KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee hired Cincinnati's Butch Jones to be its new head football coach on Friday morning.
Nineteen days after Derek Dooley was dismissed before the final game of his third season in Knoxville, the Volunteers are turning to a replacement who lost to him last season.
Yet the 44-year-old Jones, who will be introduced at a 2:30 p.m. news conference on Friday, has been successful in six seasons at his two coaching stops at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. Jones owns a 50-27 overall record with the Chippewas and Bearcats after succeeding current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly at both jobs. Under Jones, Cincinnati is 19-6 the past two seasons.
"It is truly an honor and a privilege to be the head football coach at the University of Tennessee,” Jones said in the university's release. “I understand the values, traditions, and level of expectations that come with this position, and I look forward to being a part of the Vol Nation.
“I’d like to especially thank Chancellor Cheek and Dave Hart for giving me this great opportunity, and I look forward to the Vols achieving excellence both on and off the field for many years to come,"
One of the six came in Knoxville in 2011, when the Vols trounced Cincinnati 45-23. The Bearcats went on to win 10 games that season and fell just short of the Big East Conference's BCS Bowl berth. Cincinnati finished 9-3 this season with losses to Toledo, Louisville and Rutgers and earned a trip to the Belk Bowl against Duke in Charlotte on Dec. 27.
Jones was an assistant under spread-offense innovator Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia (2005-06) before joining Kelly's staff at Central Michigan. He posted a 27-13 record and won two Mid-American Conference titles with Central Michigan in three seasons. Jones played football at Ferris State.
The Michigan native signed a contract extension at Cincinnati last January that bumped his 2012 salary to $1,769,648, according to USA Today, and Jones owes the university $1.4 million for taking another job before Jan. 1.
"I am very pleased that Butch Jones is the head football coach at Tennessee,” Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said in the university's release. “Butch has a track record of success at every program he has led, and he views Tennessee as the job he coveted. We look forward to Butch leading our football program back to prominence."
Already an active part of the coaching carousel this postseason, Jones attracted interest from Kentucky, Purdue and Colorado and turned down an offer -- one that was worth $13.5 million over five years, according to the Denver Post -- from the Buffaloes on Wednesday.
"It was so extremely close," Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn told the newspaper. "We thought we were really in a good position in getting the deal done until early [Wednesday] night. Then there was a whole new development."
That was when Louisville coach Charlie Strong surprised Tennessee officials by spurning an offer to remain the Cardinals' coach. Cincinnati athletic director Whit Babcock said at a Friday morning news conference that Tennessee contacted Jones' representation "minutes" after Jones told him Thursday morning he would not take the Colorado job.
Babcock added that Tennessee athletic director Hart was the lone one to contact him for permission to speak with Jones. He said "no less" than five BCS conference schools contacted Jones. Cincinnati was "proactive" during the season in trying to give Jones a new contract and a "significant increase" in salary and facility renovations and enhancements.
Jones called Babock at 5:15 Friday morning to tell him he took the Tennessee job and met with his team at 7:30 to inform them of the decision.
Jones' Cincinnati staff has a midwestern flavor to it, and four assistant coaches on staff -- defensive line coach Steve Stripling, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, special teams coordinator/ safeties coach Mark Elder and offensive line coach Don Mahoney -- followed him from Central Michigan. Stripling was named Cincinnati's interim coach, according to the program's release announcing Jones' resignation and said at Friday morning's news conference in Cincinnati that it was "unclear" which assistants would remain with the Bearcats during their bowl preparations.
Cincinnati's defensive coordinator/ linebackers coach John Jancek and tight ends coach Dave Johnson were assistants at Georgia in the past decade. Jancek coached linebackers (2005-09), while Johnson coached tight ends (2001-07). Mahoney (Tulane, 1999-2006), cornerbacks coach Shannon Morrison (Memphis 2010-11) have some southern ties, while receivers coach and recruiting coordinator T.J. Weist played at Alabama.
Jones faces the task of bringing one of the SEC's top programs historically out of its recent losing funk. The Vols have had three consecutive losing seasons and five losing seasons in the last seven seasons. Tennessee have just five conference win in the past three seasons, and none of those included a victory against an upper-echelon team in the nation's premier league despite some close calls in Dooley's third and final season.
Given the difficulty of winning in the SEC, Jones must focus time and energy on recruiting, where the Vols must make up ground to make their way back toward the top of the conference. Tennessee always has had to recruit nationally and regionally, but the 2014 in-state class already has some talented players being suited by other top programs. While Dooley certainly improved the roster during his time in Knoxville, the Vols must keep improving their talent level.
The recruiting job may begin in-house with a handful of juniors who could explore foregoing their senior seasons in favor of the NFL draft. The trio of receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson and quarterback Tyler Bray headline that group, though all three seem set to leave. Offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James, guard Zach Fulton and nose tackle Daniel McCullers, who's projected as a mid-round pick and figures to wait and see what defense Jones brings with him, also could explore an early exit.
The Vols' search last 19 days and included ups, downs and raises for some other coaches. Strong turned down an offer to be Tennessee's coach, as Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy reportedly did. Other potential targets chose to stay put, like Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, North Carolina's Larry Fedora and UCLA's Jim Mora Jr.
Former Tennessee offensive coordinator and current Duke coach David Cutcliffe, Vanderbilt's James Franklin and Baylor's Art Briles were among the group that got raises.
That leaves out the heavy flirtation with former Super Bowl winning NFL coach and ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden. The Times Free Press reported a week ago that the former Tennessee graduate assistant was interested in coaching the Vols but negotiations hit a snag over salary numbers for the assistant coaches. Tennessee sources told multiple media outlets that Gruden elected not to pursue the job, and Gruden's agent told one newspaper that the Tennessee rumors were from a "fantasy world."
Reality hit on Friday after whirlwind search ended with Jones becoming the Vols' new coach.
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 ...