The unveil from adidas is official. How will Tennessee fans react to the "Smokey" alternate uniform?
For a program so rich with tradition, it's sure to be a polarizing topic. However, several Volunteers went on record boasting about the change and the confidence exhibited by first-year head coach Butch Jones.
"I'm from here and the Tennessee fans I know, the real Tennessee fans, I don't really think it matters what we run out there in," said nickelback JaRon Toney, who is from nearby Alcoa. "If you're a real Tennessee fan, they're going to get up and cheer just to see us fight in Neyland Stadium."
Devrin Young is a junior slot receiver. As a Knoxville native by way of Bearden High School, he's another local product in tune with how Big Orange Country operates.
"I know how some people are but at the end of the day we kept our colors, we don't have nothin' crazy and most important we kept the Power T on that helmet," Young said. "So, that's something that will never change obviously. As long as we're winning, I don't feel like they'll be too upset.
"Sometimes change isn't bad necessarily. I know coach Jones is smart. He's not going to just make a decision without making sure everybody's happy."
Redshirt freshman defensive end LaTroy Lewis: "I think it's a plus; it's definitely something nice to have. Moving forward for us, new uniforms, new team, it just gives us a sense of identity."
The Vols wore black jerseys for the first time in 87 years during Lane Kiffin's lone season in Knoxville. A self-admitted traditionalist, Derek Dooley refused to allow much of any change to the most recent uniform scheme.
"You're not coming to see what we're wearing, you're coming to see us play," Toney said. "I mean I don't want to say too much because I don't want to disrespect nobody but that's what football is all about, not about what we wear. It's about coming out there in a gladiator sport, knocking heads, playing mano a mano. It ain't about how pretty I look when I run out."
Portions of the fan base admit they left their seat at Neyland Stadium back in Oct. 2009 against South Carolina with the Vols wearing the black tops. Fifth-year senior Marlon Walls was in the locker room that evening and described the feeling amongst the team.
"It gives you a certain boost that's hard to explain," Walls said. "You know what I mean? When your coach shows a certain kind of confidence in us in order to send us out in black jerseys, knowing we're such a traditional school and we know as a team that he's very confident that we can go get the job done because if he sends you out in black jerseys and this school is not very fond of that or whatever, you understand that he believes in us. He believes that we can go out there and win.
"So, when coach Jones introduced new jerseys to us, it showed us that he's very confident in this team. He loves his job, and he believes in us. It pushes you a little bit more."
Is it about the players? Recruiting? University tradition? Kiffin left it in the hands of team captains Eric Berry and Montario Hardesty, who got approval from then-athletics director Mike Hamilton. Black pants were to be a part of that game's outfit but they couldn't be completed in time as the captains didn't approach higher-ups about the black look until Wednsday of that week.
"My message to the fans is that you know we love our fans and greatly respect them," Young said. "We know how much they care about us. So, we would never want to do anything to disappoint them or disrespect them in any way."
|Eric Berry was a team captain on the 2009 team that last wore black jersey tops.|
|(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)|
Schools like Oregon and Maryland make headlines for the numerous uniforms they don on fall Saturdays. The Ducks are closely affiliated with Nike and the Terrapins to Under Armour.
"I think as a society we're changing a lot," Walls said. "You know what I mean, with Oregon and their uniforms and everybody's coming out with…I think it gives a certain boost as players. Like something as small as getting a new jersey could change our whole mindset about something. I mean we got geeked when we saw the first jerseys or whatever. But, it made us say, 'OK, yeah, we respect coach Jones. He's trying to keep us up to date with everybody else, you know what I mean, showing a little fun side. So, for us, it made us get behind him a little bit more.
"So, yeah I understand they'll probably be mad but if we come out and have a great season, and we play for our coach and we play with a certain pride that we've been lacking the last few years, then I think everything will be OK.
"I think it's a good thing; I think it's a real good thing. I hope that people don't get too mad as long as we come out and have a few wins. Hopefully we can turn it around."
Recruiting is the name of the game. Tennessee has fallen off the map (by its standards) in that category. However, Jones has figured something out with the No. 1-ranked class in the country in spite not having coached a game at Neyland Stadium — other than for Cincinnati. That's on top of 34 losses in five seasons.
"Man, it's crazy how you hear a recruit come in and he says, 'Man, I love those jerseys,'" Walls said. "You know what I mean? Now, it's like recruits are very fond of that stuff. Like I said, it's up to date. So, to hear recruits say, 'I like the new jersey' or whatever and see them get really excited about it, I think it plays a big part in recruiting. So, I think it's a good thing, man.
"For me, when I first came here, it was, 'Hey, I love Tennessee. I know the tradition.' But, at the same time, I think with coach Jones doing that, it allows us to keep up with recruiting. And, that's the reason why our recruiting class is so great for next year like it is right now."
Some things simply have to evolve with the times. No matter the hard feelings, what the Tennessee staff is cookin' is feedin' the bear.
This from FOX Sports NEXT and Scout four-star linebacker commit Christopher Weatherd: "They are amazing, can't wait to be in one!"
The result of that '09 contest versus the Gamecocks: Tennessee jumped out to a 21-0 lead and cruised to a 31-13 victory, which was its last over a unanimously ranked team.
To see a full screen slideshow of the jerseys, click on any picture below: