James Franklin wants Vanderbilt to become Nashville’s team.
Butch Jones has other ideas.
In town Monday for the American Football Coaches Association’s annual convention, Tennessee’s first-year coach says he plans to restore some pride in a football program that has suffered three straight losing seasons. And he is relying on support from Music City, home of more than 27,000 members of the school’s alumni association.
“It is critical and it is big,” Jones said of Nashville. “Obviously there is great high school football. There is great high school coaching here. We are the University of Tennessee. Nashville is a very big part of that. We have a great, passionate fan base here.”
Jones joined his staff at the Opryland Hotel for the four-day convention, which runs through Wednesday and draws more than 6,000 football coaches on the high school and collegiate levels.
“I think in our profession you’re always trying to get better,” Jones said. “It is an opportunity to come here and just learn football and talk football.”
Before Jones went to watch the BCS national championship game with former UT players, he took notes as former Vols coach Phillip Fulmer and former NFL coach Dick Vermeil engaged in a question-and-answer session. Asked if he had any regrets during his coaching career, Fulmer bluntly responded, “I regret they fired my [butt].”
Jones is the third UT coach since Fulmer’s ouster in 2008. The 44-year-old says he has talked to Fulmer “quite frequently” since he was hired away from Cincinnati on Dec. 7.
“It has been a whirlwind,” Jones said.
On Monday, he wrapped up the hiring of his support staff, which included naming former Vol and All-SEC defensive back Terry Fair a defensive quality control coach. Jones’ biggest priority is national signing day, which is four weeks away.
Currently, the Vols’ upcoming signing class is ranked 26th by Rivals.com — 12 spots behind Vanderbilt. Scout.com has Vanderbilt ranked 17th and UT at 43 rd. The Commodores are also ranked 17th by ESPN.com, which has the Vols at 30th.
Closing the recruiting gap will be a big step for Jones and crew if they hope to win over Nashville and the state.
“There are a lot of things that have been going on but I think we have made a lot of progress,” Jones said. “Obviously this coming month in January is going to be critical for us.”