AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart has even more confidence in Butch Jones now than when he hired the Volunteers' football coach a year ago.
Not even a losing record in Jones' debut season has changed that.
Hart said Jones has changed the culture surrounding Tennessee's program, even though the coaching move hasn't altered the Volunteers' record yet. Tennessee had the same 5-7 record this fall as it posted last year in the final season of fired coach Derek Dooley's tenure.
"I think Butch Jones has verified everything that we thought he would bring to the team," Hart said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press. "He has galvanized all of our constituents. He's a tireless worker with unlimited energy, it seems. I'm very pleased with where the program is headed."
That forward progress has been more evident off the field so far.
Tennessee had an average announced attendance this season of 95,584, its highest since 2010. That represented a 6.2-percent increase from last year's average of 89,965, which was the program's lowest since 1979. Jones also is putting together a 2014 recruiting class that's ranked among the nation's best.
"Butch likes people," Jones said. "You can't fake that. You either enjoy people or you don't. He thoroughly enjoys people. He likes being around our fans, alumni, high school coaches, lettermen. He looks forward to every opportunity he gets to visit with people who share his passion for the University of Tennessee and our football program."
Jones also has improved Tennessee's performance in the classroom.
Last summer, the NCAA released figures showing Tennessee ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in how the organization measures academic progress. Tennessee faced penalties that included a postseason ban if it didn't improve. Although the new Academic Progress Rate figures won't be announced until next summer, Hart and Jones have said the NCAA has informed them that Tennessee has upgraded its academic performance to the point that it no longer has to worry about any potential punishment.
But there's still plenty of work to be done on the field.
The Vols have just completed their fourth straight losing season, the first time that's happened at Tennessee since 1903-06. After Tennessee concluded its season Nov. 30 with a 27-14 victory at Kentucky, Jones said "it's expected that we go to bowl games from here on out." Hart has similar expectations.
"We very much have the same goals, the same priorities," Hart said. "That won't be a snap-your-fingers and it's done. But eventually there's no question we'll get to our destination."
Tennessee faced a brutal schedule that included five teams currently ranked in the top 10: No. 2 Auburn, No. 3 Alabama, No. 8 South Carolina, No. 9 Missouri and No. 10 Oregon. The Vols face another demanding schedule next fall as they begin a home-and-home series with Oklahoma by traveling to Norman.
That scheduling philosophy likely won't change. This fall, Tennessee announced it would face Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016. Hart said he would continue pursuing high-profile non-conference matchups at neutral sites even if the SEC moves to a nine-game conference schedule.
Hart believes Jones will have his team ready for those kinds of challenges. He notes that some seniors on this year's team went through four position coaches in as many years. Tennessee's returning players appreciate the stability Jones brought to the program, and Hart believes they understand the coaching staff's expectations.
"I see their understanding of what it's going to take to get the program back where we all want it," Hart said. "And we will get it back to where we all want it."
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Can't find what you're looking for?