A Bearcat on Rocky Top: Butch Jones becomes the next coach at Tennessee
Tennessee has hired its fourth head coach in six years: Cincinnati Bearcats skipper Butch Jones. The first official announcement was made in all caps early this morning on the official Tennessee football Twitter account, confirming our long-held suspicions that the sentient Sunsphere has taken over social media duties for the athletic department. The hire ends several weeks of alternating periods of eerie silence, rampant, irresponsible speculation and public dalliances with the likes of Mike Gundy, Charlie Strong and Larry Fedora.
We're wondering this morning what all the fuss with those other candidates was about, as this move was clearly prophesied in the Volunteers' unofficial fight song. If you haven't been following the Tennessee coaching search, you can watch this video of a bearcat demolishing a pumpkin to glean the general idea.
Also, his name is Butch, so the intangibles are all there.
Then again, perhaps we were all caught off guard because Jones wasn't replacing Brian Kelly this time. Jones took over from Kelly at Central Michigan in 2007 when Kelly departed for Cincinnati, and again at Cincinnati in 2010 when Kelly accepted his position at Notre Dame. In six seasons with the Chippewas and Bearcats, Jones amassed a 50-27 record, won two MAC championships and claimed two shares of Big East conference titles. His teams have been to five bowls, though, thanks to the timing of his departures, Jones will only have coached in three. Jones won the Big East's Coach of the Year award in 2011, the same season in which he notched his first bowl victory, over Vanderbilt in the Liberty. The 2012 Bearcats finished 9-3, entangled in that four-way 5-2 tie atop the Big East standings with Louisville, Rutgers and Syracuse, and will face Duke in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27.
On paper, at least, this makes him a more promising candidate than either Lane Kiffin (who came in with no college head-coaching experience) or Derek Dooley (who had a losing record at Louisiana Tech when he left and was sub-.5oo at Tennessee as well). But in looking to the immediate future of this latest new regime, we're more interested to see how Jones recruits to Tennessee. A wide-ranging recruiting net is necessary for a program in a state that doesn't produce a huge amount of FBS football talent. Cincinnati's current football roster lists four underclassmen from Georgia, and about a dozen from Florida.
Jones' future choice as the Vols' defensive coordinator is another looming matter. Jones was an offensive assistant his entire collegiate coaching career before making the jump to the head-coaching ranks, and the Volunteers' top-20 offense of 2012 was overshadowed for most of the season by a defense that ranked in the bottom 20 nationally. Tennessee yielded an average of more than 470 yards per game, and the 2013 hire will mark the program's fifth different defensive coordinator in six seasons. Per Bruce Feldman, Jones has agreed to a six-year, $18 million deal. He'll be formally introduced this afternoon at a 2:30 p.m. press conference in Neyland Stadium.