Local fans of Big Orange football, in turn, gave the successful mentor a gift as well; that being, an attentive ear and a vast crowd that packed out the Center for the Performing Arts at Bradley Central High School.
With hope, the likable field general helped UT supporters understand the secret to turning around a disappointing football program — especially one that formerly enjoyed national prominence and even an NCAA Division I championship 15 years ago — starts at ground zero.
In other words, it’s not exclusive to rebuilding the talent level of UT athletes. It’s about redefining the process.
For diehard Vols fans, especially those who have found themselves frustratedly straddling the fence in recent years, one of Jones’s key assessments pointed more to the big picture and not to immediate wins.
In his words, “I think the big thing is continuing to build. We want to focus on the process. We can’t concern ourselves with the end result right now. We’re building a national championship caliber football program.”
It’s a mindful way of saying a calculated series of small steps that are done correctly will build a consistent, and longer lasting, momentum; such strides will breathe new life into the process, and once the system is revived a successful program — as measured in wins and losses — will become the end result.
Phrased yet another way, one must crawl before learning to walk.
In looking to the future, UT faithful are reminded to focus on the positive and to support change brought by Jones and his staff. Those expecting six, seven, eight or more victories in the coming campaign should pay less attention to the immediate numbers and more to the detail in building a new process.
It is not wins and losses, nor high hopes for the former, that caught our attention during the head coach’s recent visit. Instead, what captured our attention was his commitment to rebuilding a once mighty program one brick at a time by careful selection of young athletes. Such a process will include not only pursuit of talent, but recognition of character.
Caliber of athlete is not limited to speed, agility, size and high school touchdowns. It is heart. It is mind. It is attitude. It is academics.
Under Jones’s stewardship, the recruitment of high school athletes will include talks with friends and teammates of prospective recruits, and searches on social media to help determine the character of heart in every potential Volunteer.
It will include close attention to grade-point average. He is proud of the team’s combined 2.80 GPA last semester, but the future goal is 3.0.
It’s this simple, according to the Jones theory of rebuilding a crippled program.
Get the right people.
Get the right people in the right place.
Get the right people in the right place under the right process.
Then, build and improve. Build on success. Improve on lessons learned. Commit to the system as a never-ending experience with no end and no limits.
It’s not complicated. But it’s not always for the faint of heart. And it’s definitely not for the impatient.
For the young athletes, as described by Jones, it’s mentality. It’s pride in tradition. It’s style of play. It’s team chemistry. It’s execution. It’s discipline.
For the fans, it’s all the above, and it’s this: belief.
A crawl today and a step tomorrow can lead to giant leaps in the days, and the years, ahead.
We liken it to the 1986 Hollywood classic “Hoosiers.” Impatient townsfolk in tiny Hickory, Ind. chose to give new basketball coach Norman Dale a chance.
His team won the state championship.
And it was a true story.