HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Butch Jones promises nobody at Tennessee was doing cartwheels over a winning season, whatever Steve Spurrier says.
The Volunteers coach opened Southeastern Conference media days Tuesday responding to Spurrier’s earlier remark to reporters regarding how Tennessee and Arkansas were celebrating 7-6 seasons that exceeded most expectations.
Spurrier’s South Carolina team had the same record after opening ranked in the top 10.
“Contrary to reports, there were no backflips and there were no somersaults,” Jones said. “But I think in the world of college football, you’re judged by wins and losses but also you’re judged by does your team overachieve or underachieve.
“And I think last year’s football team overachieved.”
The Vols secured the program’s first winning record since 2009 and beat Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl, thriving late in the season with the emergence of quarterback Josh Dobbs. They won four of their last five games.
Tennessee accomplished that while playing more freshmen than any other Football Bowl Subdivision team, adding to the perception it’s a program on the rise.
Jones thinks the strong finish and back-to-back highly rated recruiting classes have created some momentum for his program and “positive energy” surrounding the Vols. He says this season’s feel “is different for each and every player” from 2014.
After all, observers are wondering what Tennessee can do for an encore instead of writing it off as a likely building year going into Jones’s third season.
“I think our players really learned how to win last year,” the coach said.
Dobbs said the strong finish carried over into the offseason, but like Jones he feels it’s just the beginning.
“It was a great way to finish the season, but we’re not done yet,” Dobbs said. “That’s just a steppingstone for this season.”
Defensive standout Curt Maggitt said taking part in bringing the Tennessee program back to national prominence was part of the allure when he was recruited. This team has designs on contending in the SEC East Division, not just making another bowl game.
“We want to go beyond that,” said Maggitt, who plays defensive line and linebacker.
Go far enough beyond that, and then maybe they’ll be doing cartwheels.