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Does Tennessee get a passing grade for hiring Butch Jones?
After an extended coaching search, Tennessee has finally found its man. Butch Jones was picked as the Volunteers’ next coach, replacing Derek Dooley after an ineffective three-year run in Knoxville. Jones isn’t a big name or flashy hire, but Tennessee is getting a solid coach that should return to the program to bowl games.
Here’s a deeper look at Jones and the positives and negatives surrounding his hire:
A Proven Winner
Although Jones has yet to build a program from scratch, his resume is rock solid. Jones is 50-27 in six seasons as a head coach, which also includes five bowl trips. Even if Brian Kelly helped to set the table for Jones’ success at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, it’s not easy getting to 50 victories based on someone else’s recruits. After going 4-8 in his first season with Cincinnati, Jones did a tremendous job getting the program back on track, recording a 19-6 mark over the last two years.
Tennessee is a Destination Job for Jones
Considering Jones is only 44 years old, he’s got plenty of energy and is ready to build something special at Tennessee. Leaving Cincinnati was not an easy decision for Jones but moving to Tennessee and a conference (SEC) with more stability was the right call. Even though his resume may not indicate this, the Michigan native is the type of coach who wants to set down roots in an area and build a program. As long as Jones is successful, he won’t be looking to bolt Knoxville anytime soon.
Even though Jones spent just three years at Cincinnati, his time in the Buckeye State should help Tennessee on the recruiting trail. The Volunteers have to be able to recruit nationally, especially since the state of Tennessee doesn’t produce a ton of elite talent. Having a coach with ties in Ohio can only help on the recruiting trail. In addition to his Ohio ties, Jones did a good job of recruiting the state of Florida and Memphis while at Cincinnati, which should work even better at Tennessee.
No SEC Experience
This factor is probably overrated in coaching searches, but it will take some time for Jones to adjust to life in the SEC. James Franklin has been a successful hire at Vanderbilt and had no SEC head coaching experience before joining the Commodores. Arkansas recently hired Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin, and the former Badger coach has no SEC experience either. This is not a huge concern, but Jones will have an adjustment period and needs to find some assistants with SEC ties.
Building a Program
Although Jones’ resume is solid, there’s a concern he has yet to build a program like Charlie Strong did at Louisville. Jones followed Brian Kelly at Central Michigan and went 27-13, recording two MAC Championships and three bowl appearances. After three years with the Chippewas, Jones took over for Kelly at Cincinnati and went 23-14 with two bowl trips. The Bearcats were 4-8 in his first season but rebounded to a 19-6 mark over the last two years. The good news for Jones and his staff? Tennessee isn’t a huge rebuilding job. However, the program does need some work, which means this is the toughest coaching job Jones will have so far in his career.
Jones wasn’t the first choice of Tennessee
Satisfying a fanbase in the SEC is never an easy task, and Jones already has some ground to cover. Tennessee reportedly made a run at Jon Gruden, Charlie Strong and Mike Gundy and was turned down by each coach. If that’s the case, Jones was likely the No. 4 or maybe even the No. 5 man on athletic director Dave Hart’s list. While it’s not really a big deal for Tennessee to miss on its No. 1 target, the fanbase wanted a bigger name. One thing for the Volunteer fanbase to keep in mind – Jim Mora probably wasn’t the first choice at UCLA and that hire turned out pretty well. Jones will do just fine at Tennessee, but considering the lack of success by the program in recent years, the fanbase wants to win and win now. Basically, there’s no grace period for Jones as he adjusts to life in the SEC.
Final Analysis and Grade
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: Butch Jones is no Nick Saban. However, he’s also not Derek Dooley either. Considering his success at two different stops, Jones is better prepared for this opportunity at Tennessee. Can he win national championships? That’s the big question. Hiring a good staff will also be crucial, especially assistants that have ties in the SEC. The Volunteers have good facilities and a stable conference, which Jones should be able to use to recruit at a higher level than he did at Cincinnati. Depending on what Tennessee’s trio – quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson – does in regards to the NFL Draft, the Volunteers have a chance to push for at least eight wins in 2013. Even though Jones may not have been the first choice at Tennessee, he’s a solid hire and should win a lot of games in Knoxville.
Final Grade: B
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