KNOXVILLE – Tennessee’s Peyton Manning Locker Room, normally bustling with 100-plus football players preparing for a football game, briefly turned into a fashion-show runway on Thursday afternoon when Tennessee unveiled its new uniform combinations for the 2013 season.
Though photos were unveiled by adidas earlier Thursday morning, the biggest news remained the new alternate “Smokey gray” uniforms, which head coach Butch Jones confirmed the Vols will wear one time in 2013 for an undetermined home game.
The gray look is a hard left turn for a program that has prided itself in tradition historically. The short-lived black jerseys in 2009 are the only other drastic changes the uniforms have undergone in UT’s recent history.
“The big thing I wanted to make sure is we don’t lose our identity of who we are,” coach Butch Jones said. “It keeps the traditions we have here and it expands on them. Traditions all have a beginning stage and with the Smokey gray jersey, we’re hoping our fans, alumni and students welcome the Smokey jersey into traditions. We’re hoping 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now, that’s still part of our great tradition.”
The reaction has been mixed on social media with some fans loving the changes and others bemoaning the loss of the more traditional look. A quick scan of the comments on Nooga.com’s Facebook page (under the original picture of the new jerseys) show some of the differing opinions.
But Jones, who has made it a point to embrace many Tennessee traditions from his arrival last December, saw this change as a necessity for the Vols as they try to keep up in the ultra-competitive realm of SEC recruiting.
“It’s the world that we live in,” he said. “One of the top-three questions we get in recruiting is about our uniform – our jersey colors. It attracts the best student athletes. It’s a pride of who we are. We have the best colors in the country and now with the Smokey gray colors, it just adds to it.
“My phone has been blowing up all day from recruits very excited about them.”
Tennessee also modeled more subtle changes to their traditional uniforms. The primary home uniform will still feature orange jerseys and white pants, while the road look will be the opposite of that.
The white jerseys will feature a checkerboard pattern on the numbers, a Power T on the back, and ‘Tennessee’ written above the numbers on the front. Additionally, the orange jersey will also have the outline of the state of Tennessee above the player names on the back of the jerseys.
Consider the current players overwhelmingly in favor of the new looks – both the Smokey gray look and the tweaks to the traditional uniforms.
“I love them,” said senior offensive lineman Zach Fulton. “I saw them three days ago, they were amazing,”
Added junior tight end Brendan Downs: “Awesome. When I first saw them, I thought it was really cool. You hear rumors every year, but to actually see it in person and know we actually get to wear those on the field, that’s pretty cool.”
Recruits also reacted throughout the day on Twitter. Four-star linebacker commitment Dillon Bates thanked Jones publically, while four-star safety Todd Kelly Jr., tweeted “I don’t know how you couldn’t be excited about these new jerseys!”
Though there’s no confirmation on which game the alternate look will be used, one of the first two home SEC games – Georgia (10/5) or South Carolina (10/19) – would be reasonable predictions at this point.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga