On Saturday, Butch Jones was surrounded by orange, but the team in red made for a heartbreaking night and depressing weekend.
Two days later, Jones saw a higher percentage of red and more black Gs than he’d have preferred.
Nevertheless, the first-year Tennessee head coach was in good humor as he spoke to a larger-than-average gathering of the Macon Touchdown Club.
He poked fun at an Auburn fan, and he told a member who had a bad day predicting games and picked the Vols to win, “Don’t ever pick Tennessee again.”
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A Georgia fan said he wanted to make sure to attend after seeing Jones’ intensity and passion on the sidelines during Georgia’s thrilling 34-31 win over Tennessee on Saturday.
“I gather the same feeling (Monday night),” said the fan, who saw Jones go ballistic more than once Saturday.
Time will tell if Saturday’s quality performance against the nation’s No. 6 team means Tennessee has turned the corner in the rebuilding process, but Jones showed that the Vols might have finally found the man to return Tennessee to its days of contending under Phillip Fulmer.
“An undermanned football team right now, going into overtime with the No. 6 team in country,” Jones said. “We did anything and everything to win the football game, and we were one play away.
“But, like I pointed out to our football team, inches makes champions, and you’re searching for those inches. And you never know what two to three plays will make the difference between winning and losing.”
Jones was quick-witted and personable, helped by a nice turnout of Tennessee fans. In fact, an auction of a Tennessee football helmet drew a stunning bid of $1,050, with proceeds going to the club’s scholarship fund.
“We’re very prideful at Tennessee,” he said. “So if anyone wants to match the money paid for that Tennessee helmet, I will gladly send another Tennessee helmet.”
Tennessee’s previous home games this season have been against Austin Peay, Western Kentucky and South Alabama. Saturday’s game was a little more like the atmosphere expected at Neyland Stadium, and it was a little bit new to the man who had been a head coach at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
The young Vols came back from 17-3 down to lead 31-24, only to lose in overtime. The sellout crowd of 102,455 was Tennessee’s best since last season’s 44-13 loss to Alabama in Game 7.
“Losing will never be accepted at Tennessee,” he said. “Saturday night was one of the greatest venues and environments I’ve ever been apart of.”
Jones alluded to Southwest head coach Joe Dupree, who earlier talked about his Patriots’ major rebuilding task, with Dupree citing the difficult process of building on and off the field.
“In society today, everyone wants to focus on the end results,” Jones said. “Everyone wants to crown who’s going to be the next national champion and who’s going to be the next conference champion.
“What we have to do is focus on the process of each and every day. We have to continually work to be a better football team, a better football program, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month.
“If we just do that, we’ll like our body of work at the end of the day.”
Tennessee is 3-3 for the third straight season and fourth out of the past five, but it seems to be a higher quality 3-3, even with losses already to Florida and Georgia.
“The building of this football team really occurred a couple weeks ago in Gainesville, when we lost to Florida,” he said. “I’m walking in the locker room, and I can finally see remorse. I can finally see hurt in our players’ eyes.
“I didn’t see anybody giving up. That’s really where this team started to take off.”
Jones knows that the state of Georgia plays a huge role in Tennessee’s success.
“Right now, we have 21 individuals from the state of Georgia,” he said. “Eleven of our starters are from the state of Georgia. Obviously, it’s a big part of what we’re doing.”
And he pretty much confirmed a return trip to Macon.
“I’d also be remiss if I didn’t thank you for the meal,” Jones said of the menu of fried chicken, ham, rice and gravy, broccoli, carrots and chocolate cake. “That’s probably one of the greatest meals I’ve had in a long time.
“I will come back,” he said, with applause drowning out the rest of his comment.