KNOXVILLE – Tennessee head coach Butch Jones isn’t oblivious to the fact that his first team at UT went 5-7 on the field.
He’s stated numerous times that losing won’t be tolerated at Tennessee, while also acknowledging that it will take time to rebuild a program that is in the midst of one of its worst on-field slumps in the modern era.
He continues to see wins, however, just not in the form of more points on the scoreboard than opposing teams right now.
“I think you look at everything that's going on here is building a program of excellence,” Jones said at his postseason press conference on Thursday afternoon. “I said it last year, before you can win on the field you have to win off the field. We're starting to win off the field. We still have a long ways to go.”
That winning, according to Jones, starts in the classroom. The Vols posted their second-highest fall team GPA in the program’s recorded history this past season. Jones didn’t give an exact team GPA, only saying that 40 players recorded a 3.0 or higher, though it’s safe to assume that it was a large improvement over the team GPA that hovered just over 2.0 at some points during the Derek Dooley era.
Jones reiterated that the team has cleared Academic Progress Rate (APR) hurdles (read more about that here) and confirmed that every player on the roster is academically eligible going forward – a relatively rare feat for an SEC program after the fall semester. Ten seniors also just graduated after the fall semester.
"It is all about the foundation of excellence and the standard within your football program,” Jones said. “A lot of thanks go to Dr. Joe Scogin and the entire Thornton staff. They are a part of our football family and that standard of excellence we have throughout the entire athletic program.”
Jones saw increased attendance in 2013 as another win. Despite the sub-.500 record, attendance was up approximately 6,000 fans per game, with a 31-percent increase in student attendance. Sure, there were likely more empty seats than Jones would’ve like to see, but like everything else in the program, that’s a work in progress.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly in terms of its correlation to on-field winning, Jones sees winning going on in recruiting.
Most recruiting rankings would agree. The Vols have been hovering around the top five of most recruiting services’ rankings since the summer and appear destined to sign a class that will land in that range. Three additions became official on Wednesday with the signing of OL Dontavius Blair, WR Lavon Pearson and DT Owen Williams.
He’ll have to wait until prep signing day in February to find out exactly what he has to work with, but it’s evident that Jones is excited about the potential for the class he is putting together.
“We have upgraded in every single position,” he said. “We have to make sure that we guard against not placing too many expectations on this incoming class. They are still 17- and 18-year old young adults, very, very talented, but very, very young.
“We will know more once signing day rolls around because we know it is always changing. That is our job we have to try to address and continue to get better and better."
• Jones also reiterated that the quarterback battle will be wide open for next year with the competition beginning immediately. Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman, Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson are all scheduled to return in 2014. Worley, Peterman and Dobbs all made at least one start in 2013, while Ferguson took a redshirt season.
• Linebacker Curt Maggitt is expected to return 100-percent healthy in 2014 after sitting out the entire season with lingering issues from a torn ACL at the end of the 2012 season.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga