Yet another of the four knee surgeries he would endure during his University of Cincinnati football career just completed, Alex Apyan received an unexpected phone call.
"It was Coach [Butch] Jones," recalled the 2007 Hixson High School grad over the weekend. "He'd only been on the job about three months, but he called me the day after the surgery to see how I was doing.
"I was a reserve long snapper, not exactly high on any coach's priority list, but he took the time to call. When I'd had other surgeries, neither Coach [Brian] Kelly nor his assistants ever called."
If you really want to know about the man the Tennessee Vols just hired to revive their struggling football program you can do worse than listen to one of Jones' former players at Cincinnati the past three seasons.
As Apyan said, he wasn't anyone likely to influence Jones' career path. His greatest strength was probably his GPA. At the end of his five seasons at UC, Jones selected the aerospace engineering major Apyan to join the school's Legion of Excellence, which includes one student from each of the Bearcats' varsity sports.
Currently a grad student at UC, Apyan will cut short his studies in January to work with NASA in Houston. One week each month he will become the systems operator inside Mission Control.
But for his first three years at UC he practiced (but rarely played) under Kelly before finishing up with Jones.
Given that Kelly has driven Notre Dame to the BCS title game opposite Alabama while Jones went 23-14 during his three years at Cincy, one wondered whom Apyan thought was the better coach.
"I'm sure I'm partial to Coach Jones because I never got to play under Coach Kelly, but I really believe Jones is the better coach. I can promise you that he won't put up with some of the things that have gone on at UT in the past."
What kind of coach is Jones when it comes to matters of academics and discipline?
"You're never to miss a class," Apyan said. "He makes it clear from day one that you're there to get a degree. If you have a class that interferes with practice, you go to class."
As for discipline, Alex's father, Dr. Paul Apyan, recalled the time current Denver Bronco Derek Wolfe got two personal foul penalties in the same game for the Bearcats.
"Jones benched him for the entire first quarter of the next game," Dr. Apyan said. "If you play for him, you're going to play the game the right way."
Continued Apyan, "Our experience was fantastic. Butch always knew who we were, and our son was the backup long snapper. We never saw him negative. He knows where he's going, and once the UT players figure out his offense, they'll become a really exciting team to watch."
Back to that discipline thing.
"Coach Jones demands great character," Alex Apyan said. "There's no partying during the season. You do nothing that would embarrass the program."
But he also said, "His door is always open to his players. You're part of his family. He always makes you feel very welcome if you come to his office."
Apyan did admit it took awhile to adjust to Jones's philosophy, which is probably one reason why the Bearcats went 4-8 the first season after Kelly left before finishing 10-3 last year and 9-3 this season before their bowl game.
"That first year, we thought Coach Jones was kind of eccentric," he said. "We'd lose and he'd go on and on about how there wasn't enough chest bumping. He wanted to see more chest bumping after a big play.
"He was trying to tell us that he wanted to see more energy, more enthusiasm. That's why he wants you to run to the other end of the field at the end of each quarter. He believes that wears the other team down."
That wasn't all that wore Cincy's opponents down.
"We'd run 40 110-yard sprints sometimes in the summers," Apyan said. "Coach Jones loves the no-huddle. His goal is to wear the other team out in the fourth quarter. By his second year we were doing what he asked, we bought into his system and we went 10-3. People talk about losing at Tennessee [45-23 in 2011], but that was one bad game in a great season."
There hasn't been a 10-win season in Knoxville since 2007, the year before Phillip Fulmer was fired. The last back-to-back 9-win seasons were 2006 and 2007.
"The key for Coach Jones is for the players, AD and fans to buy into his system," said Apyan. "If they don't he might be gone quickly."
But if they do?
"He could be a long-term success," Apyan added. "They could win national championships."
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...