The University of Cincinnati ended a whirlwind week on Friday looking for Butch Jones’ replacement as football coach while the team started preparing for its bowl game.
The Bearcats have experience at doing both simultaneously.
Jones resigned to take the job at Tennessee on Friday morning, as the players met to start preparing to face Duke in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27. Cincinnati (9-3) shared the Big East title for the fourth time in the past five years.
The team plans to start practicing for the bowl game on Saturday.
”It’s our job to make sure our football program continues to operate at a high level,” athletics director Whit Babcock said.
The last three Bearcats coaches have used the job as a stepping stone to bigger things, leaving after three seasons. Mark Dantonio guided Cincinnati into the Big East before leaving for Michigan State. Brian Kelly led Cincinnati to back-to-back titles and berths in the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl before heading to Notre Dame.
Kelly’s departure for his dream job left his players and fans angry in 2009. The team was unbeaten and, suddenly, in turmoil heading into its first Sugar Bowl, where it got drubbed by Florida 51-24.
Jones replaced Kelly and, after a disappointing four-win season, won shares of the last two Big East titles. He went 23-14 overall at Cincinnati. Like his predecessor, he leaves with his team starting to prepare for a bowl game.
Defensive line coach Steve Stripling, who joined Jones’ staff in 2010, was chosen interim coach on Friday.
Cincinnati’s football program was on hold for a week while Jones weighed his options. He went for interviews at Purdue and Colorado, which offered him the job. Jones turned it down and became the leading candidate at Tennessee after Charlie Strong decided to stay at Louisville.
Jones had a $1.4 million buyout in his contract, which was extended through 2017 after the Bearcats got a share of the Big East title last year.
The Bearcats have trouble keeping coaches for more than three years. They’re looking for their next one with a lot of uncertainty over the school’s future.
The university has been disappointed by the Big East’s massive exodus and lobbied to get into the Atlantic Coast Conference. Instead, rival Louisville got accepted by the ACC, leaving Cincinnati hoping it could make the move in a few more years.
There’s also a lot of work to do on the athletic facilities, with little money available.
During Jones’ tenure, Cincinnati expanded its football facility, adding a practice field with a protective bubble for bad weather. The school is trying to figure out how to upgrade 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium, which is the second-oldest playing site in the nation for a college team behind Penn’s Franklin Field. Nippert has been in use since 1901.
Despite their Big East success, the Bearcats have played in front of disappointing crowds at Nippert. They drew only 21,171 fans on senior night – their smallest crowd of the season – for a 27-10 win over South Florida this year.
The Bearcats’ last two coaches came from the Mid-American Conference. Kelly coached at Central Michigan and was succeeded there by Jones, who then replaced him in Cincinnati. While Jones interviewed and weighed his options this week, two high-profile MAC coaches moved on to bigger schools.
Kent State’s Darrell Hazell took the Purdue job after Jones decided he wasn’t interested in it. Northern Illinois’ Dave Doeren went to North Carolina State.