KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — SEC Network host Paul Finebaum told Butch Jones he really hadn’t taken a full appreciation of Tennessee’s accomplishments the past two seasons until Monday morning.
Jones, entering his fifth season as Vols coach, did the so-called “Car Wash” at ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Conn., appearing on several shows throughout the day.
“If you look at the progression of this program Coach, it has come a long way,” Finebaum, star of the SEC Network, said during Jones’ appearance on his Monday radio show. “I listened to you this morning and that stat about back-to-back nine-win seasons, first time in nine years and you are only behind Alabama, and I must admit, even though I heard that, until i heard you say it, I’m not sure I really paid as close attention to it.”
Jones made it clear he’s proud of the first class of recruits he brought through Tennessee, for what they accomplished in the classroom and on the football field.
For all the Twitter talk and trolling about how Jones is expected to say how disappointed he is with his program and players after its 9-4 finish last season, the coach explained why he feels that’s faulty logic.
“All this talk diminishes the efforts of our players of how hard they’ve worked, from the graduation rates to the APR,” Jones told Finebaum, who just days earlier accused Tennessee’s coach of trying to lower the standards. “I understand the hunger of wanting to win a championship. I can promise you there isn’t anyone hungrier to win a championship than us and our players.
“I look at it as, does a team underachieve, does a team overachieve? We weren’t the same team at the end of the year as the team that started 5-0. So now it’s what experiences do our players take from that? How will that make us better going into this football season?”
The Vols lost 17 starters to injuries last season, part of which had to do with one of the most brutal schedules in program history, with the team playing four straight FBS division champions before road games at Georgia and Texas A&M, and a home game with Alabama.
Jones reiterated that it has been the best offseason of his tenure in Knoxville, and he credited the new assistant coaches and strength coach Rock Gullickson for “invigorating” the program.
“It has brought a lot of energy to our program, [and] it’s been exciting for our players and invigorating because they get an opportunity to reinvent themselves,” Jones said.
“Like I told them, ‘You are responsible for creating your own identity. What you’ve done in the past, good or bad doesn’t matter, you get an opportunity to prove yourself every day.'”
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) July 17, 2017