LIVE VIDEO: Fox 43 10:00 News    Watch

David Climer: Butch Jones looks at home in opening win

12:45 AM, Sep 1, 2013   |    comments
Photo by Randy Sartin / USA Today Sports Images
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +

By David Climer, The Tennessean

KNOXVILLE - Say this much for Tennessee:

The Vols know how to make a new football coach feel right at home.

Of course, UT has had a lot of practice over the last few years.

In 2009, Lane Kiffin began his UT tenure with a 63-7 rout of Western Kentucky. In 2010, Derek Dooley looked like a coaching genius when the Vols blitzed UT Martin 50-0.

Never mind that Kiffin bolted for Southern Cal after a 7-6 season and currently is trying to survive a fourth season with the Trojans. Dooley won a grand total of 16 games in three years with the Vols and now is double-dipping, cashing monthly installments on his $5 million buyout from UT while also coaching wide receivers with the Dallas Cowboys.

With that as background, the Butch Jones era began on Saturday with a 45-0 victory over outmanned Austin Peay. Considering everything the Vols program has gone through, it was a welcome reversal of fortune.

Jones took it all in. A couple of hours before kickoff, he high-fived his way down Peyton Manning Pass as he led the players to Neyland Stadium on the Vol Walk.

"Our fans are outstanding," he said. "That Vol Walk was incredible."

Yes, Kiffin said similar things after his debut. For three years, Dooley gushed about the passion of UT fans. And we all know what happened to those two guys.

Somehow, though, Jones' words don't ring hollow. He seems in tune with Tennessee's history and traditions.

As is his style, Jones didn't miss an opportunity to use his postgame press conference as a recruiting pitch. Elaborating on the experience of his first Vol Walk, he said:

"That's a difference-maker. If you're a student-athlete, where else would you want to play football but the University of Tennessee - to represent this great state and the opportunity to play in front of the best fan base in the country.

"We're going to get it right. It's going to take some work, but this is truly a special place."

Time will tell. For now, though, the season opener was a continuation of the honeymoon period Jones has enjoyed since signing on with the Vols on Dec. 7. He now has a 1-0 record to go with his victories in recruiting and public relations.

It's going to get tougher, much tougher, moving forward. The Vols step up in competition next Saturday against Western Kentucky. Then the fun really begins. Back-to-back games at Oregon and Florida are a scheduling death wish. The October run of Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama is a nightmare.

With that in mind, UT should bank every victory it can. Credit the Vols for taking care of business on Saturday.

With all due respect to Austin Peay, this was one of the worst teams to play at Neyland Stadium in recent memory. The Governors, under new coach Kirby Cannon, went 2-9 last year and were picked dead last in the Ohio Valley Conference in a preseason poll of the league's coaches and media relations directors.

Even with the roster shortcomings Jones inherited, the result was inevitable. It's the kind of pay-for-play mismatch that should be outlawed. The Govs received $450,000 for a pound of flesh. Do the math. At 45-0, that's $10,000 per losing point.

Austin Peay's next payday comes on Saturday at Vanderbilt.

How bad was it? Two plays into the second quarter, UT led 28-0 and had outgained Austin Peay 199-15. By halftime, it was 42-0 and the Vols had scored touchdowns on all six of their possessions.

When it came to the final score, it was just a matter of how much compassion Jones had for an overmatched opponent. As it turned out, he's a pretty compassionate guy. He flooded the field with reserves in the second half.

But even with down-the-line players on the field, Jones and his staff didn't stop coaching. Jones was visibly upset when things got a bit sloppy here and there.

"It definitely makes you lock in and play with effort," senior offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James said.

Even with reserves on the field after halftime, UT pitched a shutout and limited Austin Peay to 211 yards. Considering how lousy the Vols' defense was last season, it was a step in the right direction.

"It was nice to come out and play a good defensive game," said UT defensive lineman Daniel Hood, who had a first-quarter interception when he deflected a screen pass and grabbed it.

For one game at least, all was well with Tennessee football.

Most Watched Videos