KNOXVILLE — The voice has become a staple of Tennessee's football practices.
Loaf between periods, and it will find you. Show poor technique on a play, and it will correct you. Better your teammate-turned-opponent in a one-on-one drill, and it will declare you the winner.
As first-year Volunteers coach Butch Jones casts a watchful eye over his team's practices, he utilizes a simple tool to maximize the efficiency of his coaching and minimize the wear and tear on his voice: a wireless microphone.
"Third down in the red zone, the most critical down in football!" he barked into it before the Vols simulated that situation in Tuesday morning's practice.
Later that morning, shortly after wrapping up his post-practice meeting, Jones explained the origin of the method.
"It was about two years ago, and I lost my voice in practice, so I started using it to communicate and our players liked it," he said. "I liked it because everyone on the field, you could communicate. You could be at one end, you could see something, you could coach them, you could coach everybody and it's just kind of stuck.
"A couple of days at the previous spot I didn't use it, and the players were lost, so I think it's constant feedback. I think part of teaching is being able to teach immediately and not miss a teaching opportunity. It's just something we stumbled across, and it's kind of been a fixture at our practices."
Jones didn't tell his players before spring practice began he'd be on a microphone during practice, but many of them have adjusted to it by now.
"He throws a lot of new things at us, and I think that's what this team loves about him, because he always keeps you on edge," defensive end Jacques Smith said. "He brings us new things every single day to get better at and to learn and new terms and things like that. He's just a great teacher and a great motivator, and I love everything he's doing for us.
"It's like your second conscience. [When] he's on the microphone and he's calling you out, it's just like an added motivator."
Jones isn't hesitant to call out a player by name if he sees them not giving maximum effort, but there's plenty of variety in the coach's microphone madness, from correcting a player's technique during a particular drill, reminding his defense it didn't play "winning football" by not forcing any turnovers in Saturday's scrimmage, telling his kickers to get height on their field-goal attempts or encouraging players before or between drills, when he'll typically belt, "Nobody walks!"
"He's just trying to get us to all be on alert at all times," receiver Jason Croom said, "and always be ready for any situation."
A few situations during Tuesday's practice prompted Jones to single out individual players.
"It makes me hurt watching you run," he quipped at defensive lineman Trevarris Saulsberry between drills.
"You're listening to the sounds, Alton," he told receiver Pig Howard while a car alarm blared over the loudspeaker during a red-zone period.
"We got a loaf on [Daniel] McCullers," he barked at the Vols' 6-foot-8, 360-pound defensive tackle during the same drill.
In one practice last week, he made his defense retake the field after he didn't like how they ran onto the field to start a series.
"There's 107,000 people waiting for the 'Orange Swarm' to take the field," Jones bellowed, "And they just went, 'Aw.'"
Players said they were able to block some of the annoying noises Jones blared over the speakers during Tuesday's practice, but it's different with Jones on the mic.
"You notice that," Saulsberry said, "because he singles you out. You hear it, but you've got to push yourself, keeping going and don't let it bother you. [It's] like, 'Dang, you've got to pick it up, he sees you.'
"I feel like we respond well to it."
Jones said he knew of several NFL special teams coaches who used microphones to communicate effectively to a number of players at once, but he admitted he simply stumbed into the idea himself
Now he believes his team has adjusted to hearing his voice throughout practice.
"They're looking around" Jones said, "and they're like, 'Where he's at?' Everything is a teaching opportunity. We can't waste one single second in communication and teaching and correcting."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...