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.