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Senior College Football Columnist

How Butch Jones landed at Tennessee

On Tuesday night, Butch Jones was still torn. Colorado had shown a big commitment to allowing Jones a shot to transform CU back into being a "destination" job. Jones, though, also liked the thought of building on the growth of the Cincinnati program and staying in the Midwest, which his family really liked. Meanwhile, one of the jobs that really intrigued him, Tennessee, was off his radar. Well, actually Jones was off the Vols' radar.

Tennessee's search, which had gotten off to such a curious start as Vol Nation got caught up in Jon Gruden Mania, had turned to Mike Gundy and Charlie Strong. Both had been offered the Tennessee vacancy. Gundy was still squabbling with Oklahoma State's AD, but ultimately told the Vols thanks, but no thanks, on Wednesday morning. The drama with Strong took longer to play out. There was wild speculation about a 4:30 Louisville team meeting. Would Strong be there? Would he appear in Knoxville for some kind of grand entrance?

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The Louisville coach, though, opted to stay where he was and early Wednesday evening word came that he was not going to be the next Vols coach -- right about the time the Denver Post was reporting that Butch Jones was going to be the next CU coach.

The Jones-to-CU report proved to be erroneous. Jones just wasn't sold on the move. And things only seemed to be getting messier for Jones, who had already been seen days earlier meeting with Purdue about its vacancy in something that got a lot more public than the coach surely wanted. (Jones subsequently passed on the Boilers job.)

It was surprising that Jones wasn't on Tennessee's "A" list at the start of the process. In six seasons as a college head coach, Jones has led his teams to four conference titles -- two in the MAC at Central Michigan and two in the Big East at UC. In 2011, Cincy was the only program in the country to win both its conference championship as well as the league's team academic award.

Sure some skeptics say Jones followed Brian Kelly at both stops, as if that should undermine what the 44-year-old had accomplished, but it's worth noting that Kelly also followed Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati after he built the Bearcats program. Tennessee fans might have wanted Strong, but Jones has a 2-1 record against him.

According to sources, the biggest hangup on Jones for Tennessee was that he didn't have SEC coaching experience. The problem with that is neither did Urban Meyer before he got to Florida or Nick Saban before he got to LSU or Mark Richt before he got to Athens or James Franklin before he arrived at Vandy or Kevin Sumlin before A&M moved into the SEC or. ...

On the flip side, Derek Dooley had SEC experience, and well, that didn't work out so well.

By Thursday morning, Jones still wasn't sure about CU and the Buffs said they had to have an answer. Jones couldn't pull the trigger. He told Cincy AD Whit Babcock, "We're not going to Colorado." Jones was staying at UC, but less than an hour later, Tennessee phoned Babcock asking about his coach, and then things really heated up. I'm told there had been zero contact between Jones and his reps and Tennessee prior to that.

The Vols also had some interest in Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, but ultimately Tennessee brass didn't feel right about making that move. The Lane Kiffin departure still stings and a source close to the Vols search says UT didn't want to do to someone else what it had done to them.

Negotiations with Jones ramped up Thursday night and were completed early Friday morning. Jones ended up with a deal worth $18 million over six years, according to a source. Tennessee also committed to putting the budget for Jones' staff in the top half-dozen of SEC programs and the new head coach will have say into helping put the finishing touches on the Vols brand new facility upgrades. In addition, the school also allayed Jones' concerns about some of the academic issues. Keep in mind, the Vols could be in line for some APR troubles potentially in 2014 due to all of the transition from the Kiffin and Dooley eras.

Will Butch Jones prove to be the guy who leads the Vols back into the Top 15? We'll see. Years ago Pete Carroll was USC's fourth or fifth choice and that worked out quite well. Just last year, Jim Mora was UCLA's fourth or fifth choice and the Bruins are looking pretty good now, too. Jones certainly brings to Knoxville a better coaching resume than the last two football coaches the school hired and he won't shrink in the spotlight.

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