Tennessee's Turnaround: Players Help Sell Vols Program
By Dan Harralson
For now, Team 118 has pressed pause on spring practices for spring break.
The Vols are five spring practices deep. The Tennessee program is taking its first full cycle under coach Butch Jones.
As 2013 has unfolded, Jones' ability to merge his recruiting style with the University of Tennessee's social media strategies has created a successful marketing tool.
Jones and the UT marketing team have sold Tennessee's historic past throughout Twitter via VFLs (Vols for Life) in the NFL, current Vols players and high school commits, all of whom continue to sell the program.
It's an excellent mesh of recruiting tactics and social media to make a speedier road of replenishing talent at a storied college football program.
The Vols' recruiting class of 2014 saw early commits stay loyal to their word and also help Jones recruit. The process of reclaiming Tennessee back to the top was also centered around early enrollees — 14 of them to be exact.
These 14 are now competing and developing under Jones and his staff during spring ball, allowing more time to learn, mature and understand the college game before fall camp. Tennessee hopes the quality and quantity of early enrollees will speed up the process and allow the Vols to compete in the SEC East this fall.
Spring practices may have started, but recruiting continues. Tennessee's class of 2015 already includes a handful of early commits as the Vols try to live up to what the class of 2014 was able to accomplish in terms of loyalty, helping recruit others and enrolling early.
Cecil Cherry, an upcoming senior from Frostproof, Fla., is next in line.
"Coach Jones doesn't care just about football," Cherry told Football.com. "He cares about you, too."
Cherry chose the Vols over fellow SEC members Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State and South Carolina.
"I'm going to help Coach Jones recruit," Cherry said. "It's building friendships, brothership to help Coach Jones and Tennessee win a championship."
The focus on relationships comes from Jones.
"Our assistant coaches did a tremendous and outstanding job," Jones said on national signing day. "You look at all the identifying and the building of relationships. In this recruiting class, the relationship building and the trust factor has been over a year in the making and I think that is evidence by basically no drama on signing day."
On top of social media strategies, donors have played a vital role in putting Tennessee in what most perceive as an upward swing.
"The MVP, the Tennessee air force," Jones said, referencing accessibility for recruiting travel. "All the great donors, who very willingly gave their planes, I can't tell you where we would be without them."
Utilizing current and former players as well as high school commitments in an organized and cohesive strategy could be an underutilized tool that the current regime appears determined to leverage.
"Our current players became the greatest ambassadors we had in our football family," Jones said. "When players come on campus they are always asking the players what is it really like?
"The parents do the same thing. Our greatest ambassadors are our current players. They did an outstanding job of really selling our mission and our vision on where we are going with Tennessee football."