By Frank Gale
The Big Orange finally got a leader for their football program last Friday. After shooting for the stars, the Vols ended up with a good coach despite a search that, at times, left a lot to be desired. Hopefully, we have seen the last of football coaching searches for a while. I sure hope that future searches will be conducted just a little bit differently. Anyhow, Lyle Allen “Butch” Jones is the man tapped to lead the Vols out of the football wilderness they have found themselves in.
By now, most know that Jones has been successful at each of his previous two head coaching stops, Central Michigan University of the MAC and, most recently, at Cincinnati from the Big East Conference. He has won conference titles in four of the last six years (two at each of his previous schools). Of course, it didn’t hurt that he followed current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly at each of his previous stops. More on that later.
Coach Jones will be bringing the majority of his coaching staff with him from Cincinnati and at the present time has only retained former Vol Jay Graham from the previous staff. The last opening on the staff will be filled by someone other than former Vol quarterback Tee Martin, who will be staying in sunny Southern California to remain on former coach Lane ‘I’m hanging on by a thread’ Kiffin’s staff.
Coach Jones is certainly the polar opposite of the previous two football head coaches we have seen on Rocky Top. He has been extremely upbeat and very animated in his public appearances since his arrival a week ago. No longer will our orange clad warriors take the field without being completely hyped on game day. Call me crazy, but that attitude could have translated into a few more victories these past few years.
It has been stated that Coach Jones won and had success with someone else’s recruits (Kelly’s). Vol fans should hope that is right because, for the immediate future, he is going to have to win with Dooley and Kiffen’s recruits.
Coach Jones certainly will have a great opportunity to land highly rated recruits with his personality and the great facilities at UT. While he was head coach at Cincinnati, Jones recruited the state of Florida very well. There are eight players currently on the Bearcat roster that arrived under his tenure. He got them to go to Cincinnati. That alone is a reason to believe this man can recruit.
Coach Jones had a 27-13 record at Central Michigan, while Coach Kelly left with a 19-16 record before heading to Cincinnati. The record of Coach Jones’ replacement is but a mere 12-24. That either speaks highly to his coaching players to over achieve or questionable recruiting. Only time will tell. One thing for sure, unlike the last occupant of the head football coach’s office at UT, he comes to Knoxville with a winning record for his head coaching career (50-27).
Butch Jones has a busy time ahead, recruiting, getting his staff up and running, plus getting acquainted with the team he inherits. It does help that he recruited about half of UT’s current players while they were in high school. Then there is the skeptical Vol Nation he must get on board for the upcoming season. No easy task after the past five years.
Luckily, Coach Jones will find one of the best fan bases in college football as he tries to resurrect the program. In the meantime, buckle up. It all starts for real in only 249 short days, but who is counting. Go Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)