The New Kids on the Block: Butch Jones

Jonathan Ernst

This is part two of a series of brief articles about some of the new head coaches in the SEC. This week’s edition brings us the new coach at Tennessee: Butch Jones.

He that lives upon hope will die fasting.

- Benjamin Franklin

BACKGROUND

Butch Jones played running back and wide receiver for the Division II Ferris State Bulldogs. http://www.wbir.com/news/article/244740/2/Cincinnati-sports-director-answers-who-is-Butch-Jones. He interned with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while a college senior, then took a job as a defensive graduate assistant at Rutgers in 1990 and 1991. From 1992-1994, he was the offensive coordinator at the Division III Wilkes University Colonels. From 1995-1997, he was the offensive coordinator at his alma mater, and then became the tight ends coach at Central Michigan University in 1998. He switched over to coach running backs from 1999-2001, and took over OC duties there from 2002-2004.

Coach Jones left CMU to coach wide receivers at West Virginia in 2005-2006, then returned to become Central Michigan's head man when Brian Kelly left to go to Cincinnati after leading the Chippewas to a 10-4 MAC Championship season and a win over Middle Tennessee State in the Motor City Bowl. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butch_Jones

2007

In Coach Jones's first year, CMU went 8-6 (7-1) while winning the MAC, including a 30-point loss to the FCS North Dakota State Bison (who also beat Minnesota that year), and a 48-51 loss to Purdue in the Motor City Bowl (which was a rematch of a 22-45 regular-season loss in West Lafayette - but, rematches are bad!) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Central_Michigan_Chippewas_football_team

CMU finished 2007 ranked #69 in the S&P+ rankings (#39 offensive, #103 defensive), and #83 in the Fremeau Efficiency Index (#41 offensive, #115 defensive), for a composite F+ ranking of #83 (#42 offensive, #113 defensive). As always, all advanced stats come from http://www.footballoutsiders.com. Offensively, CMU scored 34.8 points per game, passed the ball 52% of the time for 6.71 yards per attempt, ran it for 4.86 yards per carry, and averaged 5.82 yards per play. On the other side of the ball, they allowed 36.9 points per game, 4.01 yards per carry, 7.87 yards per pass attempt, and 5.93 yards per play. http://www.cfbstats.com/2007/team/129/index.html

2008

In his sophomore coaching season, Coach Jones's CMU Chippewas went 8-5 (6-2), with a loss to FAU in the Motor City Bowl. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Central_Michigan_Chippewas_football_team

They finished the season again ranked #69 in the S&P+ (#49 offensive, #94 defense), #63 in the FEI (#15 offense, #109 defense), and #65 in the combined F+ (#30 offense, #105 defense). Offensively, Central Michigan scored 29.5 points per game, ran the ball 50% of the time for 3.59 yards per carry, passed for 7.85 yards per attempt, for 5.71 yards per offensive play. Defensively, they allowed 30.2 points per game, allowed 4.15 yards per carry, 7.86 yards per pass attempt, and 6.10 yards per play. http://www.cfbstats.com/2008/team/129/index.html

2009

This was Butch Jones's breakout year, as he lead CMU to an 11-2 (8-0) regular season, including the MAC Championship and a win over Michigan State in East Lansing, with their only losses coming to Arizona and Boston College, both on the road. Coach Jones left before the bowl game, again following Brian Kelly - this time to Cincinnati. After the GMAC bowl win over Troy, CMU was ranked #23 in the AP and #24 in the Coaches poll. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_Central_Michigan_Chippewas_football_team

The Chippewas finished the 2009 season ranked #30 in the S&P+ (#26 offensive, #43 defensive), #36 in the FEI (#35 offensive, #46 defensive), and #38 in the F+ (#26 offensive, #40 defensive). Offensively, they averaged 33.9 points per game, ran the ball 52% of the time for 4.55 yards per carry, passed for 7.48 yards per attempt, and averaged 5.96 yards per play overall. Defensively, they allowed 18.9 points per game (a marked improvement), 3.66 yards per carry, 6.61 yards per pass attempt, and 5.13 yards per play. http://www.cfbstats.com/2009/team/129/index.html

2010

At Cincinnati, Kelly went 10-3 (2007), 11-3 (2008), and 12-0 (2009 - remember, he bailed on the Bearcats before their proselytization at the hands of Tim Tebow in the Sugar Bowl). Jones followed this up by going 4-8 (2-5), including a 2-point loss to Oklahoma. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Cincinnati_Bearcats_football_team

The Bearcats finished 2010 ranked #50 in the S&P+ (#30 offensive, #71 defensive), #54 in the FEI (#52 offensive, #70 defensive), and #52 in the F+ combined rankings (#35 offensive, #73 defensive). Offensively, Cincinnati scored 27.1 points per game, passed the ball 52% of the time for 7.19 yards per pass attempt, rushed for 4.68 yards per carry, averaging 5.98 yards per play. Defensively, they allowed 28.0 points per game, 3.49 yards per carry, 7.59 yards per pass attempt, and 5.31 yards per play overall. http://www.cfbstats.com/2010/team/140/index.html

2011

Jones took a huge step (I was going to say Great Leap Forward, but that one's taken) in 2011, leading Cincinnati to a #24 ranking in the Coaches poll after finishing 10-3 (5-2), and were co-champions of the Big East with West Virginia (who beat them) and Louisville (whom they beat). The Bearcats also had losses to Tennesse and Rutgers, and a win over Vandy in the Liberty Bowl. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Cincinnati_Bearcats_football_team

They finished the season ranked #42 in the S&P+ rankings (#29 offensive, #54 defensive), #23 in the FEI (#25 offensive, #30 defensive), and #23 in the F+ (#25 offensive, #42 defensive). Offensively, they scored 33.3 points per game, ran the ball 56% of the time for 4.64 yards per carry, averaged 6.89 yards per pass attempt, and 5.63 yards per play. Defensively, they allowed 20.3 points per game, a stingy 2.71 yards per carry, 7.03 yards per pass attempt, and 4.93 yards per play. http://www.cfbstats.com/2011/team/140/index.html

2012

Jones kept Cincy rolling in 2012, leading them to a 9-3 regular season before again leaving for a new head coaching position prior to his team's bowl game. (Interesting Fact: Steve Stripling won both of those bowl games as interim head coach before following Coach Jones to his new team.) The Bearcats were Big East co-champs with Louisville (who beat them)... and Rutgers (who beat them)... and Syracuse (whom they beat). They also had a loss to Toledo and a win over Virginia Tech. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Cincinnati_Bearcats_football_team

Cincinnati finished 2012 ranked #49 in the S&P+ (#49 offensive, #68 defensive), #20 in the FEI (#27 offensive, #13 defensive), and #26 in the F+ (#35 offensive, #29 defensive). (How weird do those disparate S&P+ and FEI numbers look?) Offensively, they averaged 32.3 points per game, ran the ball 57% of the time for 5.32 yards per carry, passed for 8.37 yards per attempt, and gained 6.63 yards per play overall. Defensively, they allowed 18.5 points per game, 3.84 yards per carry, 6.59 yards per pass attempt, and 5.27 yards per play. http://www.cfbstats.com/2012/team/140/index.html

ANALYSIS

Tennessee really needed a home run hire to keep up in the SEC arms race, and I think most fans would agree that this probably wasn't it. It is certainly possible that he follows in the footsteps of Jim Tressel, or Urban Meyer, or Brian Kelly (again) in moving from the mid-majors (sorry Cincinnati) to succeed on the biggest of stages. If I were a Tennessee fan looking for some factual basis to underlie my optimism, I would probably point to a progressively increasing commitment to the running game over the course of his career, as well as the fact that he won at least a share of a conference championship in four of his six seasons as a head coach, which is admittedly pretty impressive. To be fair, though, literally half of the Big East won a share of the conference championship last year.

Tennessee isn't going to survive on in-state talent, however, and I don't see much reason to believe that this Michigander with coaching experience in New Jersey (Rutgers), Pennsylvania (Wilkes), Michigan (Ferris, CMU), West Virginia (WVU) and Ohio (Cincy), and very little obvious direct NFL connections is going to recruit against the NFL factories in the SEC. (As a completely irrelevant side note, when you meet someone from Michigan, hold up your right hand, palm towards them, point to said palm, and ask them where in Michigan they're from - Yoopers apparently aren't really from Michigan.)

He takes over a reeling school that is coming off back to back to back losing seasons (6-7 in 2010, 5-7 in 2011, 5-7 in 2012), over which span they have won a total of five conference games: Ole Miss, Vandy and Kentucky in 2010, Vandy in 2011, Kentucky in 2013. The future is bleak, and I, for one, will be very surprised if Butch Jones is the man to turn it around. From my perspective, they didn't get the coach they wanted - they got the coach they could afford, and the one who would actually agree to come. I believe they're hoping for the best on Rocky Top, but are realistically expecting a respectable caretaker to save face and be honorably mediocre while the University gradually shakes loose the albatross of buyouts.

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