November 30, 2008

McNeil, Jones talk Kiffin, change

Though he grew up in Mississippi, Josh McNeil has developed a strong appreciation for the unique history of Tennessee football.

And now that Lane Kiffin has been named as Phillip Fulmer's replacement, McNeil knows what he hopes to see first from the Volunteers' new head coach, who will be formally introduced Monday afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Wolf-Kaplan Center inside Neyland Stadium.

"Whoever comes in I hope will respect all the tradition, the game maxims and things like that," McNeil said after the Vols' season-ending 28-10 win against Kentucky Saturday night. "At Tennessee, it's all about tradition and I would just like to see all of those remain the same."

A native of Bloomington, Minn., Kiffin played collegiately at Fresno State, where he was a quarterback from 1993-96. Kiffin has had coaching stops at his alma mater, Colorado State and, most notably, as co-offensive coordinator at Southern Cal. This marks his first collegiate coaching venture east of the Mississippi River.

McNeil had a brief encounter with Kiffin during the 33-year-old coach's tenure at USC. Among the top two high school centers in the country, McNeil took an official visit to Los Angeles and visited the Trojans' program.

McNeil, however, knows the persona a coach adopts for a recruit's visit isn't the same as what he embodies on the field.

"I took a visit out there, so it's hard to really remember how he was because he was recruiting me," McNeil said with a laugh. "We'll just have to see how it is, and I'll be a senior next year and they're going to come in and set the rules, set the standards, and as a senior, I'll fall in line."

Gerald Jones will be just a junior, but he wants to embrace a greater leadership role. He knows little of Kiffin right now, except by reputation.

"Well, I don't know too much about his background, just that he was at USC and he used Reggie (Bush) well," Jones said Saturday night, before Kiffin met with players Sunday evening inside Tennessee's Neyland-Thompson Sports Center. "I know that he lined his playmakers up in different positions, kind of like we did this year. That's all I know about him so far. I know he's young, and I know he has a pretty good history at USC. I don't know about Oakland. We'll just see when we meet him, see what type of person he is."

Jones, who has indicated a preference for receivers coach Latrell Scott to return as his position coach, has concerns about yet another offensive transition -- his third in as many years.

"It might be another complicated offense for our quarterbacks and our receivers," said the Oklahoma native. "Who knows? But I know that he had great success at USC."

After enjoying his best all-around game in the Vols' finale, with 135 all-purpose yards and Tennessee's final touchdown of the 2008 season, Jones wants to see his teammates -- particularly on offense -- carry a determined approach into winter drills.

"The offseason is where you get better," he said. "We've got some things we need to correct -- me personally and at other positions -- and we need to get better at. And this is where we get better at, in the offseason. Hopefully we'll be a lot better next year on offense."

The Vols, Jones says, will impress their new coach with their resiliency.

"We're warriors. No matter what's going on in our lives, no matter how hard times get for us from a football standpoint, we know things could be worse," he said. "And we work hard no matter what situation or predicament we're in."

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