KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It appeared it was everything Butch Jones could do to stifle a smile when he was asked about Lane Kiffin borrowing his Tennessee “brick by brick” catchphrase.
“Well everyone, whatever it takes to build their program,” Jones said following the Vols’ bowl practice on Tuesday.
Tennessee (8-4) is prepping to play Nebraska (9-3) in the Music City Bowl at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 30 in Nashville’s Nissan Stadium.
The Vols aren’t yet where they want to be, falling short of winning the SEC East Division after 17 starters missed at least one start this season on account of injury, and two other 5-star starters transferred out.
Tennessee has, however, returned to national relevance this season. The Vols started 5-0 and climbed back into the top 10 of the rankings for the first time since 2006, snapping an 11-game losing streak to Florida in the process.
Kiffin’s only season as Tennessee’s head coach was 2009, but he left a radioactive environment, in terms of an ongoing NCAA investigation, and recruits from his only signing class with questionable character.
Kiffin was hired to be Florida Atlantic’s head coach in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday.
Jones has often referenced his “brick by brick” approach since taking over a program that had lost two of its 16 SEC games entering his first season at the helm, 2013.
Jones explained how his philosophy fits the pattern of his rebuilding effort with the Vols, and how he came up with it.
“Brick by brick, I was on the phone one day, and I was watching them lay the foundation on the steps outside my office, and I was watching the diligence that goes into laying the brick,” Jones said. “I thought, it’s the foundation, and we’re going to build a foundation that could stand the test of time, that could weather adversity, and if one brick is out of place or one brick is missing, you’re not going to have a strong foundation and it doesn’t look right.”
The bricks also symbolize the unity that Tennessee continues to strive for. The Vols have suffered their share of attrition, but Jones weeding out players that couldn’t measure up from a performance or attitude standpoint.
“Every brick is symbolic of every person within our football program, that’s why we still give out bricks when we start training camp, with the brick by brick mentality so that’ s where that was born,” Jones said. “It was confirmed when I was talking to Jon Gruden, he said ‘hey brother, just lay it brick by brick,’ so that was confirmation for how we were going to build this football program.”