Vols' culture a disaster under Butch Jones? No way, says VFL Daniel Hood: 'I do not see that'
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — As the bowl matchups were released last Sunday, the Vols solidifying a meeting of two storied programs with Nebraska in the Music City Bowl, a wide range of headlines took place in the days following.
The most notable was the No. 1 player in the country, offensive lineman Trey Smith, committing to Tennessee two days later. The following day, Travis Haney of 247Sports released a story ‘The culture is a disaster:’ Jones, Vols trending the wrong way. The story was centered around disgruntled, anonymous sources bashing Jones’ management.
The one positive source named in the story: former Volunteer defensive lineman Daniel Hood, who played under Butch Jones in his senior season of 2013. Hood experienced it all at Tennessee by playing under Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley and Jones.
Hood discussed the accusations from anonymous sources from Haney’s article, along with the current state of the Tennessee football program with Saturday Down South.
“I do not see the culture in being that,” Hood said.
One example, and one of the first things mentioned by Hood, of exemplifying a positive culture is how Jones handled Jalen Hurd’s surprising departure.
“That is what kind of guy Coach Jones is, not throwing him under the bus no matter what went on,” Hood said. “There are going to be decisions made that not everyone likes, that’s part of it, and after his departure, and any time in the last four years, you never see his teams quit and you never see his teams back down.
“If you want to talk about bad culture, why would the No. 1 guy in the country come play for you, and a four-star (Shanon Reid) right after that? So, I would like to see some of the no-name sources come forth and critique the news if it’s actually true.”
Were the acquisitions part of a broader agenda? Hood doesn’t believe so.
“I do not think there was an agenda, I was quoted in his article as well,” he said. “I think he had a story that a lot of people were telling him this stuff, but at the same time wanted to talk to me to be fair and balanced with it. I do not think he purposely wanted to do it, I think he was trying to do an honest job of getting the story out there, that these people were telling him that and did not want to do an entire article on bashing Butch.”
The article shredding Jones’ program leaves the question: Are there key decision-makers or others close to the program who are frustrated?
“I think when you have your nutritionist Allison Maurer, I think she left because she wasn’t happy and started her own business. I think it’s an isolated thing, I do not think it’s a cultural thing,” Hood said. “When you have issues come up, that can cause cultural problems, when you have to change your defensive coordinator – what do you do in that situation? He cuts ties with a guy he has been with for nine years. Think about how hard that is to do as a leader and make that decision. The same decision with strength coach (Dave) Lawson. You are talking about a guy that has been with you for 10 offseasons.
“Those are big-time moves, moves he did to better the program and keep the culture what it is. In hindsight, he may have made a mistake.”
Was it a surprise that Jones fired Lawson?
“Outside looking in, now, it was probably one of those things where Lawson was wanting a ‘let me do my job’ and Coach Jones wanted to add a little thing or something like that, so they probably butted heads; that would be my only guess.
“Looking back on it, letting coach Lawson go may have been the biggest mistake he made.”
What’s next for the program?
“He (Jones) has to bring in a strength coach that will uphold the standards that need to be met,” Hood said. “The one guy that’s been with Nick Saban through time is his strength coach, the one guy that’s been with Urban Meyer is his strength coach. So whatever it takes, you get that guy. If it’s me, I’m humble enough to call Coach Lawson up and say I made a mistake and what are the chances you come back?
“Lawson loved the guy, loved working with him. It’s not a knock on (Michael) Szerszen, I love the guy, but as we saw with coach Dooley, knowledge alone doesn’t win football games. In college, you have to have motivation to go along with it. It’s hard to convince someone that I need 105 people that can squat over 400 pounds, but they got close to that under Lawson – and that is what they have to bring back.
“Everything else is already there. They have team leadership, they have team chemistry, and champions in everything else. The academics are perfect, watching an interview with Charles Folger – he gets it as a walk-on in this program. Everyone in the organization knows what their role is, they just need to get that last little thing fixed, and after that, now you are back to a championship program.”
With all that happened and with the abundance amount of injuries in 2016, did Tennessee overachieve considering the circumstances? As a player in 2013 and as a former player watching Jones’ program from 2014-present, did Hood place a time-frame on when Tennessee could get back to winning championships?
“I did not put a time-frame on it,” he said. “As a former player, I judge every season by one factor – that is, did they overachieve? Overachieving is your effort and going into it. Even when we went 5-7 in 2013, I can tell you, that team under coach Dooley would not have won three games. We overachieved that year.
“I think this year we overachieved.
“When you do a totality of all the situations. When you take the totality of Jalen Hurd, Danny O’Brien, Preston Williams leaving – and all of the injuries – when you lose fan support right off the bat after the Appalachian State game, then Butch’s coach-speak upsets everybody, with everything and to get to 8-4 and beat four championship teams (Appalachian State Sun Belt co-champions, Florida SEC East champions, Ohio MAC East champions, Virginia Tech ACC Coastal champions), those things do not just happen when you are not overachieving, especially with the amount of injuries that have taken place.
“Getting to nine wins is a good season with everything that has gone on.”