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Vols hire Cincinnati's Jones as new football coach

Friday - 12/7/2012, 8:55pm  ET

By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - 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 head coach. He went 27-13 in three seasons at Central Michigan and was 23-14 at Cincinnati the last three years. He now faces the task of rebuilding a former Southeastern Conference 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 athletic 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, meanwhile, was apparently waiting for a job like Tennessee.

On the same day Strong made his announcement, Jones rejected Colorado's offer. He also had been linked to the Purdue coaching job before removing himself from consideration.

Cincinnati athletic director Whit Babcock said Jones told him Thursday morning that he was turning down Colorado. Mere minutes later, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart called Babcock to express his interest in Jones. Babcock said Jones notified him Friday at 5:15 a.m. that he was accepting Tennessee's offer. Jones informed Cincinnati's players at a 7:30 a.m. team meeting.

"It's been kind of a whirlwind," Jones said.

Jones' hiring means each of the four Southeastern Conference teams that fired coaches this year has filled its vacancy.

Kentucky hired Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops last week to replace Joker Phillips. Arkansas hired Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin on Tuesday to take over for John L. Smith. Auburn selected Arkansas State's Gus Malzahn on Tuesday as the replacement for Gene Chizik.

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 last five seasons. The Vols went 5-7 this fall for their fifth losing season over the last eight years.

Jones believes Tennessee can recapture its past glory.

"Our fan base and myself have the same expectations," Jones said. "We're working to be the best. We're working to be No. 1 every day. We're working to be national champions, and we're working to be SEC champions. This program has done it, and we'll do it again."

Hart said at the start of the search that head coaching experience was "critically important" and that he wanted a coach who "knows the difficulty of climbing the ladder in the SEC." Jones lacks SEC experience, but his teams have earned at least a share of a conference title in four of his six seasons as a head coach.

"Les Miles and Nick Saban had zero SEC experience when they came into this league," Jones said.

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