Butch Jones is determined to rebuild a once-proud college football program from the bottom up. It once seemed unthinkable that their in-state rivals, the Vanderbilt Commodores, could ever take the mantle as the team to beat in the state of Tennessee.
However, that is exactly what has happened. Head coach James Franklin has Vanderbilt making great strides, and last year they reached their second consecutive bowl game for the first time in school history.
Jones, on the other hand, is the fourth head coach in the past six seasons for Tennessee. When Lane Kiffin arrived in 2009, he thought he could get the Vols back on track by simply bringing in increased talent. He lasted one season, and much of his lone recruiting class never finished their eligibility at Tennessee.
In 2010, Derek Dooley took over the head coaching position. He tried to build the program back up to its previous strength with strong mentor programs like “Vol for Life." The program aimed to help players in four areas: character education, life skills, career development and spiritual growth.
Both coaches were correct. You need talent and you need accountability. However, they both lacked another key component—attention to detail.
Jones realizes that Tennessee must be rebuilt brick by brick.
This past Saturday, as the Vols defeated Austin Peay 45-0, Tennessee showed attention to detail on the football field, as well as a level of excellence and accountability that has been missing for the past few seasons.
Does this mean Tennessee will compete for the SEC East crown this season? No. However, it does mean they just laid down the next brick in the process.
Beating the Governors by 45 points by itself would not be overly impressive. Austin Peay is nowhere near ready to compete against AQ schools.
It was the way Tennessee beat them that showed they were headed in the right direction. For example, the Volunteers had zero penalties Saturday night. They showed discipline and execution all game long.
The current Volunteers team does not have the full personnel to run the explosive offense Jones desires. He was hired a season too late for that, after the departure of Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Bray.
However, while Jones is recruiting the players who fit his system, he is determined to get the most out of the current roster.
Justin Worley was efficient completing all but two of his passes for 104 yards and three touchdowns. The running game was spectacular, led by Rajion Neal, who had 141 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown.
More impressive, both sat the second half because the Volunteers scored touchdowns on each of their six first-half possessions.
The Volunteers had several blowout wins against lesser teams under Dooley. However, they never looked dominant on both sides of the ball for an entire game. For example, last season against Akron they gave up 26 points, and they also gave up 48 points to Troy.
There are several bricks that must still be laid, but the Volunteers are at least one step closer.
Next week, they will have another challenge. Western Kentucky will march into town, with new head coach Bobby Petrino, fresh off of a win over the Kentucky Wildcats.
Can Tennessee throw a knockout punch early? Are they ready to lay another brick? Time will tell, but for one week at least, the Volunteers are headed in the right direction.