Butch Jones showed a different side of himself during Tennessee’s weekly press conference. Has the pressure and adversity from this season finally gotten to him?
Butch Jones was angry. A reporter had just asked another question about Jalen Hurd after the coach clearly said he wouldn’t be speaking on the matter any further. After a few words disparaging the reporter, Jones looked away and curtly said, “Next question.”
Normally affable, Jones was on edge during his Monday press conference, and frankly, who can blame him. Hurd, one of the team’s star players, leaving the program was just another setback in a year that has seen many.
Three consecutive losses, including an inexcusable upset defeat to South Carolina. Multiple injuries to star players. Rumors swirling on his job status. Jones has faced it all in a year where Tennessee was finally supposed to break out, win the SEC East, and compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Sure, there was the usual coach speak, of which Jones has a mastery. He praised Hurd, supported the player’s decision and wished the young man nothing but the best. He spoke about wanting to go 1-0 on the week. He touched on the adversity that his team has overcome. And he dove in on the competitive nature his players have exhibited.
Still, all the usual clichés could not hide the fact that Jones looked, spoke, and acted like a man that has the world coming down on him. He was Atlas in front of a microphone.
Jones appeared weary, like someone who had just stayed up for 48 hours thinking about the future. When asked about the outside criticism, he went on the defensive, stating that he “doesn’t listen to any of that.”
There were some moments when he was the Jones we are used to: lighting up over running back John Kelly earning more playing time, and effusing praise about the running back’s work ethic. Yet those instances were far and few between.
It was an aberrant, almost manic, press conference, as Jones ping-ponged on a litany of subjects: from denying speculative reports that defensive end Jonathan Kongbo had quit the program to questioning why a reporter had left the room immediately after asking a question to critiquing society as a whole.
“We live in a society where someone tweets something out and it is misconstrued and it becomes a national story.”
In 20 minutes Jones flitted between being jovial, condescending, straight to the point, to downright indignant.
“If you want to play at the highest level and be critiqued at the highest level, you come to the University of Tennessee,” Jones said.
At this juncture, he knows this better than almost everyone.