He may not have been their first option or even among their Top 5, but the University of Tennessee made the right choice when they hired Cincinnati Bearcats coach Butch Jones as the 23rd head coach in the history of Tennessee football.
When Derek Dooley was fired on November 18th, immediate speculation surrounded Monday Night Football host Jon Gruden as the favorite replacement. While Vols fans constantly refreshed Twitter and message boards for any news linking Gruden to Tennessee, many outsiders never thought it was a remote possibility. It turns out they were right, after a few short weeks Gruden informed Tennessee Athletic Director Dave Hart he was not interested in the job. Hart and the Volunteer faithful immediately turned their attention towards two names. Louisville coach Charlie Strong and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. Gundy invited Dave Hart to his home, but it turned out to just be leverage to help Gundy get a raise from Oklahoma State. The attention turned to Strong and North Carolina coach Larry Fedora. It appeared as if the Volunteers had their man when they offered Strong and he became interested in the program. Strong had ties to the SEC from his days as a defensive coordinator at Florida, and this would give him the opportunity to coach an SEC team. Unfortunately for Tennessee, Louisville wasn’t willing to let Strong go without a fight. Louisville approached their coach with a new extension earlier this week, and Strong accepted. Now with Gundy and Strong out of the picture, Vols fans last hope relied upon Larry Fedora, but that hope didn’t last long. We quickly learned that Fedora said no to the UT Athletic Department and was committed to UNC. After nearly a month of high profile coaches saying no to a SEC program, doubt quickly swept over Volunteers Nation.
Tennessee quickly became the talking point on sports radio and the joke of SEC fans, as everyone wondered if they would ever find someone to say yes. We finally found out on Friday when Butch Jones accepted Tennessee’s offer to become the football coach. Jones wasn’t well known by fans in Tennessee. He has never coached in the SEC and wasn’t regarded as one of the hot names. He was previously linked to Colorado, but declined their offer earlier in the week. While some Volunteers fans questioned the hire, insiders and football writers raved about Jones. In 6 seasons as a head coach, Jones has a combined 50-27 record. Jones began his head coaching career with the Central Michigan Chippewas where he went 23-14. After three seasons of success, Jones was hired to replace Brian Kelly at Cincinnati. After a disappointing 4-8 season in 2010, Butch Jones and the Bearcats quickly turned things around going 19-6 the past two seasons.
While some will still question if Butch Jones is the right choice, I believe Tennessee just found a diamond in the rough. Jones has shown an ability to win no matter where he goes. He doesn’t have any experience in the SEC, but the same was said before Mark Richt joined Georgia or Nick Saban with LSU. While I don’t want to compare Jones to them, it just shows that experience is sometimes overrated. Jones has slowly began to assemble his staff, bringing Cincinnati offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian will have the same role at Tennessee while defensive coordinator John Jancek will follow Jones to UT, his role is still not determined. Butch Jones will need a great staff to recruit in the SEC, but recruits and players will be drawn towards his persona. Jones admitted he is a “players coach” as evident by Cincinnati players cheering for him when they learned of his new job. This is not Derek Dooley 2.0, Butch Jones will be a difference maker. He wasn’t their first choice, but Butch Jones was the right choice for the Tennessee Volunteers.
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