CLEVELAND, TN (WRCB) -- The evening came with an unspoken purpose.
Until it was spoken.
"A few days from now," crowed WCLE radio owner Steve Hartline," there's going to be another coach from south of here visiting Athens, Tennessee."
The bait had been set Friday night at Bradley Central High School, but Butch Jones refused to bite.
The first-year Tennessee head coach stuck to his script after receiving an invite to speak on behalf of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club.
Jones preached leadership, discipline and his patented brick-by-brick approach before deflecting the notion that his visit to Cleveland was in response to Alabama coach Nick Saban's speaking engagement in Athens next Tuesday.
"This was requested by one of our former players, and our former players are very important to us," Jones said matter-of-factly after he left the stage. "It's actually been on the books for a very long time."
That's not to say a passionate crowd of more than 600 would let Jones escape without talk of UT's arch rival. One bold youngster asked the Vols' coach when fans could once again brag to their friends about beating the Crimson Tide.
"We have to get back to a point where we're winning those rivalry games, and it's one of our program goals to beat our rivals," Jones said. "Every day we're working hard to make that a reality and bring your bragging rights back."
Jones actually praised Saban's work in Tuscaloosa, calling himself an admirer of the Tide's success. However, he also added it's in Tennessee's best interests to worry more about itself and less about Alabama -- which was his overall agenda for the evening.
"We're the state institution and this is Tennessee, so we're going to take any opportunity like this to share our vision and spend some time meeting our great fanbase," Jones said.
He received a variety of raucous rounds of applause, the first coming when he said flatly, "No orange pants," when asked about his gameday attire this fall.
But he saved his most poignant comments for last, issuing a heartfelt closing that received a standing ovation -- and likely resonating a little farther up the road in Athens.
"It is an honor and a responsibility to be your football coach," he said. "It's nights like this that keep reminding me the importance of what Tennessee football is to this great state."
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