Vols hire Cincinnati’s Jones as new football coach
Butch Jones was pondering whether to leave Cincinnati this week
to coach Colorado when he received a text message that
inadvertently foreshadowed his eventual destination.
It was from Denver Broncos quarterback and Tennessee great
”He was selling me on Colorado,” Jones said. ”He said it was
hard for a person from the University of Tennessee to be selling
somebody to come to the University of Colorado. I wanted to text
him back, `Come on, I want to go to Tennessee.’ ”
That’s exactly where Jones ended up.
Tennessee introduced Jones on Friday as its successor to Derek
Dooley, who was fired Nov. 18 after going 15-21 in three seasons.
Jones called Tennessee his dream job and said he was taking over
”the best college football program in America.”
It hardly mattered to Jones that he wasn’t Tennessee’s first
”I think I was my wife’s third choice, and it’s worked for 20
years,” Jones said.
The 44-year-old Jones has a 50-27 record in six seasons as a
head coach. He went 27-13 in three seasons at Central Michigan and
was 23-14 at Cincinnati the last three years. He now faces the task
of rebuilding a former Southeastern Conference power that has
posted three consecutive losing seasons.
Jones agreed to a six-year contract worth $18.2 million, ending
a tumultuous couple of days for both himself and his new school.
Colorado had offered him a five-year deal worth at least $13.5
Tennessee went after at least two other candidates before hiring
During the 19-day search to replace Dooley, the Volunteers
contacted ESPN analyst and former Super Bowl-winning coach Jon
Gruden, who indicated he wasn’t interested. The Vols then pursued
Charlie Strong, who said Thursday he had turned down their offer
and would stay at Louisville.
”Rarely in life is anything exactly what it seems to be,”
Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said. ”Life doesn’t throw us
all fastballs. It throws us curves, and then you’ve got some
screwballs. … You’ve got to be able to adjust.”
Jones, meanwhile, was apparently waiting for a job like
On the same day Strong made his announcement, Jones rejected
Colorado’s offer. He also had been linked to the Purdue coaching
job before removing himself from consideration.
Cincinnati athletic director Whit Babcock said Jones told him
Thursday morning that he was turning down Colorado. Mere minutes
later, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart called Babcock to
express his interest in Jones. Babcock said Jones notified him
Friday at 5:15 a.m. that he was accepting Tennessee’s offer. Jones
informed Cincinnati’s players at a 7:30 a.m. team meeting.
”It’s been kind of a whirlwind,” Jones said.
Jones’ hiring means each of the four Southeastern Conference
teams that fired coaches this year has filled its vacancy.
Kentucky hired Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops
last week to replace Joker Phillips. Arkansas hired Bret Bielema
away from Wisconsin on Tuesday to take over for John L. Smith.
Auburn selected Arkansas State’s Gus Malzahn on Tuesday as the
replacement for Gene Chizik.
Jones will be Tennessee’s fourth coach in a six-season stretch,
not including offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s stint as interim
head coach in the 2012 season finale after Dooley’s dismissal.
Phillip Fulmer was fired after the 2008 season. Lane Kiffin coached
Tennessee in 2009 before leaving for Southern California. Dooley
lasted three years.
After winning at least eight games for 16 consecutive seasons
from 1989-2004 and posting double-digit wins in nine of those
years, Tennessee hasn’t earned more than seven victories in any of
its last five seasons. The Vols went 5-7 this fall for their fifth
losing season over the last eight years.
Jones believes Tennessee can recapture its past glory.
”Our fan base and myself have the same expectations,” Jones
said. ”We’re working to be the best. We’re working to be No. 1
every day. We’re working to be national champions, and we’re
working to be SEC champions. This program has done it, and we’ll do
Hart said at the start of the search that head coaching
experience was ”critically important” and that he wanted a coach
who ”knows the difficulty of climbing the ladder in the SEC.”
Jones lacks SEC experience, but his teams have earned at least a
share of a conference title in four of his six seasons as a head
”Les Miles and Nick Saban had zero SEC experience when they
came into this league,” Jones said.
After replacing Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly at Central Michigan
and then again at Cincinnati, Jones maintained the momentum his
predecessor had established at each school.
In Jones’ three-year stint at Central Michigan, the Chippewas
won two Mid-American Conference championships. Jones went 4-8 in
his first year at Cincinnati, but the Bearcats are 19-6 since and
have tied for first place in the Big East each of the last two
seasons. Cincinnati’s 2011 season included a 45-23 loss at
Jones, the third consecutive Cincinnati coach to leave after
three years, signed a contract extension after the 2011 season that
included a $1.4 million buyout if he left before Jan. 1. Mark
Dantonio went 18-17 at Cincinnati from 2004-06 before Michigan
State hired him away. Kelly posted a 34-6 record before leaving for
Cincinnati has made defensive line coach Steve Stripling its
interim head coach for the Dec. 27 Belk Bowl against Duke in
Charlotte, N.C., while it begins searching for Jones’
”Obviously we’d like to find somebody who would be committed
here for a long time, and I think we’re prepared to make those
investments necessary to do that,” Babcock said.
Now that he’s left Cincinnati for Tennessee, Jones has plenty of
He must restore a sense of order to a program that has lacked
stability amid all these coaching changes. He also must win over a
fan base that sought a bigger name and doesn’t know much about him
beyond the fact his Bearcats couldn’t beat Dooley’s Vols a year
”You don’t move backward,” Hart said. ”You move forward. I
think that’s what we have to do now as a fan base. Our alumni, our
fan base, we’ve got to come back together as one. We’ve got to come
back together and get Tennessee football back where we all want
Hart believes he’s found the guy to get Tennessee there, even if
he wasn’t the Vols’ first pick.
AP Sports Writers Joe Kay in Cincinnati, Larry Lage in Ann
Arbor, Mich., and Teresa Walker in Nashville, contributed to this