Making Mike Honcho: How Jordan Beck became a Tennessee baseball folk hero and NIL success

Mike Wilson
Knoxville News Sentinel

Jordan Beck was one of the final people to board the Tennessee baseball bus Friday.

The Vols outfielder did postgame media in right field. He talked to his parents outside Vanderbilt’s Hawkins Field. Then he hopped on the bus and heard the same sound playing from front to back.

His teammates were watching clips of coach Tony Vitello’s in-game interview in which he referred to Beck as “Mike Honcho.”

“Somebody came up to me and was like, ‘Did you see this?’” Beck said. “I just pulled out my phone. I thought it was hilarious … 

“I didn’t think it was going to turn into what it has.”

Becoming Mike Honcho

Beck gained folk hero status instantly during Tennessee’s sweep at Vanderbilt when he accepted the “Mike Honcho” title that his coach bestowed upon him in jest. 

More than 3,000 shirts playing off the nickname were sold in 48 hours at VolShop and Alumni Hall through Spyre Sports. Back Door Tavern in west Knoxville put “Mike Honcho drinks 4 free” on its pylon sign Thursday among other baseball-themed messages.

Back Door Tavern in west Knoxville played into Jordan Beck's "Mike Honcho" nickname he took on during Tennessee baseball's series at Vanderbilt.

“I think this can happen to anyone and could be anyone at any time,” Beck said. “You just have to embrace the role and accept it. You have to have fun with it.”

The fun stemmed from a decidedly not fun moment for No. 1 Tennessee (28-1, 9-0 SEC), which hosts Missouri (18-8, 3-6) in a three-game series starting Friday.

Beck homered on the first pitch he saw at Vanderbilt. He was called out for using an unapproved bat after umpires reviewed it and deemed it lacked the sticker indicated it was tested and cleared for use in the game.

Vitello was heated in the moment, then delivered a sarcastic comment during a fifth-inning interview on ESPN2 that opened the floodgates.

"I don’t even know that Jordan Beck should be at the University of Tennessee," Vitello said. "He forged his transcript. He is actually a 35-year-old man named Mike Honcho. He just shows up to practice every day and he is a good kid so we put him in the lineup.”

The reference stems from the 2006 comedy Talladega Nights with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. Reilly’s character used the alias "Mike Honcho" during a photo shoot, which he confesses to Ferrell's character.

Beck, a 20-year-old kid who has been a staple in Tennessee’s outfield for three seasons, said Talladega Nights is one of his favorite movies. He knew the reference immediately when he heard about it on the bus Friday.

“He is pretty quick-witted on the spot with stuff like that,” Beck said of Vitello. “He was smart with the stuff he says.”

A perfect NIL situation

Will Watkins, the director of athlete and brand marketing at Spyre Sports, got on his phone as soon as Vitello made the “Mike Honcho” comment. Watkins and Spyre Sports CEO James Clawson texted James Allen, a graphic artist with Bacon & Company.

“Mike Honcho tees?” Allen replied a minute later.

Allen had T-shirt designs done within an hour. Spyre Sports, which had a group licensing agreement with the baseball team, passed the designs to UT, which approved them Saturday morning. VolShop and Alumni Hall began pre-orders that morning.

Beck changed the name on his Instagram and Twitter accounts to say “Jordan Beck or Mike Honcho.”

“With NIL, this was a great opportunity for him,” Watkins said. “We wanted to make sure that we had an official NIL shirt out there for him so he could get paid.”

Both stores stocked shirseys with “Vols” on the front and “Honcho” with a No. 27 on the back. Alumni Hall also had a pre-order for “check the bat” shirts in reference to the moment in the first inning Friday. 

Watkins indicated both stores already replenished the orders after the initial round and that other retailers want to stock the shirts. 

“The fan base has fallen in love with this team and that is what makes this possible,” Watkins said. “The interaction between this fan base and this team is just a case study, I think, moving forward to show anybody that comes to campus that this is how it can be.”

Beth Parks, the marketing and partnerships director at Alumni Hall, wasn’t surprised by the response to the shirts. She credited the success the way Beck embraced the nickname and the fans for gravitating to the moment.

“People that loved the humor and what Vitello said and loved what transpired after the game and how he handled that loved the shirts,” said Beth Parks, marketing and partnerships director at Alumni Hall. “We keep our finger on the pulse of what is going on and what our shoppers and fans like to see.”

Beck promoted the shirts on his Twitter, saying “I have a new nickname.” He posted a picture on Instagram after the Vols completed the sweep Sunday with his face edited onto John C. Reilly’s and Vitello’s over Will Ferrell’s in Talladega Nights. He captioned the fan-made edit “Head Honcho and Mike Honcho in full #shakeandbake.”

He learned into the moment, taking a nickname born out a batty situation and cementing himself in Vols baseball lore.

"We are the No. 1 team in the country and it gets some more going around us,” Beck said. “I didn't see why I wouldn’t embrace it.”

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at michael.wilson@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.