Breathe deep, Knoxville. If Butch Jones should accept a reported offer to take over as Tennessee’s new head football coach, the sun will still come up tomorrow. More importantly, the Volunteers should win some football games — and that’s meant without any snark, given the significance placed on winning on Rocky Top.
Speculation Jones is athletic director Dave Hart’s target intensified with news UC is holding a mandatory players’ meeting bright and early Friday morning. FootballScoop.com originally reported Tennessee made Jones an offer not long before the players’ meeting was publicized.
Nothing is set in stone as of this writing. The aforementioned site reporting a deal is out there has missed before this coaching carousel season. Furthermore, Jones’ departure from Cincinnati was already reported once. Woody Paige tweeted Jones had accepted an offer from Colorado on Wednesday.
Butch Jones accepts CU head coaching job.
— Woody Paige (@woodypaige) December 5, 2012
Until Jones is seated on a dais with Hart and UT president Joe DiPietro signing “Rocky Top,” it’s safe to take most reports with skepticism. Vol fans on Twitter seem to hope Jones stays with the Bearcats.
If he does remain with UC, Jones will pursue his third consecutive Big East championship. The share of the league title Cincinnati claimed this season was the third conference championship a Jones-coached team won in the last four seasons. Other coaches with as many conference titles over the same duration are Chip Kelly, Gary Patterson, Chris Petersen and Bret Bielema.
Another current head coach with whom Jones compares is Brian Kelly. Jones’ career arc has had a trajectory oddly mirroring that of Kelly, first succeeding the latter at Central Michigan and again at Cincinnati. Kelly left UC after winning a second straight Big East championship to accept the challenge of restoring a once-proud program’s glory.
Sound familiar? Jones and Kelly are obviously different coaches, and bringing Tennessee to the verge of a BCS championship in three seasons as Kelly’s done at Notre Dame is a tall order. But Vol fans have to appreciate the precedent.
Jones has credentials far more impressive than Derek Dooley’s when Tennessee named Dooley its 23rd hour replacement for Lane Kiffin in 2010. Jones has won as many conference championships as Dooley had total seasons to his credit. Dooley also had just one winning campaign in his three at Louisiana Tech, a 7-5 regular season with a bowl defeat of 6-6 Northern Illinois. That was sandwiched between 5-7 and 4-8. By contrast, Jones has just one losing season in his six as a head coach.
Dooley he ain’t. But the comparisons will come, largely because Cincinnati suffered a 45-23 loss to Dooley’s Vols in 2011. Tennessee has had no shortage of talent in Dooley’s three, sub-.500 seasons as head coach. On that September Saturday, the Vols’ talent advantage was evident — specifically, the stellar play of quarterback Tyler Bray. I am on the record on this very blog contending the 2011 Vols would have fared much better had Bray never been injured. The UC game is more indicative of missed chances for that team than an indictment of Jones’ otherwise impressive resume.
UT had a great defense in 2011, but lacked offensive punch. The opposite was true in 2012. The inability to tie all the pieces together was Dooley’s undoing. Three of Jones’ last four defenses — each of his conference championship winning teams — ranked in the top 20 for points allowed. The offenses in those same years ranked Nos. 13, 26 and 47.
Quarterbacks Dan LeFevour and Zach Collaros both flourished playing under Jones. Should Tyler Bray return for his senior season, Jones would have a sturdy pillar on which to build.
Should the reports come to fruition and Jones is named the new Tennessee head coach, the world isn’t ending. Quite the opposite; things are just starting.