The contagious spirit of Big Orange Country was overflowing at Orange Grove's Bucky Williams Auditorium Tuesday at noon.
With a near-capacity crowd gathered for the annual Lunch of Champions, Tennessee's newest football coach Butch Jones entertained and inspired the large contingent who are among the biggest supporters of Orange Grove Center, which is celebrating its 60th year in Chattanooga.
Jones has been a busy fellow in the past six months as he's gotten his staff in place while preparing for spring practice.
His recruiting is a never-ending process and he's working around the clock to get Tennessee's football ship headed in the right direction.
Despite all of that, he was thrilled and honored to be invited to Orange Grove for such a special occasion.
"This place stands for everything we stand for. I've been looking forward to being here today," Jones told a group of media members in the hallway adjacent to the auditorium prior to making his address.
"It's a balancing act with all I'm trying to do these days, but it's all about giving back. I'm glad to be able to say thanks for the opportunity in front of us. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it takes time to create change like this. We expect to win and we have everything we need to be successful," Jones said matter of factly.
"These guys on this football team have embraced all we've thrown at them so far and I'm very encouraged by what I've seen up to this point. Tennessee football is a national brand as there are very high expectations associated with this program.
"It's a standard we need to uphold, but it's all been a teaching moment and I'm excited about seeing the finished product. It's all about embracing the challenge in front of us," Jones added.
"Our goal is to get better each and every day. We have a very high level of accountability and our spring drills were a critical time as we laid the foundation. It's hard to get it all done in 15 practices, but I do know that we have a football team that is extremely hungry and anything is possible," he continued.
"This is what life is all about. To be a champion is all encompassing and it's how we represent our family and our school. We have to constantly strive to be better and we have to have a passion and commitment for being the best.
"I'm a football coach, but I'm still a teacher first and foremost. There are three things we're focusing on in Knoxville and they're the key to our future.
"The first is a tough word that people don't like and that's discipline. We think of it as a corrective device, but it's really the difference between being successful and not. You can look at all the great players who have been at Tennessee in the past and they're all extremely disciplined.
"The second thing is the ability to handle adversity and sudden change. There are times when you just have to perservere when you go through tough times, but you're a better person for doing so when you get through it.
"The third thing is leadership, which can be good or bad. First, you have to take command of the situation. Second, you have to coach and teach and third, you have to be a mentor. That's probably the most important one.
"We're investing in the lives of young people and we're there to make a difference. Not only we wanting to produce good football players, but we're looking to mold these young men into outstanding husbands and fathers. We want them to make a difference in this world," Jones added.
The popular coach posed for as many pictures as time would allow and he signed a bunch of autographs as well. Time was short and the lines were long, but Jones took time to address them all and he made a lot of new friends along the way in the process.
Tuesday's gathering was by invitation only, but Heidi Hoffecker was quick to explain the purpose of the event.
"This is just our way of saying thank you to all of the folks who are loyal Orange Grove supporters. I think we sent out about 350 invitations, but it looks like there are more than that here today," the Director of Development added.
Past Lunch of Champions speakers have included such notable coaches as Johnny Majors, Phillip Fulmer, Bruce Pearl, Gene Stallings and Vince Dooley.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)