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Vols hire Cincinnati’s Jones as new football coach
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“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.
After replacing Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly at Central Michigan and then again at Cincinnati, Jones maintained the momentum his predecessor had established at each school.
In Jones‘ three-year stint at Central Michigan, the Chippewas won two Mid-American Conference championships. Jones went 4-8 in his first year at Cincinnati, but the Bearcats are 19-6 since and have tied for first place in the Big East each of the last two seasons. Cincinnati’s 2011 season included a 45-23 loss at Tennessee.
Jones, the third consecutive Cincinnati coach to leave after three years, signed a contract extension after the 2011 season that included a $1.4 million buyout if he left before Jan. 1. Mark Dantonio went 18-17 at Cincinnati from 2004-06 before Michigan State hired him away. Kelly posted a 34-6 record before leaving for Notre Dame.
Cincinnati has made defensive line coach Steve Stripling its interim head coach for the Dec. 27 Belk Bowl against Duke in Charlotte, N.C., while it begins searching for Jones‘ successor.
“Obviously we’d like to find somebody who would be committed here for a long time, and I think we’re prepared to make those investments necessary to do that,” Babcock said.
Now that he’s left Cincinnati for Tennessee, Jones has plenty of challenges ahead.
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