KNOXVILLE — Tennessee might not have had its worst football practice under second-year coach Butch Jones on Monday.
It apparently was bad enough.
Seeking more consistency, better energy and fewer mistakes from his team, Jones canceled the post-practice player interviews, saying the Volunteers have to "earn the right" to meet with the media.
He then went on for 15 minutes about what had him visibly annoyed and frustrated.
"We have to stop using youth as a crutch, or as an excuse," Jones said. "It is what it is. It's where we're at in the program. Nobody cares. Our opponents don't care.
"What you want is a consistent approach, and I really haven't seen that consistency in performance," he added. "A lot of it is players going through it for the first time. We can't allow that to be an excuse.
"We have to focus on getting better as a football team."
During the open periods of practice, at least, Jones was angrier Sunday, when he was singling out player after player over the microphone for various reasons and even got after some assistant coaches and other staffers to help him get the players going.
The Vols had to finish their stretching period at least five times because of different little things: Linebacker Chris Weatherd, a junior college transfer, had his hand over the line at the start of his 20-yard sprint; freshman tailback Jalen Hurd didn't have his helmet snapped; freshman cornerback Rashaan Gaulden did something wrong.
"We have to stop losing before we start winning," Jones barked at his players.
Jones even sent Tennessee's 13-man player staff to spend a few minutes in the dreaded "hole," a fenced-in corner of the practice field where injured players work out during practice.
Though there wasn't any of that during the early parts of Monday's practice, the coach still declared that his team's leadership is "at a premium" and said the players in leadership roles "can't accept mediocrity."
"They have to learn how to speak a little bit more," Jones explained. "It's easy to lead when things are easy. The great leaders have to lead in difficult times, and we were quiet. We're a quiet football team. We can't have that. We want energy. We want passion. We want guys coaching each other."
If the approach wasn't what Jones wanted it to be Sunday, it was the multitude of mistakes that most bothered him Monday. He cited balls on the ground, "mental penalties" like offsides and illegal procedures, issues snapping the ball and missed field goals as the primary perturbances. The quarterbacks' collective accuracy has "gotten worse," Jones said.
While Jones believes the team's early-preseason struggles are "for the most part" mental, it's clear the patience he said he and Tennessee's fan base will need this season is getting an early test. While he pledged that he and his assistants would remain patient, he wants his players to have a greater sense of urgency with the clock ticking down to the season opener against Utah State in less than four weeks.
"Everything is a sense of urgency," Jones said. "We'll have patience. We'll go in, we'll teach off the film, we'll correct, we'll get it fixed. I think today just exemplifies the sense of urgency that this team has to have, because our margin of error is very, very small. And if you're a competitor, you get to prove people wrong.
"We should be hungry. We don't have an individual on this football team that's played in a bowl game. That should motivate you. Football should motivate you, and it does. These are the days of training camp, but they're tremendous teaching opportunities."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
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 ...