If you read any Vols news on Twitter or elsewhere yesterday, you probably saw a bunch of jokes about #leadershipReps. In case you missed it, here’s what happened: Tennessee head coach Butch Jones used the term during his Monday press conference in response to a question about how he was handling the distribution of reps between his two quarterbacks, Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano. If the onslaught of tweets and articles is any indication, it embarrassed a lot of Vols fans.
If all you’ve seen is the hashtag or the parade of parody it birthed, you’d rightly think the whole thing is ridiculous. In one short day, “leadership reps” has become shorthand for claiming credit for slacking off. Woo, internet.
Jones is largely and primarily responsible for this treatment, of course. He’s used cliches and other phrases like this since he stepped foot on campus five years ago, and he’s bought pallets full of patience from the fan base with them. But now the patience is running thin, and he’s not only suffering from the #1 cause of death of coaching careers — losing — he’s caught in a particularly nasty downward spiral where nearly everything he says or does is instantly presumed to be irrebuttably wrong. I think I just made up a word. . . . Pfffft, guess not. Bummer.
Anyway, as a lawyer, I am generally skeptical of anything that smells like runaway groupthink, and so my first reaction was to wonder whether what Jones had said was actually dumb, or whether everyone was just continuing to make fun of him for losing. And so, I went to the source to have a listen for myself:
The segment is from 12:25 to 13:57:
Here’s the transcript:
Q: “Coach, you mentioned the quarterbacks. They’re still competing, and obviously, you want to get both of them prepared to be able to play and play well. How are you dividing the first team reps with those guys, and does that limit the preparation you can have for those guys if they’re not able to get as many reps with the first team?”
A: “Well, the way we’ve always, you know, handled that situation is, you know, the #1 gets the bulk of the reps, but #2 gets a lot of reps as well. The reps are probably . . . 60/40? And again, the bye week occurred at the right time [because of 50/50?], but also, the repetitions we were able to get Will McBride as well. He’s one snap away from being the #2 quarterback. So, there’s a lot that goes into that. I think that’s also having a system, but like I told our quarterbacks, you don’t have to get a physical rep to get a rep. You can get a leadership rep by having all the wideouts stand around you and going over your progression and going over what you’re thinking. You can get a mental rep. I know you guys are only at practice for a few/couple periods, but [unintelligible — we’re in team?], all of our quarterbacks are 15 yards behind the ball, and when the ball is snapped, they’re going into their drops, and they’re talking about their progressions. So there are a lot of repetitions that can be incurred throughout the course of practice. It may not be a physical rep, but it can be a mental rep and a leadership rep, and as we all know, you need every kind of rep to be able to perform at a high level.”
Okay. First, this was an excellent follow up question from Vince Ferrara. Earlier, Jones had been asked several times questions that were obviously designed to ferret out whether there was going to be a change at quarterback this week, and he deftly dodged it every time. This follow up by Vince asked a specific question about how QB reps were being allocated, which, if answered, could have been an indication of who they were planning to start at quarterback. You can see from Jones’ two “you knows” in the beginning of his response, that he was struggling with the right answer. High five to Ferrara for the question, and kudos to Jones for answering without giving away his secret. Nice little sparring match there.
There was also an important moment earlier that was overlooked yesterday. Someone asked Jones to identify what he was looking for as he evaluated his quarterbacks, and the first three things he mentioned were taking care of the football, good decision-making, and . . . leadership.
With that context, let’s get back to the leadership reps question. If we take off our Fire Butch Jones hats and really listen to him, what he’s saying is that he’s trying to figure out his quarterback problem, but his quarterbacks have a leadership problem.
Let’s look at the question again:
Coach, you mentioned the quarterbacks. They’re still competing, and obviously, you want to get both of them prepared to be able to play and play well. How are you dividing the first team reps with those guys, and does that limit the preparation you can have for those guys if they’re not able to get as many reps with the first team?
Jones was asked a question about how to manage limited practice reps when you don’t have a clear leader and whether splitting a scarce amount of practice between two guys necessarily limited their preparation. It’s not only a great question, it’s a true conundrum for the coach. Do you go all in on one guy and give him all of the limited practice reps? If you do and it doesn’t work (or if you have already tried that and it didn’t work), do you go all in on the other guy? What in the world do you do if neither guy is making it clear that he’s the one?
And that seems to be where we are. I haven’t seen practice, but I’ve seen every snap of every game, and it looks to me like there’s no clear leader. And that means you’re still spending valuable practice reps trying to figure it out.
Then comes the second part of the question: How do you get a guy ready if he’s not getting all or most of the practice reps?
Answer: You teach him how to make the most of being a backup. You teach him to get with his receivers and talk to them about the plays. You tell him to watch the guy taking the practice snap, and you tell him to go through all of the same mechanics and thought processes that he would as if he was the guy getting the actual rep. In short, you tell him to turn his “no reps” into the next best thing, “mental reps.”
The fact that he changed the terminology from “mental reps” to “leadership reps” is an indication of an emphasis on leadership, that he believes his quarterbacks need to become better leaders, and that they need to do it even when they are not the ones getting the practice snaps. That’s all.
It was just over a month ago that ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit called out backup quarterback Jarrett Guarantano during a nationally-televised game for not being engaged as the backup. Everyone agreed. Now, Jones is telling the media that he’s told his quarterbacks what they can do to stay engaged as the backup when they’re not getting the actual practice reps, and he’s getting ridiculed for it.
“Leadership reps” is an odd and amusing phrase, and Jones has made himself an easy target.
But when I hear this, I hear Jones saying that he believes he has a serious leadership vacuum at a position on his football team that requires solid leadership, and he’s trying to do something about it.