Butch Jones

Why Butch Jones’ refusal to use the word “disappointment” is a good thing

It will come as no surprise to most, but folks are still weighing in on Butch Jones’ response to a question at SEC Media Days yesterday about whether he viewed the 2016 season as a disappointment. Today’s headlines say that Jones did not view the 2016 season as a disappointment. That led to a lot of fans wondering why it is so difficult for Jones to use that particular word to describe that particular situation. After all, Vols defensive tackle Kendal Vickers admitted that 2016 was a disappointment, so why can’t his coach?

For the record, here is Jones’ entire response to the question:

“I don’t view it as a disappointment. The way I view it is we didn’t accomplish everything we set ourselves out to. And, again, our goal every year is to win a championship and compete to win a championship.

“So, was it a disappointment? No. Did we not accomplish some of the things we set out to do? Absolutely. We have to learn from the things that went wrong that we could have done better.

“But I think all you have to do is look at it’s difficult to win and it’s difficult to win championships. And I think this league really exemplifies that. But I’m still proud of the way our team responded. And I told our football team this. The lessons you learned from last year, the resolve, the resiliency, are going to serve you for many years down the road in life.

“And that football team went through a lot of things. I know we started off 5-0, and I believe our first five opponents were divisional champions. And I made a comment going towards the tail end of our season that the back half of our season would be much more challenging than the front half of our season.
Everyone kind of looked at me like, what are you talking about? But I knew where we are at as a program, and we were still needing that competitive depth across the board, and we have some position groups where we couldn’t afford to have injuries.

“But, again, this is a results-oriented business and we fell short of our goals. But I don’t like to use the term “disappointment,” because when you still look at it, it’s hard to win in this conference. And only three teams have won nine games, and the University of Tennessee is one of those.”

The entire quote is 1,624 characters, though, and would require 12 total Tweets, so it’s boiled down to the lead: “I don’t view it as a disappointment.”

But did he accomplish what he wanted? No. Did some things go wrong? Yes. Could they have done better? Yes. Did they fall short of their goals? Yes.

But are there any positives to take from last season? Yes.

And that’s why we aren’t going to hear Jones label the whole thing as a disappointment. He’s bent toward the positive. He believes in the Power of Positive Leadership.

Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples says that Jones should talk like he thinks, that he shouldn’t be “deathly afraid of admitting what any person would feel in his situation.”

What Jones fails to understand is that those fans just want to know he feels the way they feel. They’re disappointed about last season. They would rather have an East championship than a Life championship. They would rather their team sign five-star players instead of five-star hearts. If he were willing to show them he feels the same way—except more passionately, because this is his livelihood we’re talking about—then they might be more understanding if the rebuild takes a little longer than expected.

Fans want to win, Jones believes a positive attitude is the way

Staples is right that many fans want to know that Jones feels the way they feel, but what they want more is to win. My theory is that Jones believes that a positive attitude is the only path to victory and he is absolutely unwilling to deviate from that belief even if it makes some fans and media uncomfortable in the short term. He believes that this is the only way to give fans what they truly want in the end instead of what they’re asking for right now. Jones’ predecessor tried embracing the negativity, and his orange pants are burnt to a crisp in the dumpster. Sure, we fans want a coach to feel the same way we do, but we also want one who will do what it takes to win, and if the coach believes that those two things are in-congruent, he’d better choose the latter.

Butch Jones obviously believes that positive leadership is required to win, and so he views everything from that perspective. It’s what causes him to couch everything in positive terms, including negative outcomes.

And it’s what causes him to see both positives and negatives in a season that had both and boldly proclaim that the only thing it means is that we’re not there yet.


  1. Well said! It is frustrating how Butch is judged by fans and talking heads for this kind of apparent disconnect from his fans feelings, constantly talking in positive sound bites after losses, and yet, at the same time, judged for reacting with real feeling to victory. His celebration after the DobbNailBoot was lampooned. He’s expected to weep over losses but be stoic in victory.
    I’m with you Joel, I’d rather have a coach that focuses on winning and shapes his message around that goal.

  2. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the comments re: his predecessor.

    There’s always a tendency in coaching hires to find the opposite of the last guy. Dooley was a terrible recruiter, spoke bluntly, and didn’t win anything. Butch is the inverse of all of those things.

    There’s nothing wrong with being positive, but that approach is limited when there’s some inherent negativity to the topic being discussed. After starting 5-0 with wins over Florida and Georgia, I’m not sure how finishing 8-4 and losing the East by 2 games can be anything other than a disappointment. It’s fine to admit that, and his reluctance to do so is where Butch rubs some people the wrong way.

    • “Hire the opposite” has been the mantra of our athletic department for a while now. I think each of our last three hires in both football and men’s basketball have been specifically stronger in their predecessor’s greatest perceived weakness, though it’s been the same weakness in basketball twice with staying on the NCAA’s good side.

    • @driskigm , I both agree and understand how it rubs some people the wrong way. I do think some others appreciate it, and I think that regardless of any of that, Jones thinks it’s the best way forward.

      P.S. Great to see you!

  3. I also think Jones believes his job includes more than just winning games. Please, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I think he’s focused on winning and he does think it’s important. However, from what I observe he also places emphasis on academics and character development and helping produce mature young men. I’m sure this irritates the Must Win At All Costs fans but I’ve gotten older and I appreciate the fact that he’s increased the quality of the UT product both on and OFF the field. Maybe he’s not as disappointed because his goals are broader than Joe Fan who just wants championships.

  4. I appreciate a positive attitude but let’s not deny or avoid reality. I think every Vol fan is disappointed that we lost to Vanderbilt and South Carolina. We almost feel as disappointed that Kentucky and Missouri put up a stack of yardage (600+ each) on us as well, but that’s mitigated by us getting the win by outscoring those guys. We’re really disappointed that we didn’t win the SEC East in a year in which we beat Florida and Georgia. (Remind me how many times that’s ever happened?)

    Now, 8-4 is a good year. Beating Florida and Georgia is a good year. Winning a bowl game is a good year.

    But we were in the position to do better. If you expect to do better and don’t, isn’t that the definition of disappointment? Most Definitely.

    • Hey, @memphispete007. Good to see you.

      I think it all just boils down to the fact that he’s focused on the future, and he’s convinced that being relentlessly positive is the way to get back to where everyone wants to be.

      • Hey brother Joel, it’s awesome you guys have broken out and are doing a new thing. Really loved the work that you, Will, etc put in over at RTT. Had to follow you over here so that there wouldn’t be a huge hole in my big Vol heart this season….

        That’s the difference for me. Butch thinks he’s just being relentlessly positive. We think he’s either in La-La Land or he’s trying to spin or deceive us. It’s OK to say last year was disappointing in certain respects – and then positively point out the achievements (wins over Florida, Georgia, Bowl, NFL Draft success, overcoming 87 injuries to starters and back ups). This balances a positive approach to life while assuring us that he has a firm grip on reality.

        More positively from me, I greatly appreciated his reduced use of stupid catch phrases “Champions of Life”, “5 star hearts”, etc. at the SEC Media Days. I don’t think I could have taken it. Butch is growing up.

        We are headed in the right direction after wandering in the wilderness for those Dooley & Kiffin years. We’ll see whether Butch is Moses or Joshua.

    • For Tennessee, it had happened once: the very first year of SEC divisional play in 1992. A 5-0 start that included wins over UGA and UF unraveled when Johnny Majors came back and UT lost 3 straight games by a combined 9 points.

      Every other time that UT pulled the double (1998, 2001, 2004), they won the East. (Of course, they won the division without going 2-0 in 1997 and 2007.)

      Separately…man, it’s kinda depressing that we’ve only gone 2-0 against our two biggest division rivals 5 times in the last 25 years.

      • And because I couldn’t quite remember the specifics of how those games unfolded, I had to go back and look.

        Tennessee was up 8 with 2.5 to go against Arkansas, but gave up a punt return TD. They stopped the 2-point conversion, but Arkansas got the ball back and kicked the game winning FG.

        Against USCe, UT scored late to pull within 1. Johnny Majors, ever criticized for conservative play, opted to go for the win, but the conversion failed.

        And UT had the ball with a chance to tie/win against Alabama.

        ’92 has to be up there with 2015 for “what if” seasons…right?

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