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 coach. He went 27-13 in three seasons at Central Michigan and was 23-14 at Cincinnati the past three years. He now faces the task of rebuilding a former SEC power that has posted three consecutive losing seasons.
Jones agreed to a six-year 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 before hiring Jones.
During the 19-day search to replace Dooley, the Volunteers contacted ESPN analyst and former Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden, who indicated he wasn’t interested. The Vols then pursued Charlie Strong, who said Thursday he had turned down their offer and would stay at Louisville.
“Rarely in life is anything exactly what it seems to be,” Tennessee athletics 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 will be Tennessee’s fourth coach in a six-season stretch, not including offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s stint as interim head coach in the 2012 season finale after Dooley’s dismissal. Phillip Fulmer was fired after the 2008 season. Lane Kiffin coached Tennessee in 2009 before leaving for Southern California. Dooley lasted three years.
After winning at least eight games for 16 consecutive seasons from 1989-2004 and posting double-digit wins in nine of those years, Tennessee hasn’t earned more than seven victories in any of its past five seasons. The Vols went 5-7 this fall for their fifth losing season over the last eight years.
Malzahn hires offensive coordinator
New Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was flanked by his fresh-faced protege, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, and silver-haired defensive boss Ellis Johnson.
He introduced the 29-year-old Lashlee and 60-year-old Johnson at a news conference three days after his hiring. Lashlee will make $350,000 a year while Johnson received an $800,000 salary, though Auburn hasn’t released the lengths of their deals or other terms.
Lashlee spent three years as Malzahn’s quarterback at Shiloh Christian High in Arkansas and has worked under him in the prep ranks and at three different colleges, including their initial stop in Auburn.
Malzahn said the two will collaborate on play calling duties in an offense built upon a relentlessly fast tempo and a style that is heavy on the run and play-action passes. Lashlee spent last season as Malzahn’s offensive coordinator at Arkansas State after a year running the offense for FCS team Samford.
N.C. State’s Doeren makes 1st coaching hire
New N.C. State coach Dave Doeren has made his first coaching hire, bringing in Ryan Nielsen to coach the defensive line and serve as recruiting coordinator.
Nielsen spent the past two seasons at Northern Illinois under Doeren. This year, he was the co-defensive coordinator, recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach.