(Note: This edition is ‘A Stones Throw’ was scheduled for publication in last week’s newspapers. However, due to a printing glitch which duplicated the back page, it was left out. As a result, while this edition discusses actions of “last week,” those actions are now a week removed.)
Which is it?
The University of Cincinnati went on a roller-coaster ride last weekend that easily rivals the former “Beast” at Kings Island.
Last Friday, a dark cloud moved over the Cincinnati campus – settling over Nippert Stadium. There was devastation and despair. Deceit and betrayal.
Head football coach Butch Jones had just announced he was leaving the University of Cincinnati to coach at the University of Tennessee.
Local Cincinnati media jumped on Butch Jones with both feet. How can a man who professes loyalty to his school and his team leave after only three years – and, even worse, before the University of Cincinnati’s appearance in the December 27th ‘Belk Bowl’ in Charlotte, North Carolina?
What kind of man would do this to his school? To his team?
All good questions, but, as Paul Harvey use to say, “Now for the rest of the story.”
Shortly after Butch Jones got in a car and headed to the airport with the ultimate destination being Knoxville, Tennessee; University of Cincinnati Athletic Director Whit Babcock held a press conference.
In his press conference, Babcock discussed the activities that led up to Jones leaving to Tennessee. Earlier in the week Jones had rejected an offer to coach the Purdue Boilermakers and, after a Colorado paper claimed he had accepted the head coaching job at the University of Colorado, Jones turned down that offer.
At the time Jones turned down the Colorado job, he talked about his love of the University of Cincinnati and of his players. He said the job he came to Cincinnati to do was not finished.
Then, Thursday morning Babcock received a phone call from University of Tennessee Athletic Director Dave Hart. Hart asked for permission to talk with Butch Jones about the head coaching job at Tennessee.
According to Babcock, he told Dave Hart he could talk to Jones on the stipulation that Hart and Jones had 24 hours to discuss their options and to make a final decision. After 24 hours, he would withdraw his permission for Tennessee to talk with Butch Jones.
Thus began the whirlwind that followed.
Obviously, Dave Hart and Butch Jones talked. Obviously the talks went well.
At 5:15 a.m. Friday morning, Whit Babcock was awakened by a ringing phone. Butch Jones was on the other end of the line. Jones informed Babcock he was going to accept the head coaching job at the University of Tennessee.
Jones then gathered all of the University of Cincinnati football players together for a very short 7:30 a.m. team meeting where he told his players he was leaving and wished them all good luck for their upcoming bowl game and for their future.
He then headed for the airport and on to Knoxville.
In his press conference, Whit Babcock promised he would move forward quickly. He said he and his staff had been doing “due diligence” by evaluating potential replacements for Jones during the past four months.
Before Jones’s plane landed in Knoxville he was being vilified by local Cincinnati sports announcers. Butch Jones was a traitor. Butch Jones was disloyal. The University of Cincinnati and its football players deserved better than Butch Jones.
More importantly, no coach should be allowed to leave a job until the season – including a bowl game – is complete.
Butch Jones did not care enough about his school and his players to even honor this. The December 27th ‘Belk Bowl’ would be played – but, Butch Jones would not be on the sidelines – he would be in Knoxville, Tennessee.
As I stated at the outset, the roller coaster ride was on its way. In fact, the roller coaster had just hit bottom. The University of Cincinnati had just been betrayed by a coach they had loved.
Still, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. After all, why would an athletic director and his staff spend four months of “due diligence” evaluating replacements if there had not been conversations with Butch Jones that indicated the possibility of moving on if the right job presented itself?
With this in mind, Whit Babcock went to work. His first choice was Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville. The first thing Babcock did was to call Texas Tech Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt.
Hocutt wasn’t in so Babcock left him a voice mail saying he planned to discuss the open University of Cincinnati coaching job with Hocutt’s head coach – Tommy Tuberville.
Babcock then called Tuberville and obviously had a very good conversation. Tuberville, after discussing the options with his family, quickly accepted the offer to coach the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Babcock then called Hocutt again – and, again got Hocutt’s voice mail – and again left a message on the voice mail. This time the message said that Tommy Tuberville had accepted the head coaching job at the University of Cincinnati.
And there was joy in Mudville. (Okay – joy in Cincinnati.)
The sun started to shine. Dark clouds were replaced by soft white billowing clouds. The future of University of Cincinnati football was alive and well.
In less than 24 hours the traitor Butch Jones had been replaced with nationally known and respected Tommy Tuberville. Tommy Tuberville who had led Auburn University to an undefeated season in 2004. Tommy Tuberville who had been head coach in the vaunted SEC conference for 12 years.
The Cincinnati media was ecstatic. The University of Cincinnati football program was set for the long term. Not only did Whit Babcock find a big name coach, he found a winning coach who vowed to end his coaching career at the University of Cincinnati.
I find it interesting that while the Cincinnati sports media applauded both Babcock and Tuberville, they apparently missed a couple of important facts.
First, Babcock, Tuberville, and the University of Cincinnati blindsided Texas Tech Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt and the entire Texas Tech football team. Surely the hiring of Tommy Tuberville could have waited a day or two – enough time for Babcock to speak personally to Hocutt.
Instead it was like leaving a note on the desk saying “you’re fired – take your personal stuff and leave the building.” In other words, not speaking personally to Hocutt was both inappropriate and non-professional.
Second, does it just seem to me there is a strong similarity between Butch Jones leaving Cincinnati and Tommy Tuberville coming to Cincinnati?
Both are leaving their current coaching jobs after three years. Both are leaving their football teams to play a December bowl game without them. (Texas Tech is scheduled to play in the December 28th ‘Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl’ in Houston, Texas.)
One major difference between the two moves – The University of Tennessee asked permission and received permission to talk to Butch Jones.
The University of Cincinnati left a voice mail.
If one move was professional and done right and one was unprofessional and done wrong – Which was which?
– Mike Cooney