Butch Jones feels at home in Tampa -- where his football journey began
TAMPA – If Butch Jones looks comfortable in Volunteer orange it’s probably because he’s been wearing the color for much of his life.
Long before Jones roamed the sidelines at Neyland Stadium he was wearing the creamsicle orange of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a teenage fan and later as an intern within the organization.
In the late 1970s Jones was decked out in all orange at the Pontiac Silverdome watching his Buccaneers pull off an upset of the Detroit Lions. While cheering on his favorite NFL team, Jones almost drew the ire of some of the Lions faithful.
“Larry Mucker caught the touchdown pass from Doug Williams in the corner of the end zone,” Jones said in a media session during the Outback Bowl contract signing. “I was decked out in all my orange and somebody from the upper deck had filled a popcorn cup full of ketchup and tried to (dump) it on me.”
Jones’ love of the Buccaneers, the organization that he credits for introducing him to coaching, and the Tampa Bay area makes his team’s participation in the Outback Bowl on Friday against the Northwestern Wildcats very special.
He calls Tampa his second home and talked about sleeping in the equipment room at One Buc Place and fighting the rats for sleeping space in the old practice facility.
He talked about purchasing the old facility and turning it into a Buccaneers museum or shrine of sorts. Jones has the memorabilia to fill it too, whether it’s a Lee Roy Selmon nameplate or a Vinny Testaverde rookie jersey.
Unfortunately land developers beat him to the punch and the International Mall was built in the space instead. Jones said he wanted to go to the old space this week if time allowed.
“I’d love to just stand there and reminisce,” Jones said.
He was an intern with the Bucs from 1987 to 1989 and did nearly every job available, from washing uniforms during training camp to working on the field. His efforts were so appreciated that Jones was a ballboy for Super Bowl XXV between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills.
From there his stops included Division III Wilkes College and a coaching stint with his alma mater, Ferris State, before taking assistant jobs at Central Michigan and West Virginia. Eventually he went back to Central Michigan for his first head coaching job and replaced Brian Kelly at Cincinnati before heading to Tennessee.
Jones has seen a lot and the smile on his face give the impression that he’s loved every minute of it – even the rats at One Buc Place.
“I think it’s helped me in building structure and understanding that everyone is (important),” Jones said. “I understand that everyone is critical and it starts with the people that influence and impact the players on a day-to-day basis. I respect everybody’s job, because I basically lived it.”