John Adams on the Butch Jones hire
Tennessee's search for a football coach reached a realistic conclusion Friday.
Jon Gruden wasn't realistic. Neither was Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. Nor Florida State's Jimbo Fisher.
Cincinnati's Butch Jones was realistic. In fact, he was too realistic for many Tennessee fans, some of whom clutched the Gruden rumor with a deathlike grip and refused to let go.
"I reached out to Jon early in the process," UT athletic director Dave Hart said at Friday's press conference. "I heard back from his agent that Jon was not interested in coaching college football."
My guess is there's still someone out there who doesn't believe Jones was actually hired as UT's football coach any more than he believes a U.S. citizen has walked on the moon. The whole thing was staged. And UT is waiting for just the right moment to announce Mr. Monday Night Football as its next coach.
More lucid followers of the program have accepted the reality that no one will compare the hiring of Jones to Alabama's landing Nick Saban. In some cases, such acceptance has been grim.
One caller to "The Sports Page" Friday wished Hart a permanent place in hell for hiring Jones. If he deems eternal damnation fitting punishment for a questionable hire, wonder what he has in mind for outgoing defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri?
The caller's blame was misplaced, though.
Hart couldn't wave a wand and make the last five seasons go away. The Vols have had four losing seasons in the last five years. They lost to Vanderbilt last month and to Kentucky last year. They haven't made Alabama work up a sweat in three years.
UT might be a top-20 program based on its tradition, facilities and fan base. But it's not a top-20 program today.
Other coaches realize that better than anyone.
Mike Gundy thought he was better off at Oklahoma State than he would have been at UT. Charlie Strong felt the same way about his job at Louisville.
Why wouldn't they? Both have the large majority of their starters returning from winning teams. Both have BCS-bowl aspirations for next season.
UT would just like an invitation from any bowl. And if you look two years ahead, it's more likely that Jones will be on the hot seat than his team will be in contention for a BCS bowl.
That's the reality of Tennessee's situation.
It's not as though Hart fired Derek Dooley and immediately set his sights on Jones. He aimed higher and missed — more than once.
Finally, he found a coach with a winning record for whom UT signified career advancement.
Half of Cincinnati's starters are seniors. Moreover, the makeup of the Big East Conference changes by the minute. Who's to say it won't be a three-team football league or switch to lacrosse by next fall?
So the move Gundy wouldn't make and that Strong seemingly labored over before declining was easy for Jones, who had a lottery winner's glow at the media conference. If the Vols had played a game Friday night, he would have floated through the "T."
After this native Michigander called Tennessee his "dream job," made a Peyton Manning reference and pledged "to do some special things," fans probably had warmed up to a coach exuding so much passion and confidence. They also probably agreed he at least looks like a football coach.
But it's not how he looks or what he says that matters. It's what his team does that counts.
What should UT fans expect from its next team?
A bowl bid and a winning season would be nice. Although that wouldn't put the Vols on the brink of going toe-to-toe with Alabama, it would convince fans the program was no longer tumbling backward down Rocky Top.
But you can't break the fall at a media conference. You have to do it on the field.