The last three Arkansas State coaching searches have been longish affairs bedeviled by rumor and mystery that sometimes evolved into fantastic legend (such as tale of when Bob Petrino was reportedly close to signing after Malzahn left, but was vetoed by Mrs. Petrino).
This conclusion of this coaching search dropped as unexpectedly as a surprise Taylor Swift album. BOOM! Butch Jones in Jonesboro, barely two days after Blake Anderson announced his was pulling up stakes for Utah State.
As fans, we had just begun to speculate (GIVE US RYAN APLIN!), but AD Terry Mohajir and university president Kelly Damphousse already had their man. The ex-Tennessee head coach was on campus early Saturday evening, giving Red Wolves players a close-up of Butch’s signature buzz cut.
“His interview was unfuckingbelievable,” somebody in the know texted me. I’ve never been present at a college football head coach interview, so I wouldn’t know an “unfuckingbelievable” interview if it punched me in the face. I do know that the Arkansas State locker room is in for a culture change.
Blake Anderson is a “players coach.” He wears his faith with the same casualness with which he wears a t-shirt on the sidelines. His mantra was Faith, Family and Fun, never losing sight that football is a game. He rarely raises a voice on the sideline. Never stares down a reporter. His home is open to his players, who he truly feels are family.
Butch Jones, on the other hand, is known to bear a bit of an edge. Former players have had some beef with his methods. When he was dismissed from Tennessee, the press went out of the way to help him out the door – despite delivering three wining seasons (and three bowl wins). SEC mouthpiece Paul Finebaum had this to say upon the hiring of Jones’ replacement, Jeremy Pruitt:
“A year ago, Butch Jones was disingenuous, thin-skinned — he was a pathetic carny barker. He is now gone and Tennessee fans want to see a real coach. They have a real coach.”
Jesus, what does a guy do to deserve that? Jones had consecutive winning seasons in Knoxville – something Volunteers fans hadn’t enjoyed since the early 2000s. Still, it was difficult for some to forget his falterings during key stretches, his futile efforts to win a game agains the Crimson Tide, and his failings to secure an SEC championship. Who can forget the moment he declared his seniors “the champions of life?”
Life champion aside, Butch Jones is a legitimate football champion. He replaced Brian Kelly at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati, and he delivered two conference championships for both programs. He signed the No. 7 recruiting class in the nation in 2014 and the No. 4 recruiting class in the nation in 2015. Overall, Butch Jones is 84–54 (34-27 at Tennessee) with four bowl victories.
Yet, he was fired by Tennessee mid-season in 2017. Volunteers, who haven’t been nationally relevant since the early 2000s, were tired of being bested by Alabama and were not amused by Jones’ prickly demeanor. It seems a bit ironic that it would be Alabama’s godlike coach, Nick Saban, would have Jones join his staff as a “special advisor.”
And that’s where Jones will be the most opposite of Anderson.
For Saban, football is a business and wins are the product. He brings with him a mystic of hardboiled perfectionism. If Jones has learned anything from Saban, it will be how to govern his emotions, manage his staff, and win loyalty from players and fans through victory.
Anderson can never approach coaching this way. He gets too big a bang from drawing up trick plays with his players. He wants his boys’ parents to know their sons are in righteous hands. He cares about their spiritual growth as men. Perhaps Jones possesses these traits, too. But the flaming crucible of Tennessee and Alabama forges a championship mindset. There likely will be fewer pool parties at the coach’s house this summer.
Butch Jones is a great hire by Terry Mohajir. Rumors have it that Jones has already queued up Major Applewhite and Karl Scott for his OC and DC – which should make Arkansas State a destination university for the best talent in Group of Five.
The Butch Jones Redemption Project has begun in Jonesboro.