Tennessee’s search for a new football coach has ended.
Butch Jones was hired away from Cincinnati on Friday with a six-year contract from Tennessee, ESPN.com reported.
Jones, 44, leaves Cincinnati after three seasons as its coach. He replaced current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and posted a 23-14 record with the Bearcats. Jones’ teams tied for first place in the Big East each of the past two seasons.
At a news conference Friday in Knoxville, Tenn., Jones called Tennessee the best college football program in the country.
“We’ll be working to be champions each and every day,” Jones said. “We will be a champion in everything we do. That’s not only on the field but off the field.”
ESPN reported that Jones’ contract at Cincinnati includes a $1.4 million buyout if he left before Jan. 1.
“I would like to thank Butch Jones for his time at the University of Cincinnati,” athletic director Whit Babcock said. “With that said, we are excited about the future of this program and this job will be extremely attractive nationally. Our search will begin immediately.”
Jones had a busy week on the coaching carousel. He went to Colorado on Monday to speak with officials about its head-coaching vacancy and also visited and was mentioned as a candidate for the Purdue opening, which was filled by former Kent State coach Darrell Hazell.
The Denver Post reported that Jones had accepted a five-year, $13.5 million contract offer from Colorado, but Jones disputed the story.
Also this week, Jones attended news conferences for Cincinnati’s appearance in the Belk Bowl and dodged questions about his job status.
“It’s been kind of a whirlwind,” Jones said.
Jones has followed Kelly at two stops. He took over at Central Michigan when Kelly left for Cincinnati. Jones went 27-13 in his three years as Central Michigan’s coach and won two Mid-American Conference championships.
The task of making a Tennessee contender again in the powerful Southeastern Conference is a daunting one.
Derek Dooley tried and failed with the Vols. He was fired Nov. 18 after posting a 15-21 record in three years. None of his teams finished above .500, the first time that has had happened at Tennessee since 1909-11.
Before Dooley, Lane Kiffin held the job for one year and then bolted for Southern California. He had replaced Philip Fulmer, who was fired after the 2008 season.
It appeared Tennessee interviewed or considered several candidates before settling on Jones.
The Vols reportedly courted Louisville coach Charlie Strong, who decided to stay with the Cardinals after his contract was sweetened. Former NFL coach and current ESPN broadcaster Jon Gruden was mentioned as a possibility, but he said earlier this week that he wasn’t interested.
“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.”