Coaching Candidate: Butch Jones ~ He Follows Brian Kelly Everywhere; His Price is Fancy!

Submitted by alum96 on September 29th, 2014 at 1:45 AM


I've been looking at quite a few candidates for 2015 HC the past few weeks as it had become increasingly clear the Hoke is not the answer; something I think the masses have finally agreed upon after Saturday.   I will post a few profiles this week in diaries on what I have found on candidates outside the normal cabal regurgitated over and over.  These profiles are at a 'superficial' level and how many I post are depending on time - it is one thing to read up on someone but another to distill the information back out in a cogent form.  Some candidates I have done a ton of work on - some I have done less on.  All are current head coaches as I don't believe we can take a chance on someone who does not have HC experience at the NCAA level unless their name is John Harbaugh.

Normal caveats apply:

  • I am not an AD nor do I have a full time staff to focus on one of of the most important decisions over the next decade.   These are superficial reports based on raw data.  If  I were an AD I'd be doing a lot of on the ground work on each of these people's backgrounds starting from their playing days on forward  to every coaching stop. 
  • Past results do not guarantee a damn thing.  But that is all we can go on.
  • These are not necessarily my top candidates (read: Jim Harbaugh) but people we could get and are interesting and not "Sumlin, Shaw, Gundy redux"
  • I believe an elite level coach gets results within 2-3 years, by results I don't mean 11-2 but improving a bad program or maintaining a good program
  • W/L record is not the be all and end all - what Gary Barnett did for Northwestern is more impressive than what a lot of coaches have done at USC or Bama or Texas over the years.  Spurrier went and won at Duke for example early in his career.  Or just see John Beilein.
  • Adjust everything for conference, level of competition, and ability to get recruits
  • I don't care about systems - a good coach will coach up players.  It's about the Jimmy and Joes not the X's and O's.


Next candidate.... Butch Jones, age: 46

Summary:  Butch Jones is a native of Michigan who I am hesitant to throw out there for 1 reason (well 2 - see end of piece).  There is some serious "Michigan arrogance" to think we can just take him from Tennessee. There are VERY few cases of a top 10-15 all time blue blood program swooping in to take a coach from another top 10-15 all time blue blood program.  See thread titled "List of Coaches who Jumped one Top Tier Big 5 Team to Another".  Now unlike Sumlin, Shaw, or Gundy who all run top 10ish type of program doused in success the past half decade, Tennessee is basically the Michigan of Tennessee.  A once great program who lost its way after a very good - but often unappreciated - coach was urged towards the door.  Jones has a lot of roots in Michigan but realistically if he turned Tennessee around he'd be in the best conference in the country, in the "easier" division, at a place football is religion, at a program steeped with history, with a stadium seating 100K+, with access to the same recruits UM can get to, and potentially better as going from Florida or Louisaiana to Tennessee is an easier sell than Michigan.  So other than a "sh** load of money" (more on that later) and more all time wins, I don't know why he leaves one reclamation project he'd be 2 years into to go to another.  Unless he loves S&M.  But since his name will come up a lot let's still take a close look at him.

Jones is in year 2 of the same situation RR/Hoke have been dealing with.  TN basically made the hire of Jones at the same time in his respective career path at Brian Kelly went to ND - in fact they both coached at the same 2 schools (3 year stints each) right after each other - CMU + Cincy.  They both were plucked out of Cincy to their blue blood program.  So if UM WERE interested in Jones and Jones reciprocated you'd at least have 2 more years of FBS level data points on Jones than ND had when they hired Kelly. 

Upside for Jones is he turns Tennessee around and becomes the next Sumlin type candidate - a hot up and coming coach with success everywhere including a major turnaround at a blueblood.  At that point youd think TN gives him one of those 7 year contracts (hire Weiss' agent!) for Saban money.  Downside for Jones is a RR ending - not the right cultural fit, not the right success at blue blood despite great results earlier, etc.  Frankly if UM wanted him badly I think they'd need to go get him now (obviously) not just because there would be an opening here but it would be easier to get someone who was not a raging success at a SEC blueblood then someone who is average at a SEC blueblood.  But it won't be easy in any regard due to his salary.

Recent (10 years) coaching background

  • Between 1998-2004 was a variety of position coaches at CMU
  • 2005-2006: WR coach at WVU
  • 2007-2009:  HC at CMU
  • 2010-2012::  HC at Cincy
  • 2013-2014:  HC at Tenn

Analysis:  That's a legit coaching ascension for an up and comer career oriented coach.  Cut teeth at school #1, leave for 2 years, come back to first school to get first shot at HC, move up in world to Cincy, get big break to try to turn around tire fire at blueblood.  Tons of experience in the Big 10 footprint.  Now has some extra recruiting experience in at least the northern part of the south.



Caveat for results ----> (a) nothing exists in a vacuum (b) as a coordinator you can benefit or be penalized if your HC is good or bad or average (c) injuries or graduation can change your results dramatically in any 1 year.  This is the type of stuff you'd research as an AD staff on every potential candidate.

I will break down his results at 3 time frames - HC at CMU, HC at Cincy and HC at Tenn.

(1) HC at CMU

Jones and Brian Kelly are quite interconnected.  Jones followed Kelly both at this first HC job at CMU, and then 3 years later followed Kelly after he left Cincy.  I have not looked at the difference in their "systems" but if Jones just took an approach of don't break it if its not broken (which is the opposite of David Brandon's "If it's not broken, break it" - true story!) he should have done well because Brian Kelly was sort of a bad ass at these 2 schools. 

I always like to compare a coach - esp in year 2-3 to how he did versus the prior coach this allows for some wiggle room in year 1 (transition period).  A very good coach who takes over a successful blueprint should be able to replicate it pretty soon. (Harbaugh to Shaw for example).  So let's look at a chart of the 3 years of Jones at CMU following Brian Kelly's 2006.

(column 4 = total offense, column 5 = total defense)

    W/L O D
2006 BK 10-4 32 67
2007 BJ 8-6 21 109
2008 BJ 8-5 23 104
2009 BJ 12-2 24 43


A cursory glance shows a pretty steep dropoff in defense for 2 years under Jones relative to Kelly and then a return to form by year 3.  Again these are MAC level defenses where 2 key injuries can destroy these teams as they lack depth.  We can see Jones offenses were in line with BK's offenses.

Year 3 of a regime in my mind is where elite coaches really make their mark by either posting very good records (Tressel and Kelly had their teams in the NC games by then) or showing major potential by beating a few stalwarts (Harbaugh turned an 1-11 team into an entity that beat Pete Carroll's ass).  Obviously Jones had a great season.  Aside from the record what I have noticed is these up and coming coaches often have great offenses which via scheme they can find a way to rank top 25 in the nation but its almost impossible to defenses that rank in the top 50 nationally.  So 43 at a school like CMU (even adjusting for competition) is impressive. 

The 2 losses that year were in game 1 to eventual #23 Arizona (19-6) and mid season to a decent 8-5 Boston College 31-10, obviously both on the road.  That team beat Dantonio in East Lansing.  WOOOO!  They won the MAC at 8-0 and most of the conference games were quite comfortable. 


(2) HC at Cincy

In 2010 Brian Kelly headed to Notre Dame, and Butch Jones was tabbed to replace him - mimicking the situation at CMU.  Once again let's compare and contrast the (excellent) last season of BK with the 3 seasons of BJ.

    W/L O D
2009 BK 12-1 11 67
2010 BJ 4-8 32 63
2011 BJ 10-3 61 42
2012 BJ 10-3 36 54

2010 was obviously a difficult year (transition!) and heck maybe the cupboard was bare.  I'd have to research who graduated from that very good Cincy team and all but I'll leave that to the AD department who certainly always does its homework (drink). Now what is interesting is if you only look at the record you think, (wo)man Butch sucked.  But look at the total offense and total defense metrics - the defense was flat with 2009 and the offense was down some but having a top 30 offense nationally is still quite good.  It was a strange year - the team lost to eventual #6 Oklahoma by 2 points, and lost to 8-5 Syracuse by 24.  Whatever the case, the W-L was not good and some of the losses were by wide margins.  But we'll use our own excuses and say "first year!" "transition!" "installing a new system!" etc

2011 and 2012 were much better.  It is almost unfair to compare to the 2009 Cincy season because that was the best Bearcat season in history but as we see above Jones pulled back to back 10 win seasons and while the offense took a step back in 2011 it returned back to form in 2012, wile the defense held steady.  Again at a school like Cincy you are almsot never going to have a top 30 defense, so #42 and #54 are quite solid.

Losses in 2011 were @ a mediocre Derek Dooley's Tennessee (foreshadowing!) 45-23, a 24-21 loss to eventual #17 West Virginia, and 20-3 to future Big 10 powerhouse Rutgers who was actually good that year at 9-4 under Schiano.  Only TN could probably be considered a WTF loss.  The Big East was a shrinking dying conference at that point so the major in conference win was 7-6 Louisville and out of conference v 8-5 NC State.  Louisville, Cincy, and WVA all tied for conference champion at 5-2.

Likewise in 2012, the soon to be dead Big East had co-champions Rutgers, Louisville, and Cincy at 5-2 each.  Cincy's 3 losses included eventual #13 Louisville (Charlie Strong) 34-31 in OT, 10-3 to 9-4 Rutgers, and 28-23 to 9-4 Toledo.  None of these are WTF losses we are used to around here.  There were NOT that many impressive teams to beat on the schedule - wins included 7-6 VA Tech, 6-7 Pittsburgh, and 8-5 Syracuse.  So in a way the record was a bit decieving (to the upside) as the wins came versus the type of teams Hoke beat in 2011; down teams - but the total offense and total defense metrics held stready vs 2011 so it was still a good team that almos beat Louisville and never lost by more than 1 score all year.

Post 2012, Jones was offered jobs at Purdue and Colorado but chose Tennessee. 

(3) HC at Tennessee

Tennessee is a major rebuild of a blue blood.  2013 was a struggle as Jones took over a 5-7 (1-7) Derek Dooley squad and went 5-7 (2-6).  3 of those wins were baby seals.  Beating eventual #4 South Carolina was the only real highlight of the year.  BUT BUT BUT what I have raised as a concern with Hoke is an inability to beat a team UM on paper had no chance to beat.  This is something even in a horrid year, Butch Jones accomplished in year 1.

As for the losses - damn tough schedule... go to Oregon, got to Florida, play  Georgia, go to Missouri (which was very good last year), go to Alabama, play Auburn, play Vanderbilt.  To be blunt Tennessee SHOULD have lost every game in that murderer's row outside Vanderbilt and Florida.  And even that Vanderbilt (James Franklin!) was halfway decent at 9-4.  Just a brutal f**** schedule.

So we'll chalk that up to transition! new coordinators! new coaches! bare cupboard! etc

Move forward to early 2014, and Tenn has started 2-2.  2 wins very baby seals and 2 freaking difficult games: 34-10 loss at #4 Oklahoma and 35-32 loss to #12 Georgia.   I actually watched a large portion of the Georgia Tennessee game and it was fun, fast paced, 2 teams which looked "SEC like"... basically everything the opposite of Minnesota UM hours earlier. 

Looking ahead the schedule is not as brutal as last year - TN still has a crossover game with Alabama and Ole Miss (#11) but Vanderbilt and Missouri are more manageable this year and Florida still seems just "ok".  A 7-5 season should me manageable. 



Butch Jones is an interesting candidate.  If UM hired Jones 2 years ago (assuming there was an opening) it would have been akin to hiring Brian Kelly right out of Cincy.  I do think Kelly has had the better resume than Jones esp considering his work at Grand Valley but its not a huge gulf like Hoke v Kelly is.

Relative to Michigan all the concerns I listed at the top of this piece remain.  Do you try to swoop in on a 6-6 or 7-5 Tennessee coach who had success at Cincy and CMU and is a Michigan person?  Also, dude is very highly paid - nearly $5M per USA Today.  He was #4 in the country after Saban, Big Bert, and Mack Brown.  It doesn't make sense to pay someone of his calibar Nick Saban money.   This is not trying to swipe a guy from Louisville or Vanderbilt - this is the big leagues with big boy money. 

And he has to have interest in leaving a situation he might be turning around in the top conference in the country.   Jones is a coach to watch and see if he can pull a major upset maybe once this year from what appears to be an improving team and then take care of the 'easy wins'.  And if he does that, and Michigan wants him - it seems like the vault would need to be opened - and Tennessee has a large vault itself.  Tough to see a scenario with him leaving TN.



September 29th, 2014 at 10:40 AM ^

Clearly.  But Dan Mullen is nearly impossible to evaluate as a candidate because he faces either ridiculous teams (the top of the SEC West) or a lot of bad teams (the non conf and crossovers with teams like Tennessee). 

What Mullen does is

  • beat baby seals
  • often beat the bad teams in the crossovers from the SEC East, the team that finishes below MSU in the West, and or a good program when it is down (i.e. he has a win over 3-9 Auburn)
  • lose to the good teams

If you go through his wins year by year at MSU and write down all the names of the teams they beat you will be very unimpressed.  His best win in 5 years is one of the Florida teams that was 8-5.  It drops off quickly after that.   And I am not saying he should beat Texas A&M or Alabama or Auburn when Auburn is good... he is in a very difficult position and judging him on his win or losses doesnt tell you much.


September 29th, 2014 at 1:27 PM ^

Then look at how close the games are compared to what they should be by FPI. At Miss State he doesn't have the recruiting ability of Alabama, LSU or even Ole Miss. He is fighting for fourth in the West every year (which is why he is above the West team he beats) and he makes a good show every year even without the same tools that other teams have. 

Taking him would be like taking a successful MAC coach except we have seen him play 8+ powerconference games a year instead of 3. He doesn't always win but given his classes compared to the competition I would not expect him to. 


September 29th, 2014 at 1:51 PM ^

I would like someone that has HC experience. If you look at Baylor's DC (Phil Bennett) has never had the record that Mullen has at HC even though Mullen is in a harder conference. The OC guys never had a HC job as I recall. 


September 29th, 2014 at 10:06 AM ^

Of course not.  But there are plenty of VERY good college coaches in America.

  • When LSU pulled Saban out of MSU he didnt look like an elite coach.  He had 4 ho hum seasons at MSU followed by a 9-2. 
  • When OSU hired a "Brian Kelly at GVSU type" coach who never sniffed Div 1 no one up here batted an eye. 
  • Sumlin was something like 32-17 in Conference USA in his only other HC gig before A&M. 
  • Dantonio was freaking 18-17 at Cincinnati - Kelly and Jones both did way better. 
  • Charlie Strong was 37-15 in the Big East. 
  • Harbaugh had coached 3 years in something called the Pioneer Football league

I can go on and on. 

Urban Meyer was the rare candidate who did ridiculous things right away at Bowling Green and Utah, so to me was the only "slam dunk" candidate anywhere in the past 20 years in terms of winning BIG and winning IMMEDIATELY everywhere as he rose up the ranks.  Everyone else has plenty of warts. 

MSU AD said they had a 100 point checklist from which they vetted candidates for Dantonio.  How big of a list do you think Brandon has? 5?  You need to do a freaking amount of homework on any guy and it goes way beyond W/L and total offfense/total defense - every year needs to be broken down by who graduated, who got injured, strength of schedule, TFL, turnover ratio, OL development, academic performance, player retention, QB development, assistant retention, assistant development, cultural values, ability to speak cogently, etc. 

And after you evaluate all that you still take a leap of faith.


September 29th, 2014 at 9:17 AM ^

What about Doc Holliday @ Marshall look what he's done with Rakeem Cato and they still play good defense with a high powered offense. Or maybe Gary Pinkel from Mizzou he has Ohio roots and used to coach at Toledo.


September 29th, 2014 at 10:29 AM ^

I think he would be a tough sell.  He is in his 5th year at Marshall, the first 3 years were ho hum - he had a good year in 2013 and this year is off to a good start but that is his only 5 years of HC experience and he is already 57 years old.

I'd really prefer someone mid 40s to early 50s who if successful can stay here for 10-15 years and we don't have to do this crap of a coaching search again in 6-7 years.


September 29th, 2014 at 10:00 AM ^

Thanks for putting these together, alum96, and nice job.

Do you plan to look at any NFL assistants?  There are several that seem like promising candidates to me: Dan Quinn (Seattle DC), Adam Gase (Denver OC), John McDaniels (New England OC), Jack Del Rio (Denver DC).

I do think Michigan's roster is in much better shape now than it was in 2010, so I think the M job is less of a rebuiding project and more of a "come to A2 and win immediately" type of challenge.  I could see that appealing more to a guy out of the pros than some of these college turnaround artists.


September 29th, 2014 at 10:34 AM ^

No, I am just doing FBS head coaches.  There are probably 40-50 things I'd judge a head coach on but the things I can do superficially at the 40,000 foot level are best done on guys who have their own programs.   An assistant can be helped greatly (or hurt) by the quality of his head coach, so when an assistant is evaluated it goes to a whole different type of analysis. For HCs I can say they are responsible for their program from top to bottom and the records that come out of their program - I cannot say that for an assistant.

I think looking around there have not been a lot of NFL assistants who have been in the top ranks of NCAA FBS coaches at programs like USC, UM, Bama, Auburn, Oklahoma, Texas, etc.  Generally it breaks down to 3 groups

  • Former HCs at bottom half programs in the Power 5 conference - i.e. James Franklin
  • Former HCs at the top of non Power 5 conferences - i.e. Urban Meyer before Florida,  Sumlin
  • Coordinators from the top 15-20 type of teams - i.e. Bob Stoops

Less common is getting a guy directly out of Div II - i.e. Tressel

And guys like Jim Mora Jr  and Bill O'Brian (NFL types) are actually pretty uncommon type of hires.  And once you hire a NFL guy you have to worry about him constantly going back to the NFL, PSU already lost O'Brian and every off season there are rumors of Mora Jr headed back to the NFL.



September 29th, 2014 at 12:13 PM ^

You are right about NFL assistants--you might wind up with a Charlie Weis just as easily as a Bill O'Brien, and if the guy does succeeed you risk losing him to the League in short order. But it just seems to me that's where our best options are at the moment.  If there was a Charlie Strong or Brian Kelly out there in the college game, it would be one thing.  But I don't see one.  Either we are taking a real chance on a guy like Bohl, Stitt, or Doeren, or else we have to try and pluck a guy from a comparable or better situation (e.g., Jones, Miles, etc.). 


September 29th, 2014 at 10:23 AM ^

I would be very surprised if he or Whittingham leave the state of Utah.  Both are Mormons in a very comfortable setting. 

Tennessee came after Whittingham and was rejected.  Bronco is at his alma mater which is a situation like Mike Gundy at OK State or Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern.


September 29th, 2014 at 11:04 AM ^

I've admired him as a coach for a long time, and complimented my Tennessee fan friends on their excellent hire.  They seem to be quite pleased with him.


I don't think he's going to want to leave Tennessee, though, and I don't think Tennessee would let him leave.


A guy can dream, though.


September 29th, 2014 at 2:06 PM ^

I don't think Butch Jones is leaving Tennessee after a couple years of rebuilding, just to go to another blueblood program where he'd have to start a rebuild all over again. And if you're trying to poach a coach from another "blueblood" program, you should probably only bother for a guy who's a slam-dunk, not someone on whom the jury's still out.

Still, a competent AD will at least make inquiries and "kick the tires" on guys like Jones. Do we have a competent AD?



September 29th, 2014 at 7:30 PM ^

Also don't they have one of the youngest OLs in the nation this year? And surprise surprise they went toe to toe with Georgia the other day and didn't look too bad against OU. 

Let's see how they do this year but I wouldn't be opposed to Butch at all.