Butch Jones and staff have been battling more than an unsightly past and cloudy future on their way to nabbing the current No. 2 recruiting class in the country.
They can breathe a long-awaited sigh of relief.
Tennessee’s biggest obstacle was lifted Tuesday.
No, Nick Saban didn’t leave Alabama. But the news was a win for Tennessee nonetheless.
Jones confirmed that Tennessee reached a qualifying Academic Progress Rate score, meaning the Vols are now in the clear from looming NCAA penalties.
“I think it’s probably one of the greatest victories we’ve had in Tennessee football,” Jones said.
Jones likes to exaggerate. It’s just the way he operates. Deal with it.
But this time, he may only be doing so slightly.
Jones’ recruiting victories have been well documented. What’s holding him back now?
“That is monumental for our football program moving forward,” Jones said.
For those who aren’t familiar, the APR — in its ninth year — measures the eligibility and retention of scholarship student athletes. One point is given if an athlete remains eligible throughout an academic term and that athlete earns another point by returning for the following term.
The Vols' multi-year rate of 931 was worst in the SEC and just one point above the minimum standard that includes penalties such as reduced practice time, scholarship cuts and postseason bans.
The official APR numbers won’t be released until the spring, but Jones said the Vols scored a perfect 1,000 last semester.
“With a coaching turnover, that’s nearly impossible to do,” Jones said.
The hoopla associated with a newly named freshman starter largely crowded out the APR news.
And perhaps reasonably so.
It won't effect the win column.
It won’t breathe life into a listless defense that was ravaged for 479 yards against Alabama.
It won’t calm Joshua Dobbs as NCAA sack leader Michael Sam knifes at his backside this weekend.
Not this year, no.
But down the road?
The qualifying APR score may effect recruiting just as much as a win over No. 10 Missouri.
Jones said opponents have been using the Vols’ dangerously low numbers against them since Day 1.
“Moving forward in the recruiting process, I thought it was critical in this stage of the game to announce that,” Jones said. “Let me tell you something, that’s great, great news moving forward.”
Jones has captivated Tennessee’s fan base in a host of different ways.
From tireless public speaking engagements, to — gasp! — a win over a real, live SEC foe.
Some rant about his quirky sayings and “brick-by-brick” mantras. Others rave of his motivational tactics and microphone.
In a way, the fan base views him as the anti-Derek Dooley.
It’s not too far fetched.
What Dooley overlooked, Jones dwells on.
Will Jones’ way work? Only time will tell.
But Tuesday’s news provided yet another example of how both men differ.
There’s now a focus on academics, or at least so Jones says.
“This speaks volumes about the commitment to academics here at Tennessee,” Jones said.
But don’t take it from Jones.
Tennessee defensive lineman Daniel Hood remembers Dooley’s approach to academics.
To put it nicely, it was different. Very different.
Hood wasn’t so delicate with his word choice.
“It seemed like there was always an issue from when Dooley was here,” Hood stated plainly. “The class checkers didn’t know who they were looking for.”
Jones added structure, just like his military-esque practice schedules.
“The biggest difference is he has measurements on it. He’s not just been preaching do you academics, do your academics, but he’s also going to check up on you,” Hood said. “The system they have now, luckily I don’t have to worry about it because I’m in one class, but for the other guys, coach Jones said he personally goes out and checks classes some days.”
The only thing holding the Vols back now is results in the near-ish future.
The wait may not be quite as long now.