KNOXVILLE – Tennessee made the hiring of former Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones official on Friday morning after a 20-day search for a replacement for former coach Derek Dooley.
So what should Tennessee fans expect the Vols to look like schematically next season when they take the field under Jones?
There will be some immediate similarities offensively in terms of formations and philosophy. Expect plenty of changes as well.
Jones, like Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, likes to spread the field with three or four wide receivers and operates his offense mainly out of the shotgun, normally utilizing a fast-paced, no-huddle approach.
Jones’ roots as a playcaller can be traced to current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and current Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez, both of whom Jones worked under at one point as an assistant. Rodriguez, who has been the head coach at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona, is known for his heavy integration of the run game into the spread offense. He often utilizes mobile quarterbacks and runs the ball while throwing the ball horizontally to get the ball in the hands of the teams’ best playmakers.
Kelly's philosophy, meanwhile, emphasizes the run as well, but likes to use the vertical passing game to either hit long plays or open up gaps underneath the coverage.
Jones emphasizes the run game in his attack. The Bearcats averaged nearly 200 yards on the ground per game this season. His running back in 2010 and 2011, Isaiah Pead, was a second-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2011. George Winn, his running back this season, rushed for 1,204 yards. Quarterback Munchie Legaux added 335 yards on the ground.
There are elements of the vertical passing game in Jones’ offense as well that he picked up from Kelly. He likes to stretch the field at times, but a lot of his offense has more of a West Coast feel to it – meaning he relies on wide receivers running shorter, more precise routes rather than pushing the ball deep. That’s one fundamental shift Tennessee fans might notice.
Chaney, in part because of having tall, athletic receivers like Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, loved to take shots down the field this past season. That’s not to say the deep ball will be thrown out of the playbook, but look for quicker routes and more intermediate throws under Jones. That should play to the strength of a receiver like Pig Howard, who is quick and shifty rather than a rangy, down-the-field receiver. Jones will do whatever it takes to get the ball in the hand of playmakers, whether that be screens, quick slants, reverses, speed sweeps or other short, simple routes.
It will be interesting to see how Jones approaches the quarterback position at Tennessee. At both Central Michigan and Cincinnati, Jones had primarily mobile quarterbacks.
When Rodriguez went from West Virginia to Michigan, the Wolverines struggled to adapt to that spread look in large part because they didn’t have a mobile quarterback.
Assuming an early entry to the NFL for quarterback Tyler Bray, Tennessee’s top returning quarterback is Justin Worley, a pure passer. The Vols do, however, have a more mobile option in freshman Nathan Peterman, who redshirted this season. That’s not to say Peterman will be the starter, but that could turn into an interesting battle this spring.
Expect Jones to pursue a mobile quarterback in recruiting, possibly as soon as this signing class.
Here’s one quote to sum up what Jones does on offense from former Cincinnati defensive tackle Derek Wolfe, who now plays for the Denver Broncos.
"Coach Jones' offense is really hard to go against," Wolfe told the Denver Post. "You don't know what they're going to do because they do so many misdirection things. A play might look like it's going to be pass, and the next thing you know they're running power. It's nuts. There's a lot of stuff for defenses to prepare for."
Defensively, it’s more difficult to say what Jones will do at Tennessee. The Bearcats used primarily an attacking 4-3 defense under Davis, but his choice of defensive coordinator could affect the scheme.
There’s a strong possibility that he might bring his current defensive coordinator, John Jancek, with him. Jancek knows the SEC after spending time as a former defensive assistant at Georgia. Jones has said in the past that keeping a familiar staff is important to him.
*Hat tip to Down the Drive, a Cincinnati football blog that is no longer actively updated, for explanations and diagrams of some of Butch Jones' plays, schemes and history.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS