The school has tabbed 44-year-old Butch Jones to replace recently-fired Derek Dooley as the Volunteers’ 23rd head coach. Jones will leave Cincinnati after a three-year run in which he led the Bearcats to a 23-14 record, including tying for two Big East championships.
Hiring Jones concludes an exhaustive search that reportedly began with Tennessee trying to lure former NFL head coach and current television analyst Jon Gruden and also included interviews with Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Louisville’s Charlie Strong. North Carolina’s Larry Fedora was also reportedly in the mix.
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Jones took over for 2012 National Coach of the Year Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) in stints at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati, posting a 50-27 career record. Now, he’s afforded an opportunity to build his own program in the Southeastern Conference.
“I would like to thank Butch Jones for his time at the University of Cincinnati,” athletic director Whit Babcock said in a news release. “With that said, we are excited about the future of this program and this job will be extremely attractive nationally. Our search will begin immediately.”
Jones takes over at Tennessee during one of the program’s least successful periods in its history, becoming the program’s fourth coach in the past six seasons.
Dooley was just 15-21 overall and 4-19 in the Southeastern Conference in three seasons. He followed Lane Kiffin, who left after a modest 7-6 season in 2009 to take over at Southern California. The Volunteers lost their bowl game under Kiffin to Virginia Tech, 37-14.
Tennessee was once a fixture on the national stage, notably during the Peyton Manning years from 1994-97, and the following season after he graduated the Vols won the BCS national championship. But they haven’t played in a BCS bowl since 2000, reaching just two Cotton Bowls in that span. In fact, Tennessee is only 3-7 in its last 10 bowl appearances, which includes an 0-4 record versus neighboring ACC teams.
Jones will have little grace period at Tennessee, which doesn’t take long to fire its coaches, no matter how successful they were.
In Phil Fulmer’s last six seasons, concluding in 2008, he won 10 games three times and nine games once but he was let go anyway. Fulmer was inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame earlier this week.
Legendary coach Johnny Majors was also let go after a short down period. In Majors’ final six seasons at the helm, Tennessee won 11 games, 10 and nine three times back when teams played 11-game regular season schedules and there were no league title games to pad the win totals. He was let go during that final nine-win campaign.
Jones goes to Knoxville with little experience coaching at a BCS program, although the Bearcats do play in a BCS conference. In fact, Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium has a seating capacity of 35,000, one-third the capacity of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium.
He spent some time at Rutgers in the 1990s and in 2005-06 was an assistant at West Virginia. As a head coach, Jones led Central Michigan to a 27-13 mark and two Mid-American Conference championships before taking over at Cincinnati.
Jones declined an offer earlier this week by Colorado, although some media outlets reported he had agreed to become the Buffaloes’ new head coach. Jones also interviewed at Purdue. He reportedly has a $1.4 million buyout with Cincinnati. No figures have been released regarding Jones’ new contract, but he reportedly made $1.77 million this past season at Cincinnati.
According to Cincinnati.com, Jones informed Babcock at 5 a.m. Friday morning he was taking the Tennessee job, and later in the morning met with his team, which will play Duke in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27.
It isn’t yet known whether or not Jones will coach the Bearcats in that game. He did not coach Central Michigan in the GMAC Bowl in 2009 after taking the Cincinnati job.
Jones, who grew up in Saugatuck, Mich., has coached a game in Neyland Stadium before, as his team was beaten by the Volunteers there last season, 45-23.