It’s a huge week on The Hill with No. 7 Georgia heading to Knoxville for an SEC showdown. For the time being though, Butch Jones has pretty much ensured that the focus around his program will be on something outside of the Bulldogs.
At the tale end of his regular Monday press conference, Jones was asked to address prevalent rumors that Shy Tutttle’s injury, which caused him to miss last Saturday’s win over UMass, was caused by a teammate. The unspoken implication being that Tuttle was injured in a fight.
Jones addressed the question, and then some, embarking on a lecture that touched on the topics of media ethics, negativity in the fan base, ‘fake news’ and how the ‘reality TV’ atmosphere generated by the media coverage of his program could negatively impact recruiting.
It was a mouthful, and perhaps opened a window into a coach that has far more on his mind at the moment than beating Georgia on Saturday.
Jones’ initial response to the statement, if a bit thin, was totally fine.
“I’ll tell you this, football is an emotional game, it’s a competitive game. The injury was caused not by a teammate. He (Tuttle) landed on a helmet. That’s the truth,” Jones said.
Had he stopped there, he wouldn’t be about to dominate the news cycle around this town for the next 24 hours or more like he’s mostly likely about to.
After doing his best to dispel the notion that Tutttle’s injury was the result of a physical altercation with a teammate, Jones went all in on the media, and the role he feels it has played in creating an environment of negativity around his program.
It was unprompted, obviously unscripted and certainly right up there with Derek Dooley’s ‘Where’s Rommel’ moment in the realm of head scratching press conference moments from a Tennessee head coach.
“I think we have to understand, what do we want out of our media,” Jones began, signaling that he was about to unleash some thoughts he’d clearly spent some time putting together.
“This place with the drama —again these are kids— I think we all have children, we’re all adults. Are we focused on Tennessee football from a recruiting standpoint, from all the positive things we’ve done, from all the positive things this football program brings to the community. This great fan base, are we in the reality world of TV?”
After comparing the coverage of his team and program to a reality TV show production, Jones went on to appeal to the parental nature of media members, in the apparent hope that it might bring a softer, gentler approach to the manner in which they go about their jobs.
It’s interesting to note at this point in the proceedings that no news outlet had written about that Tuttle’s injury was possibly the result of a fight with a teammate.
The question which Jones’ fielded today was the first time it had been addressed on the record by anyone in the media or the head football coach.
Jones wasn’t close to being done, as he wrapped up his comments with what many in the media will see as a misguided chastisement of them for potentially hurting recruiting. Something that falls well outside of the job description of most in attendance today.
“I think all of us as human beings need to self check ourselves. You may not like that answer, but I’m a father, I have three boys. I think we sometimes have to put ourselves in the role of a parent as well. I understand we all have jobs to do.
“My expectation as the head football coach, I’m the caretaker of Tennessee football. I’m here to develop and grow the football program, recruit the best possible student athletes to represent the University of Tennessee, and win football games and graduate our football players.
“That’s my responsibility. I take that very seriously. But also, I love our kids and I’m going to protect our players and I’m going to protect our program. Sometimes the negativity is overwhelming. If everyone is (a) Vol fan how do we let our opponents use this in the recruiting process with fake news.
“Sometimes we have to check ourselves. What are we here for? What’s are the values and principles that guide our lives every single day? I appreciate every single person in this room. You guys have a job to do and I respect that. I’m friends with a lot of you guys in the room and I appreciate it, but there comes a certain time where enough is enough, so thank you, have a great day, I look forward to seeing you on Wednesday, and go Vols.”
It was a lengthy answer, and frankly, the sentiment is entirely understandable. The job has to be a little frustrating at times.
However, the response from many among fans and media alike is that as the ‘caretaker of Tennessee football,’ one will make $4.1 million this season, diffusing rumors about possible locker room fights shouldn’t set off the emotional outburst it apparently did, not when all anyone really cares about at the end of the day is whether or not you can beat Georgia this week.
Jones’ pump was perhaps already primed to go off in some fashion when he was asked earlier in the press conference about Jauan Jennings and the fact that no one has seen him on the practice field or on the sidelines inside Neyland Stadium since he suffered his season ending injury against Georgia Tech.
Jones bristled a bit at the somewhat benign inquiry as to why Jennings wasn’t on the sideline, as is typically customary with injured players at home games.
That question prompted his first use of ‘reality TV’ to describe the nature of media coverage around his program, a notion he would circle back to with even more emotion when he later was asked to address the Tuttle rumors.
“You guys look for everything. I think you guys are running a reality TV show that feeds off of drama,” Jones said when asked about Jennings’ absence.
“He's in the building every day. He is doing a great job with recovery. I think we all know Jauan. Jauan is an extremely competitive young man. It absolutely bothers him being on the sideline because he can't help the team. That's his make up.
“He's doing everything he needs to do. He's doing a great job with classes. He's getting the rehab that he needs. That's his decision. I don't want him to be on the sideline and kind of make it worse in terms of how much it's bothering him right now that he can't help the team. Some will say, I know his presence would help them, but again the way he's wired he wants to go out there and do it.
“Knowing Jauan, I would be a afraid he would run on the field regardless and try to play. Jauan is doing everything he can to get back.”