JOHN ZENOR,AP Sports Writer
HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Tennessee defensive lineman Jacques Smith’s praise of his latest coach is evidence of the program’s turmoil the last few years.
“It has been the easiest transition out of all the coaches that we’ve had,” Smith said about Butch Jones’s hiring.
The Volunteers are hoping the latest new coach is able to stabilize and turn around a tradition-rich program. Jones is the fourth head coach since the Phillip Fulmer era ended in 2008, counting interim boss Jim Chaney last season.
Jones has made a positive impression on Smith from the outset in making that smooth transition. The Volunteers are trying to rebound from three straight losing seasons and halt skids against rivals Alabama and Florida. They’re hoping the former Cincinnati coach is the guy to make it happen.
“Coach Jones made a genuine introduction of himself,” Smith said Wednesday at Southeastern Conference media days. “He got off the plane, walked into the team room with his family and introduced his sons and his wife to the team. It was quite an impression that stuck with every single player.”
Jones has emphasized the “brick by brick” method of rebuilding the Vols into SEC contenders.
On Wednesday, he spoke of hungry seniors and a fan base eager to beat the Gators (eight straight losses) and Crimson Tide (six).
“In order for us to make those rivalry games, we have to get back to being relevant and winning those football games,” Jones said. “Obviously, those are tremendous football programs with coach (Will) Muschamp and coach (Nick) Saban. Obviously, they’ve done a tremendous job.
“I hear that all the time. Our fan base is very prideful, so I’m reminded of that quite a bit.”
Jones faces a challenging schedule in starting his turnaround job, including road trips to Oregon, Florida and Alabama. Plus, the Vols must replace quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter among others.
Still, Smith and his fellow seniors are determined to at least put Tennessee back on the path toward SEC contention.
“With the situation that we’re in, winning would be the best thing ever and if we lost, it would be terrible,” Smith said. “There’s no choice, we are going to win and when we do we’re going to be marked as the class that changes this Tennessee program.
“Expectations are high and if we’re expecting high things, the outcome is going to be great.”