CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Butch Jones has experienced his share of meet-and-greet university tours, but the first-year Tennessee football coach admits his first one clad in orange is indeed on a much different level.
Jones joined Lady Vols' basketball coach Holly Warlick and athletic director Dave Hart at UT's annual Big Orange Caravan stop at the Convention Center Thursday night.
It marked his first large-scale appearance in the Scenic City, but just the latest stop on his whirlwind offseason tour across the state that's been a mix of recruiting and speaking stops.
His message has been the same throughout his time as Tennessee's new coach, but it's actually quite different from his first few months at his past jobs at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
"At the other two places I was trying to go out and generate excitement and generate fan interest. Here we don't have to do that because we have such a passionate fan base," Jones said. "It's a balancing act, but any chance I get to get out and meet our fans face-to-face and sell Tennessee football is always big.
"(These experiences) have more solidified my belief in Tennessee football in terms of its magnitude and importance in the great state of Tennessee, but also nationwide."
Roughly 500 members of Vol Nation flocked downtown for autographs and pictures, buzzing with renewed excitement about Tennessee athletics, especially football.
Hart said it was a similar scene in Memphis at the caravan's first stop earlier this week, and the vibe has been growing more positive in every public appearance since Jones was introduced as head coach in early December.
"Clearly we got the right guy. It's been tangible what he's been able to already bring to the program," Hart said. "He's passionate. He's genuine, and he's off to a really good start in galvanizing our fan base, former letter man and high school coaches. He's prioritized those things."
One of Hart's biggest recent priorities was rekindling Tennessee's seemingly-finished basketball rivalry with cross-state foe Memphis.
Cuonzo Martin was not able to make the trip to Chattanooga, but Hart was more than happy to announce a deal in principle to bring the Vols and Tigers back together on the hardwood in the near future.
"We're going to continue that series, but we just don't know when. It won't be in the very near future, meaning this season or maybe next season, but we'll lock it in and turn this agreement we have into a formal four-year contract," Hart said. "[Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen and I] agree whole-heartedly this is a series that needs to be played for the institutions, for the state of Tennessee and for all of college basketball."
Warlick was all smiles on her second caravan tour as the Lady Vols' head coach.
She is pleased to see the school moving forward with plans to honor her mentor, Pat Summitt, with a permanent statue on campus.
"They've been working on this for a really long time and I think it's the perfect way to honor Pat," Warlick said. "When you think of Tennessee, you think of Pat Summitt. She's been the picture. She's been the voice. I think this is such a great tribute to her."
Hart said the project would be privately funded, and while it doesn't have a definite timetable, he said earlier this week he hoped it would be finished by the fall.
"It's exciting because it will be a recognition of what she means to the university," Hart said, "because you really can't adequately put that into words."
The UT contingent also stopped in Cleveland earlier in the day for a private gathering. The caravan continues Monday in Kingsport before wrapping up with visits to Atlanta and Nashville.
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