Tennessee athletic director, John Currie, is seen before an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
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KNOXVILLE — Tennessee parted ways with fifth-year head football coach Butch Jones on Sunday and officially began the quest to find the program's next leader. The days and weeks ahead will be filled with rumors and speculation over the coaching search.

There are a few important baseline facts to know as athletic director John Currie identifies the man who will be tasked with returning the Volunteers to glory. It's important to separate fact from fiction about how the process will work.


Tennessee will be financially handicapped in its search for a new coach because the university owes Butch Jones and the departing assistants roughly $13 million in contract buyouts.


Explanation: Technically, Tennessee will owe Jones and his staff around $13 million. Jones alone is owed $2.5 million per year for every year left on his contract, which runs through the end of the 2020 season. That total, as it stands now, is $8.26 million for Jones. The rest of the $13 million figure is money owed to the assistants, assuming they are not retained by the new coach.

However — and here's the catch — the amount owed to Jones and the outgoing staff will be reduced by the salaries of their next coaching jobs.

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Tennessee head coach Butch Jones looks on during a media timeout during an NCAA football game between Tennessee and Southern Mississippi at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017 in Knoxville, Tenn.

For example, if Kansas hired Jones for $1.6 million per year, which is what it pays its current coach, then Tennessee would owe Jones $900,000 per year. This differs from when Derek Dooley was fired as Tennessee's coach during the 2012 season. Dooley was owed a guaranteed $5 million when he was fired, and his next job had no bearing on that figure. In the hypothetical scenario of Jones getting hired at Kansas next month for $1.6 million per year, Tennessee would end up paying Jones roughly $3 million total. Jones is represented by renowned agent Jimmy Sexton. It's likely that Sexton will help Jones land a good job and that Tennessee's financial burden will be lessened substantially as a result.

It's never cheap to fire a major college football coach without cause. But in the age of gargantuan TV rights deals and with support from big-money boosters, the decision to part with Jones should not impact Tennessee's ability to make its new coach one of the 10 highest-paid coaches in the country, if it so desires.

"We understand that's a significant amount of money and a significant investment and don't take that lightly," Tennessee athletic director John Currie said Sunday of the buyout payments. "On the other side, we're fortunate that we have the ability to manage that without impacting our day-to-day operations, our ability to attract the next coach or our ability keep marching forward with some of the projects we've talked about recently."


Coach Jones is calling recruits committed to Tennessee and telling them to go somewhere else.

Mostly fiction.

Explanation: Tennessee defensive back commitment Tanner Ingle told the Orlando Sentinel on Sunday that he received a phone call from Jones shortly after he was fired and that Jones encouraged him to find another school to play for. There is no reason to doubt Ingle's account of that conversation, but it does not appear as though Jones is attempting to burn the house down on his way out. Former Tennessee quarterback and current Knoxville sports radio host Erik Ainge said Monday that he has contacted most of the Vols' commitments and heard no stories of Jones badmouthing Tennessee. Ingle later tweeted in defense of Jones, saying, "Stop trying to make people look bad."

The coaching change assures there will be attrition within Tennessee's recruiting class with or without additional prodding from Jones. It does not appear as though he is making a concerted effort at this point to stop Tennessee's commitments from signing with the Vols.


College football's first-ever early signing period accelerates the need to hire a coach quickly.


Explanation: For the first time ever, college football has an early signing period, Dec. 20-22. It's unclear what percentage of prospects will sign their national letters of intent during those three days, but it is important to have a new coach hired and working the recruiting trail in the weeks leading up to Dec. 20, lest a school risk having its commitments sign with other schools during that period. If most of the prospects sign early, a new coach with a late start could be left with a thin pool of players to recruit before the standard February signing date.

This new signing period also makes hiring an NFL coach tricky, since the NFL regular season runs through the end of December. The early signing period also virtually eliminates the possibility of a college coach accepting a new position but remaining with his current team through the end of the bowl season. For reference, Jones' hiring at Tennessee was announced on Dec. 7. That might be pushing it this year.


Currie will not use a search firm as he looks for the next coach.

Fact. For now.

Explanation: Currie said twice during his news conference Sunday that he does not intend to use a search firm "at this time." Often, search firms are hired to conduct research on potential candidates and make initial contact with prospects. Tennessee paid search firm Turnkey Sports and Entertainment $88,000 for its services during the search to hire Currie. Ole Miss and Oregon State are using search firms in their coaching searches. Currie's remarks seem to indicate that he has identified his preferred candidates and would turn to a search firm only if he is forced to pursue other candidates.

Contact staff writer David Cobb at


This story was updated Nov. 13 at 11:30 p.m.