KNOXVILLE – Tennessee has found its man.
Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart hired former University of Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones to replace former UT coach Derek Dooley, the school confirmed early Friday morning.
Jones’ hiring ended a grueling search that had entered Day 20 of the process and also had seen multiple public rejections.
It was a winding search that reportedly targeted Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy as well as Louisville head coach Charlie Strong before landing on Jones.
Jones, 44, has been linked to multiple job openings as well, including Kentucky, Purdue, Boston College, Colorado and Wisconsin.
He comes to Tennessee after three years as the head coach at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati. He has a career 50-27 record and is coming off a 9-3 campaign in 2012. Though it is unlikely that Jones will coach in the game, the Bearcats are scheduled to play Duke in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27.
"I would like to thank Butch Jones for his time at the University of Cincinnati," Cincinnati athletic director Whit Babcock said in a statement. "With that said, we are excited about the future of this program, and this job will be extremely attractive nationally. Our search will begin immediately."
Jones signed a contract extension at Cincinnati in 2012, extending his contract through 2017. He was paid approximately $1.5 million this season, and his contract was scheduled to escalate to just over $2 million in the final year of the deal.
“I think I’ve proven that I want to be here,” Jones said after signing the extension last season. “This is a very special place. We’re building something really special here. I ask our players to make a commitment, and I need to make a commitment back.”
The buyout for his contract before Jan. 1, 2013 is $1.4 million. That sum will probably be paid by Tennessee. Though details have not been made available yet, his contract with Tennessee is expected to pay him between $2.7 and $3 million a year.
Though public opinion of the hiring of Jones has been mixed at best, Matt Rybaltowski, who covers the Big East for CBSSports.com, had good things to say about the Saugatuck, Mich., native.
“He does a great job running the spread, and he’s a sharp coach,” he said. “He’s like a carbon copy of (current Notre Dame coach) Brian Kelly.”
Kelly was the head coach at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati before Jones took over at both spots.
Jones’ current staff includes four former members of his staff at Central Michigan and two assistants—defensive coordinator John Jancek and tight ends coach Dave Johnson—who have SEC coaching experience. Both were assistants at Georgia.
Click here for a closer look at Jones’ background, his recruiting and his schemes.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.