KNOXVILLE — One process is complete.
Another is just beginning.
Tennessee ended a 19-day search for Derek Dooley's replacement by hiring Cincinnati's Butch Jones as its program's 24th head coach on Friday, and now all the attention turns to staff the Volunteers' new leader will construct.
The 44-year-old certainly was bold in predicting the end result for the second phase of the process.
"I can assure you," Jones said at his introductory news conference on Friday afternoon in Neyland Stadium's luxurious locker room, "we will put together the best football staff in the country.
"Not just the Southeastern Conference, but the entire country."
According to his memorandum of understanding with the university, Jones will have the financial flexibility to back that up. His deal with Tennessee includes a $3 million minimum total salary for assistant coaches. The assistant salaries in Dooley's final season totaled $2.975 million.
Yet the makeup of the staff is much more important than how much it costs.
"I do think it's important to have diversity on your staff," Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said. "You need some younger guys who can really relate and identify [with recruits], you need some veteran guys who understand the game thoroughly and you need some guys who understand the SEC and have been to war in the SEC.
"I think at the end of the day that's the balance he's looking for."
Jones said he has his own checklist of criteria, which most notably includes character and great teaching ability. He suggested the search for qualified coaches is in its investigative stages. Jones did say, though, that a few coaches could follow him from Cincinnati.
"It's my job as the caretaker of Tennessee football to bring in the best staff to get us to compete for championships," he said. "I'm going to do my due diligence. I can assure you we're going to leave no stone unturned to attract the best coaches."
Those coaches, like recruits, must fit systematically and philosophically. A two-year assistant under spread-offense innovator Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia six years ago, Jones ran a no-huddle up-tempo offense at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, though he likes to stress his offensive style is more physical than finesse. Defensively, Jones prefers four-man fronts.
"I'm hiring a staff to do their job," he said. "I'm not a micro-manager, though I want to know everything. I'll be involved in all three phases.
"I'm going to assemble the best staff in America and I'm going to let them coach."
Jones' staff at Cincinnati possessed a mostly midwestern flavor, though it didn't lack for southern ties. Four coaches followed him from his previous stop at Central Michigan. Defensive coordinator/linebackers coach John Jancek and tight ends coach Dave Johnson have been assistants at Georgia in the last decade.
Cornerbacks coach Shannon Morrison made a two-year stop at Memphis, offensive line coach Dan Mahoney spent seven seasons at Tulane and receivers coach/recruiting coordinator T.J Weist played at Alabama.
It might make sense for Jones to target assistants with experience recruiting in the ultra-competitive SEC, though he suggested the notion is slightly overrated.
"If you can recruit, you can recruit," he said. "It doesn't matter what school you come from or what area of the country. Recruiting is selling.
"Recruiting is a people business. I want the best teachers and the best recruiters no matter where we have to go to get them. I do think it's important that we do have some coaches that do know the lay of the land, but I really do think that if you're a great recruiter, you can recruit anywhere because it's all relationship-based."
With Friday afternoon's initial team meeting, in which Jones said he sensed excitement and a great connection with his new team, out of the way, the first order of business is the former assistants. A handful of those coaches have been on the road recruiting for Tennessee with their own uncertain futures. Hart said Jones would meet with them and calls recruits on his first night on the job.
Since Jones indicated he thought a former Tennessee player on staff would be important, it's possible running backs coach Jay Graham could remain, and Tennessee's offensive linemen have made public their wish that Sam Pittman stays on staff. Rumblings also began that Tee Martin, who was the quarterback on the Vols' 1998 national team, could return to Knoxville. Martin built his reputation at Kentucky before taking the receivers job at Southern California last offseason.
"Obviously he's a great coach," Jones said when asked about Martin. "We all understand what he's meant to this football program. Obviously he would be an individual we would reach out to, but we're going to reach out to a lot of individuals."
That's a must for Jones to follow up on his bold prediction.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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