eligibility. When August rolls around they understand the standard, the expectations, the style of play - physically they are able to develop, mentally they are able to develop from a mental toughness standpoint but also understanding the playbook. The learning curve, it really helps the learning curve and all that you do mentally and physically, it builds team bonds and chemistry, it builds an overall comfort level. The advantages are endless, it is invaluable."
(On players not returning next semester)
"Sure, we have three individuals we have signed their releases, Paul Harris, Tino Thomas and Tom Smith. We have allowed them to explore further options. As of right now that is all that I anticipate but as we all know the world of college football is ever changing."
(On recruits and Twitter)
"It is a fine line. Each individual recruit is different. Some are on Twitter, some are on Facebook, some of them really look at it and some individuals, we are in the recruitment of a prospective student-athlete that doesn't have twitter. Every recruit is its own separate entity, it is their own different thing. So not one individual is the same, they are all different. Twitter has become a great forum and mechanism to promote your program, to sell your program, to sell your vision. But you do, it is a fine line, you have to also be careful."
(On meeting the team needs with the next class)
"I do. We won't know entirely until the February signing date. We are. I think we are taking a monumental step at the receiver position to playing football the way we want to play here. We have upgraded in every single position. We have to make sure that we guard against not placing too many expectations on this incoming class. They are still 17 and 18 year old young adults, very, very talented but very, very young. We will know more once signing day rolls around because we know it is always changing. We do. That is our job we have to try to address and continue to get better and better."
(On AJ Johnson and Curt Maggitt)
"AJ is still weighing his options. We have been in constant communication. So we don't have an answer for you there. Curt Maggitt, we are excited to get back and he will be 100% ready to go."
(On when he believes AJ Johnson will make a decision)
"I don't. It is our job to educate our players. That is part of the Vol for Life program, part of our NFL readiness program and educating him. We present the facts to them, what we are hearing around the league, where we think they are at, the pros of coming back, the cons. Give them as much advice as possible. At the end of the day it comes down to them making a decision. We do, we try to present the reasons why. We are building something special here, we try to present that to them and the they have to make that decision, what is best for them and their family."
(On the lack of depth)
"I don't think I have ever been part of a year where we were as youthful as we were. Youthful, playing in the best college football conference in the country and playing the number one schedule in the country. I think it is going to end up being a valuable experience, a valuable tool in moving this program forward. A lot of young individuals gained an inordinate amount of reps so I think that will helps us in moving forward. We have a recruiting profile. We don't listen to the recruiting services. We have a recruiting profile in terms of character traits but also competitive traits and then position specific traits as well. Every person we offer a scholarship to we have done our due diligence in research. A lot of times it is extremely challenging to do as much research as you can just because the recruiting process is as accelerated as it is.We have a profile and we rely on that profile and we have some very good evaluators. That is the thing that I think a lot of people don't understand, the role of coaches at the collegiate level is so different because you have to be able to teach, you have to be able to coach, you have to be able to critique, you have to be able to evaluate, and you have to be able to communicate and recruit. So you have to be able to recruit and sell your program, you have to be able to evaluate the personnel and then also coach. The great coaches are able to do all three things. That is how we evaluate our coaches, in those three areas. It is a great challenge, we are fortunate to have a great staff here. Bob Welton does a tremendous job of heading our entire recruiting efforts."
(On the 14 early enrollees)
"The number 14 is the scholarships that we had available at midyear that is why winning academically is a by product of that. Our philosophy is we are always going to get our players graduated, our goal is between 3.5 and 4 years. That is the goal here. So if they have a fifth year of eligibility and do elect to come back they are working towards a master's degree. It is all about winning in the classroom. If they have the ability and leave early and go to the National Football League, the most important thing you can have is your college degree. So that is the fundamental values of our football program. So why you see the inordinate amount of early enrollees or the 14 signees is a direct correlation to winning academically and winning in the classroom. We were also able to count a number of scholarships from last year's class, but really they are the number of scholarships available at mid year through graduation. That is why our seniors did a tremendous job. Alex Bullard for instance, it came right down to the wire, he really had to take some classes. I just passed him before coming here and he is a college graduate. We gain his scholarship now at midyear. Those 14 are a byproduct of winning. When we looked at what positions it started first and foremost with areas of need, we need offensive lineman, we need defensive lineman, we need skill players, we really need everything but it really came down to a hierarchy of our positional needs. But then It also comes down to the players that are available. The best players that are graduating midyear. So it is a whole conglomeration of all those components."
(On how the quarterbacks can prepare for spring football)
"While they are away it is self accountability, improving each and every day. Throwing on their own while they are on break, working out. Once they get back, overall leadership, the fine details that it takes, the quarterback characteristics that it takes. From a leadership standpoint, the ability to lead in the weight room, the ability to lead in the classroom, living their life the right way, being an example. The quarterback should be the example. They are the equivalent of a coach when they are on the field. It is their football program. The command presence that it takes as a quarterback, doing things the right way and the high level of consistency. We talk about consistency is performance, that is extremely critical at every position but it is really critical in winning football games at the quarterback position. And then once we get into specific drills and spring football it is who manages our offense the best, who takes care of the football and who can create plays. It is going to be an ongoing process and that evaluation tool already started Monday when we hit the ground running."