Vols select Jones to replace Dooley
Ex-cincinnati coach spurns Manning’s job sell on Colorado.
KNOXVILLE, TENN. — Butch Jones was pondering whether to leave Cincinnati this week to coach Colorado when he received a text message that inadvertently foreshadowed his eventual destination.
It was from Denver Broncos quarterback and Tennessee great Peyton Manning.
“He was selling me on Colorado,” Jones said. “He said it was hard for a person from the University of Tennessee to be selling somebody to come to the University of Colorado. I wanted to text him back, ‘Come on, I want to go to Tennessee.’”
That’s exactly where Jones ended up.
Tennessee introduced Jones on Friday as its successor to Derek Dooley, who was fired Nov. 18 after going 15-21 in three seasons. Jones called Tennessee his dream job and said he was taking over “the best college football program in America.”
It hardly mattered to Jones that he wasn’t Tennessee’s first choice.
“I think I was my wife’s third choice, and it’s worked for 20 years,” Jones said.
The 44-year-old Jones has a 50-27 record in six seasons as a head coach. He went 27-13 in three seasons at Central Michigan and was 23-14 at Cincin- nati the last three years. He now faces the task of rebuilding a former Southeastern Conference power that has posted three consecutive losing seasons.
Jones agreed to a sixyear contract worth $18.2 million, ending a tumultuous couple of days for both himself and his new school. Colorado had offered him a five-year deal worth at least $13.5 million.
Tennessee went after at least two other candidates during the 19-day search to replace Dooley before hiring Jones: ESPN analyst and former Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden (not interested), and Charlie Strong (staying at Louisville).
“Rarely in life is anything exactly what it seems to be,” Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said. “Life doesn’t throw us all fastballs. It throws us curves, and then you’ve got some screwballs. ... You’ve got to be able to adjust.”
Jones’ hiring means each of the four SEC teams that fired coaches this year has filled its vacancy.
Kentucky hired Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops; Arkansas hired Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin; and Auburn selected Arkansas State’s Gus Malzahn. The Wildcats quarterback threw for 2,490 yards and 15 touchdowns, plus rushed for 890 yards and 22 touchdowns while leading Kansas State — picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big 12 — to a share of the conference title and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
Klein has a strong two-year body of work, can impress voters with his grit and plays for a well-respected and liked coach.
Lost an important game after assuming the Heisman favorite’s role. The redshirt freshman QB was the SEC’s offensive player of the year, won the Davey O’Brien Award and led A&M to a 10-2 record and a Cotton Bowl berth in its first SEC season. His 4,600 total yards broke the SEC’s single-season mark held by Auburn’s Cam Newton — who set it in his Heisman Trophy year. Everyone loves a Cinderella, and he fits the bill. Plus, there’s the cool nickname. And, of course, that huge win over ’Bama.
No freshman has ever won. Plus two big SEC losses at home (Florida, LSU). The senior linebacker is the best player on the country’s No. 1-ranked team, won the Lombardi, Bednarik, Walter Camp and Maxwell awards and led Notre Dame to the BCS national championship game with his seven-INT, 101-tackle season.
Who doesn’t love his story or his production? Of the finalists, he’s got the best chance at being the better pro.
No true defensive player has ever won (Michigan’s Charles Woodson was a cornerback, but also played receiver).