Travel north along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Butch Jones' hometown of Saugatuck and in about an hour you'll arrive in Muskegon, where his defensive coordinator grew up.
On the other side of the state, Jones' receivers coach was raised in a small suburb outside Detroit. Closer to downtown, two of his coaches made stops at Wayne State. At Eastern Michigan, a strength coach made his mark in the business. Two others got big career breaks at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a few miles away.
But it's in the interior of the state, surrounded by woodlands and farmland and not much else, that Jones' staff came together at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.
Of the nine on-field assistants and one strength coach hired by Jones to his new staff at Tennessee, all but two have passed through CMU at some point in their careers.
Jones said during his introductory press conference that he wanted the best assistant coaches in America. But as his hiring choices since then have made clear, Jones believes that many of those coaches have been with him for years.
"I know everyone on our staff. I understand their background, their pedigree and where they come from," Jones said. "The great thing is they know me, they know my expectations. So we can hit the ground running, and not spend time coaching coaches."
The Central Michigan Crew
Coaching tight ends at an out-of-the-way Mid-American Conference school might not seem like much, but when Jones landed that job at CMU in 1998, it was a huge break for his career.
Fourteen years later, in his third head coaching stop, Jones has two coaches and one player from that 1998 team on his staff.
Willie Martinez was the secondary coach. Don Mahoney was wrapping up a six-year stint as offensive line coach. And Zach Azzanni, a kid from suburban Detroit, was a wide receiver.
"When you're around good people, that never leaves you," Jones said. "It's a small profession. Everyone knows everyone. I've been fortunate to be raised in the profession with a lot of good head coaches and good assistant coaches."
Mahoney left for Tulane, returning only in 2007 when Jones was named coach at CMU. After graduation, Azzanni worked at Bowling Green before he too was reunited with Jones in 2007.
Meanwhile, Martinez's career was taking off. He left CMU as assistant head coach after the 2000 season, spending most of the next decade with Mark Richt at Georgia.
After two years at Oklahoma and an ill-fated season at Auburn in 2012, Martinez was looking for work. Jones was looking for a secondary coach with SEC experience. Long after their CMU days, they had an unlikely reunion.
"It was an easy decision," Martinez said.
Other members of the CMU crew came later.
When Jones was offensive coordinator in 2002 and 2003, he worked closely with his quarterbacks coach, Mike Bajakian. When Jones took over the top job, Bajakian became his coordinator, a position he's held for the last six years.
"When he asked me to come back, I didn't even ask questions," Bajakian said. "I just knew that I was going to enjoy that working relationship."
John Jancek was defensive line coach at CMU in 2003 and promoted to defensive coordinator in 2004. Like Martinez, Jancek also went South to Georgia. When he and Martinez were fired in a defensive purge after the 2009 season, Jancek latched back on with Jones, who had just been hired at Cincinnati.
Jones made two more key hires when he took over at CMU in 2007.
He took on a young Mark Elder to handle linebackers. Elder, who has been with Jones ever since, has proven to be flexible, handling at various times tight ends, running backs, linebackers safeties and special teams.
Jones also hired strength coach Dave Lawson, who has been with him ever since.
"When I became head coach at Central Michigan, I interviewed 10 strength coaches and it took me until No. 11, which was Dave Lawson, to know I had found what I was looking for," Jones said during his tour of radio shows last week. "He's a person who's extremely loyal and believes in our program."
The Elder Statesman and the Outsiders
Jones has been loyal to his core of assistants too, bringing five of his nine coaches with him from Cincinnati.
Of the four who appear to have been left behind, two were young and will probably have to put in a few more years of work before latching on at this level. But two others — tight ends coach Dave Johnson and receivers coach T.J. Weist — are experienced coaches with ties to the South. Neither, however, have any connection to Central Michigan.
That's not to say Jones has been unwilling to branch out. In 2009, his final year at CMU, he hired Steve Stripling to be associate head coach and defensive line coach.
Stripling, with 22 years of Big Ten experience, has been Jones' most experienced staff member and has served as interim coach twice, including this month while Cincinnati prepares for the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27 against Duke.
"He's the elder statesman who's gone under the radar a bit," Jones said. "He's regarded as one of the best in the country."
Jones hired two more coaches without a direct connection to his coaching tree this month at Tennessee.
Running backs coach Jay Graham is the only coach remaining from Derek Dooley's staff.
"I don't think in terms of retaining coaches. I rehired him, " Jones said. "He's been a great resource for me. When I've been out on the road, I spent the most time talking to him."
Jones also hired cornerbacks coach Tommy Thigpen, a North Carolina graduate who spent the last four years at Auburn.
Thigpen's connection to Jones came through Martinez, who was his colleague at Auburn in 2012, and also Azzanni, who worked with Thigpen when both were young coaches at Bowling Green in 2001 and 2002.
Combined experience of 142 years
Jones has at times emphasized the importance of SEC experience in building his staff and at other times suggested it is overrated — "Players are players. Kids are kids," he said last week.
Without the additions of Graham, Martinez and Thigpen, this staff would have little SEC flavor. As it stands, Jones' coaches have spent 24 years of a combined 142 years of full-time college experience at SEC schools.
The median age of Jones' nine on-field coaches is 41, ranging from the 59-year-old Stripling to Elder, who's 35.
With only two black assistants (Graham and Thigpen), Jones' staff is less racially diverse than most teams in the SEC. Jones did offer the receivers coaching position earlier this month to former Tennessee great Tee Martin, but Martin opted to remain at Southern California. Martinez is a first generation American of Cuban ancestry.
None of the assistants has ever served as a head coach on a non-interim basis. Only Bajakian has spent time in the NFL. But the college experience runs deep. The staff has an average of 16 years as college assistants. Graham has the fewest years (seven) because of his post-college career in the NFL. Stripling, Martinez and Jancek all have more than 20 years in the college ranks.
But the overriding statistic from crunching years of data is just how much time this staff — minus Graham and Thigpen — have spent together.
Jones' core group has spent a combined 36 years — roughly 30 percent of their careers — working with him in some capacity.
An emphasis on family
That unity is based on more than just connections and convenience, Jones' assistants said this week. They've stuck together because of shared values and a family atmosphere that permeates every aspect of the program.
Jones talked about "family" at his introductory press conference and in several interviews since then. His coaches say it's more than a cliche to him. It's why he was stung by critical reports that he mishandled his exit at Cincinnati and why he takes pains to say that he still receives calls and texts from his old players.
The family climate on the coaching staff includes wives and kids who have known each other for years.
Jones and Mahoney worked together at Central Michigan only in 1998, but their wives clicked immediately and stayed in touch. The two coaches met up on the recruiting trail when their paths crossed. Nearly a decade after they first met, Mahoney returned to CMU to join Jones' staff. Seven years later, they're still together.
"It's a matter of the person that coach Jones is, the father he is, the husband he is, the values off the field that I want to surround myself with," Mahoney said. "When I go to work every day and see these guys, we have the same values for what we stand for and what we believe in. For the hours that we put in and the work that we put in and the demands of the job, it makes coming to work a heck of a lot easier."
Jones said the week he spent being courted for — and eventually turning down — jobs at Purdue and Colorado were stressful, because his decisions affected not only himself, but also his family and the family of his coaches.
"You talk about loyalty, as a head football coach, not only are you responsible for your own family, but nine other assistants, their wives, their children and then all your support staff," he said. "It's a big obligation. That's why loyalty is so big."
Jones has three sons — a junior in high school, a sixth-grader and one in kindergarten.
"The kindergartner's like luggage. You just pick him up and go," Jones joked.
But his other sons have sports and schools and friends they have to leave. That's where the coaching family helps.
"You have to understand, this is a way of life for our families," Jones said. "This isn't our hobby. This is our livelihood. My family lives and dies on game-day. My wife will become a second mother to 105 individuals on our football team. My sons will live and die Tennessee football everyday. It is a traumatic change at times to move your family, but they're extremely excited to join the community. I think my kids have worn Tennessee gear every day since they left the press conference."
Readying for Year 1 at Tennessee
When not on the recruiting trail, Jones' new coaches have been working the phones with current players, trying to get to know their new pupils and build up a level of trust entering spring ball.
"Trust is earned over time," Jones said.
The same could be said for the men who Jones brought with him to Knoxville, ready to embark on what is likely the most difficult — but also the most lucrative — coaching tasks of their careers.
"I'm excited," Jones said. "This is a top-notch staff. Tennessee fans, when they get to know and see this staff, they'll be excited as well."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat