HOOVER, Ala. — Roughly four hours' time isn't much to go by but when Southeastern Conference Media Days is ongoing, a minute-long conversation provides knowledge for a 1,000-word story.
Articles on the void at wide receiver, lack of depth in the secondary and the change at signal-caller will load home pages for websites galore. InsideTennessee wanted to take a different approach to Tennessee's circuit at SECMD on Wednesday, choosing to follow the orange everywhere it went, most often trailing coach Butch Jones.
9:54 — As though we're congregated to meet the Oracle (Matrix reference), predominantly Knoxville-based media hold up the walls on the 12th floor of The Wynfrey Hotel. Joining the parade of beat personnel, including three staff members from InsideTennessee, are radio personalities that reach Big Orange ears, including Chris Goforth, Jim Steele and Clay Travis.
It's as though we're waiting on Bobby Denton to announce the start of kickoff. For media types like ourselves, this is our kickoff.
Some understand Southeastern Conference football as products of the south. Others are at SEC Media Days for the first time and flutter around the hotel and attaching galleria in awe of the passion for a college sport.
10:10 — Doors open for room 1221 and Tennessee player representatives Ja'Wuan James, Antonio Richardson and Jacques Smith are pinned in three separate quarters, fielding questions about topics stemming from strength and condition coach Dave Lawson's summer program to who's going to start at quarterback to who is the toughest guy to block in the league. James is a second-time SECMD rep and boasts a smile as though the Volunteers are fresh off a BCSNCG victory.
10:29 — Sports Information Department personnel signal the two-question-remaining warning. As head coach Butch Jones enters and is immediately swarmed by cameras and mics, players finish fielding questions.
"I think we have a great story to be told at the University of Tennessee of how we're building our program brick-by-brick. It's a matter of time and it is going to take some time," Jones said.
10:47 — The incoming questions are called off as a stack of labeled Subway sandwiches, chips and water await all the Tennessee reps. No more questions for anybody — for a few more minutes anyhow.
Soon enough, the SIDs bring in the posters for Jones and each individual player to be placed outside interview rooms to alert those curious as to who or if someone is in each. Almost immediately James and Richardson start poking at Vol photographer Donald Page for posting too many pictures of skill players like Cordarrelle Patterson on UTSports.com last season.
11:53 — Page, the SIDs, assistant to the head coach Chris Spognardi and Jones wait on Richardson to finish up with ESPN so Jones can be interviewed.
12:14 — With InsideTennessee's network affiliation with FOX SportsSouth, we're able to sit in on Jones' interview by Tennessee graduate Kyle Payne.
After a trio of promos and a quick answer to what three things are most important to the program, Jones is able to voice his thoughts on the importance of leadership.
The staff is making every attempt to create a roster that thinks for itself and responds when the bullets start flying. Miscellaneous speakers, Navy SEALS and a peer prevention team aid the cultivation.
They do all they can to create stressful situations on and off the playing field to see who keeps their head up and guides younger players along.
Of course Jones is asked about Tyler Bray's replacement at quarterback. Jones' answer is the company line that yields no heavy lean toward any Vol: "When we feel one player emerges, he will be the starter."
After a quick hello to former Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch, Jones is off to field more questions.
12:21 — As Jones does an interview with the SEC Radio Network, James holds back in a dark hallway with SIDs and jokes about how Smith is flipping his hips in his SECMD poster. As though they're being interrogated one at at time, Smith departs a network room and James enters. Smith then waits to follow Jones. It's leapfrog.
Since he's available, UTSports.com's Erik Peterson snags Smith for a few one-on-one questions on how things are going. Smith sticks out his chest and is prideful of reppin' his state and university, noting the numerous compliments on his Tennessee daisy orange blazer.
12:29 — The scheduling of who goes where and when is slightly off. Already-stressed SEC people try to work it all out. Jones was placed into the wrong room but a solution shouldn't be hard to find. A Sirius XM radio personality worries he won't get the Vol hire from Cincinnati. Only feet away, possible first-round NFL draft pick Richardson paints a kiddy grin: "This is way better than I thought it'd be; I'm having fun with it."
12:34 — The Sirius XM personality has his wish granted and Jones politely enters. Door closes. Fire away.
12:48 — As though he's rounding second to stretch a double into a trip, Jones dips his shoulder leaving Sirius and into a CBS.com room. "Have a seat coach."
1:00 — The mother of them all — the print media room. The Randy Moore wannabes and beat reporters from across the league assemble in carpeted, high ceiling ballroom loaded with scratched reading glasses, enough laptops to give a Geek Squad employee nightmares and empty Golden Flake bags.
Like clockwork Jones takes the podium, pointing out answer-seekers down below and explaining how his guys lost 260 pounds of fat and added 230 pounds of muscle mass in barely a month and a half. On the academic side, his squad had 46 players with a 3.0 grade point average or higher this spring.
A late-arriving question about Twitter has Butch being somewhat anecdotal on trying to keep his 6-year-old off social media before explaining that he preaches to his players to not tweet out of emotion, for one instance can change your life forever.
1:31 — A skip over to the CSS room has Jones explaining the early stages of replacing Derek Dooley.
1:51 — As though they haven't seen each other in weeks, Jones and Smith exchange pleasantries while being displaced. The camaraderie between the two is evident. How the heck did this midwestern cat woo a team that's rarely seen the bowl season in so little time? That's not a simple answer but the textbook should be hardbound and distributed.
1:52 — Off to one of two television-based rooms and Jones sits at a SEC blue-covered table with 26 video cameras staring him down. The questions weaken and are generally uninformed. Although the no-huddle, up-tempo offense is all the craze, Jones explains how winning championships is done defensively. Amidst his answers, he slips in receiving a phone call from former Vol and Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, who set a single-season record in 2012 for the Dallas Cowboys. That got a smile from IT's managing editor.
2:02 — Chair. Table. Twenty-two more TV cameras. One difference: Jones discloses a story on how he had players take a name test because how can you go to battle with a guy if you don't know his full name and background?
2:12 — Yet another CBS room beckons for the new guy on Rocky Top. Almost done.
2:34 — A lull gives the head coach a second to catch his breath. He grabs a conversation with Bruce Feldman, who tweeted earlier that day: "Listening to Butch Jones & thinking that occasionally a school ends up with its 4th choice & gets very lucky. This'll be one of those times."
2:39 — Radio row downstairs stretches from The Wynfrey lobby to Hoover teenage female heaven. It's an optional neck of woods for the head coaches. Butch climbs right in.
3:32 — Jones tweets his arrival at Birmingham's airport: "the season has now begun!!!" Time to head home. In his and the Vols' wake is a menu of story options and a King James sized book of transcribable quotes. Is the Big Orange back? Kickoff is Aug. 31. Everybody's undefeated for now.