Let’s face it: Butch Jones has proven to be a master of public relations. And he did it again.
He said he’s looking for prospects with “five-star hearts” after he barely inked a top-20 class, which is somewhere in the middle of the SEC. No word if EKGs were administered to any Volunteers signees.
Yet, what everyone was talking about the day after Jones completed his lackluster signing class wasn’t about the actual class, it was about his “five-star heart” comment. The conversation was about another Jones’ cliché, not the failure to capitalize on one of the best in-state classes in recent memory – or perhaps ever. No one was talking about Tee Higgins. Everyone was talking about heart rankings.
Jones, the public relations master, did the same in November when he uttered his now-famous “championship of life” quote. Again, the phrase was the topic, not the on-field failures. It was easy to gloss over the fact that the Vols looked more like Vanderbilt (who beat the Vols) than Alabama (who beat the Vols badly).
Former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley was much the same when it came to public relations. He had some incredible media moments. But Dooley’s moments didn’t seem as thought out; Jones’ comments seems more orchestrated.
You think you have Jones figured out? So does the national media, which ripped him for the “five-star heart” phrase. Nope, Jones is handling it like a public relations shoulder and re-directing the conversation. Genius.
It began with the now famous “brick-by-brick” phrase. That implied that the Vols were in total decay despite an offensive line that would prove to be better than any that Jones has had since. Sure, it sounded like the “Pull the Rope” phrase that Jones used at Cincinnati, but the brick phrase was different; it meant real change. Dooley destroyed the program, but he was gone and Jones was ready to build. Big Orange Days were coming. Jones was laying the foundation.
Jones also laid the foundation with the media. He often called individual reporters by name, took one on a family vacation and often smiled and said, “Good question.” There’s no doubt the said reporters appreciated the compliments. There’s nothing like having the coach of a major football program appreciate your journalistic skills.
Despite the perceived similarities, Jones wasn’t anything like Dooley. Jones’ predecessor was flippant, maybe even arrogant, with Tennessee’s fan base and its media. Jones was always uplifting and gracious with a new phrase or two.
Some have said Jones is on a coaching hot seat in 2017. Nonsense. If the Vols win just eight games under Jones, he’ll have a quippy answer as to how 2018 will be better. Then everyone will have something else to talk about – other than the games.
(You can follow Dave Hooker on Twitter @TheDaveHooker)
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