Now that the dust has fully settled in Knoxville in regards to the Butch Jones hire, keyboard cowboys (such as myself) are lining up in droves to offer their two cents on the hire. UT fans can pick their poison and choose to look at this through a lens of "glass half full" or "glass half empty". One of the consistent "glass half empty" narratives has been the following:
Butch Jones has followed Brian Kelly at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati. He can win with Kelly's players, but he can't win with his own guys. He has ridden the coattails of Kelly at both stops.
Have there been instances in the past where this has happened? Sure. Bill Callahan clearly won with Jon Gruden's players and system in Oakland, and the lack of changes made from Gruden's tenure is what helped get the Raiders thrashed by Gruden's Bucs in Super Bowl XXXVII (couldn't resist a Gruden reference). However, in the case of Kelly to Jones, you have to dig a little deeper to find the truth.
Brian Kelly was a very successful coach at Central Michigan which is what earned him the Cincinnati job. Nevertheless, Butch Jones was able to accomplish some things at CM that eluded Kelly. In '07 (Jones' first year at the helm), his Central Michigan Chippewas defeated (on the road) the rival Western Michigan Broncos by a score of 34-31. Although Kelly had defeated Western Michigan at home, he was unable to do so on the road in Kalamazoo at Waldo Stadium. In fact, the Butch Jones engineered win in '07 at Waldo Stadium was the Chippewas first taste of victory in that stadium since 1993. In '07, Jones became only the ninth coach to win the MAC title in his first season at the helm.
In Jones' third season leading Central Michigan, he led them to a very impressive 11-2 mark overall and 8-0 in MAC play. This was the first time in school history that Central Michigan had gone undefeated in the MAC. Take note, this was year three, not year one when the "riding coattails" argument may have had some validity. The more accurate assessment, in my opinion, is that Jones built upon the foundation created by Kelly, and Jones took the program to new heights. Jones raised the bar even higher, and he improved the program from year one to year three of his tenure.
The '09 Cincinnati Bearcats achieved greatness in Brian Kelly's final season leading the program. The team went 12-0 (7-0) Under BK which catapulted Kelly's coaching stock. One of the proudest programs in college football history then came knocking and whisked Kelly away to South Bend, IN. Kelly didn't coach his Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl, and they got boat raced by Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators by a final score of 51-24.
Enter Butch Jones in 2010, and the Bearcats tumbled back to reality with a 4-8 (2-5) season. This was good enough (or bad enough) for a 7th place finish in the Big East. On the surface, this looks bad, but I contend that Kelly, had he stayed in the Queen City, also would have experienced a slip in 2010 (The Notre Dame timing could not have been better). The 2010 Bearcats only returned 12 of 22 starters. With a little quick math, one can deduct that Jones had to replace 10 starters from the Sugar Bowl team. Couple that with a mid-season knee injury to QB Zach Callaros, and it's pretty easy to see that the Bearcats were in for a rude awakening whether Kelly, Jones or even Don Shula was roaming the sidelines.
I like to look at what Jones did in the following two years. How did he and his team react after such a disappointing 2010 campaign? The '11 Bearcats went 10-3 (5-2). That season even included a Liberty Bowl victory (31-24) over the best coach to ever blow a whistle, James Franklin, and his vaunted Commodores.
In 2012, Jones put the Bearcats in a position to match last year, as they are 9-3 going into the Belk Bowl. Of course, this is a bowl game that Jones won't coach as he is now focusing all of his energies in righting the ship in Knoxville.
So here's what we have in Jones: A Coach that has gone 50-27 in six seasons as a HC. In these six seasons he has won his conference four times. His teams have shown improvement season-to-season. Jones did not "ride the coattails" of Brian Kelly to achieve such solid results. Jones stood on his own two feet and led his teams to incredible heights along the way. Obviously, Jones is from the Brian Kelly Coaching Tree, but that's a good thing. Look at what Kelly has done at Notre Dame. It's been years since they have been relevant on the national stage, and now we're only a few short weeks away from the Irish locking horns with Alabama for all the marbles.
Butch Jones has an identity and specialty as a football coach: offensive genius. In the past few weeks, CBC Founder, Derek Lusk, and I have had some fun conversations about the Vols. During one such conversation, Derek quipped that there wouldn't be much difference between having Derek Dooley or a top level executive from a Fortune 500 company at the helm of a football program. Both Dooley and a successful executive are good at creating systems, organizing, etc. Neither have a "football specialty" or "identity". Jones has an identity. He's a dadgum football coach. It always seemed like Dooley was too above the fray to get down in the trenches with the players and even if he were to do so, would he know what to do once he got there? That question is one I don't believe Volunteer fans will ever have to wonder with Jones. If you've watched his YouTube clips or introductory press conference, it's obvious he's not worried about anything other than winning football games. Dooley seemed to always be worried about things that weren't meat and potatoes oriented.
In closing, did the Vols get their first choice? No. Did they get their second or third choice? No. What they got was a football coach with a very impressive resume. The Vols tried plucking a coach from the Nick Saban Coaching Tree in Derek Dooley, and it failed miserably. Looking back, it's obvious (17-20 coming into UT) that Dooley wasn't cut out for the job. He flourished as an assistant under Saban, but he couldn't stand on his own two feet. Jones flourished as an assistant under Brian Kelly, but he has also shown he can stand on his own two feet.