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December 7, 2012

The journey to Jones

It was a long, winding journey for the process to find Tennessee's 24th head football coach.

Here's a quick refresher on a wild, nearly month-long odyssey.

Nov. 11 - VolQuest.com reports that Derek Dooley's days are imminently numbered in the aftermath of a stunning, four-overtime loss at home to Missouri. No UT official offers Dooley any endorsement throughout the week, and the hours are numbered on Nov. 17 when the Vols are blown out at Vanderbilt.

Nov. 18 - Tennessee officially relieves Derek Dooley as the head coach of the University's football team. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is tagged as the interim head coach and so begins a national search for a new head coach that would last 19 days. Dave Hart assumes virtual control of the football program, even calling recruits as the process ever-so-slowly unfolds.

Week of Nov. 19-25 - As the Tennessee football team prepares for its last game against Kentucky, athletic director Dave Hart prepares for his coaching search. Hart and his administrative team dive into numerous coaching candidates, but just as importantly, Hart meets with chancellor Jimmy Cheek to get things between the academics and athletics more in-tune with one another which lead to ...

Nov. 20 - UT announces that for the next three years the money the athletic department has contributed to the campus will be reinvested in the athletics department to the tune of $18 million. This is seen as a significant step in mending a sometimes tenuous relationship between academics and athletics at UT.

Nov. 28 - The first real significant news about candidates and the search emerges when sources both sides tell VolQuest.com and other media outlets report that Tennessee had set up a tentative meeting with Gruden, but Gruden turned down the meeting on Nov. 27. Numerous sources on Wednesday indicated the cancellation came as result of what would have been a second set of discussions, but the first formal face-to-face talks between Gruden and UT officials but one that was not expected to result in a contract or formal offer.

Nov. 30 - Even after the canceled meeting between Tennessee and Gruden, rumors continued to swirl that Gruden was a top candidate for the Tennessee job. But, some half-dozen sources told VolQuest.com the morning of Nov. 30 that Gruden both declined an offer to meet with UT officials, most notably vice chancellor and director of athletics Dave Hart, and that neither side ever got to a point where a financial framework was outlined.

The news comes on the heels of a report in the Nov. 30 edition of the Chattanooga Times Free Press that alleged Gruden was mulling over an offer and could decide on his own time frame, a report labeled "irresponsible" by someone familiar with proceedings. UT and Gruden's camp deny the report vehemently, with Gruden's agent calling the chatter "fantasy world."

That Friday, Nov. 30, sources told VolQuest Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart and another high-ranking UT official spent numerous hours with Louisville head coach Charlie Strong. Multiple sources said that Strong felt the interview went well and that he would have a shot for the Tennessee job.

Dec. 2 Tennessee officials fly to Stillwater, Okla., where they interview Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy in his own house. After the interview, Gundy indicated to a few close to him that he could have the job if he wanted it. While it seemingly became a waiting game with Gundy, Strong continued to call people familiar with the Tennessee job to find out more about it.

Dec. 4 - . Multiple sources told VolQuest.com that Strong had emerged as the clubhouse leader. Strong has been talking to several coaches about possibly joining him on a Tennessee staff, a staff that would likely have a Vol feel to it.

Strong spent the day in his Louisville office and sources say spent a good bit of the afternoon continuing to research the Tennessee job making sure he had answers to any final questions he had about the University and the job, including questions about academics. Tuesday evening Strong even visited with an NFL scout who was in Louisville about the Tennessee job.

But, by Tuesday night Strong hadn't made a decision.

Dec. 5 - Early Dec. 5, Gundy turned Tennessee's offer - or Tennessee's pressed forward in attempted action - leaving no doubt who Tennessee's target was in its search for a head coach. Strong spent Wednesday morning visiting by phone with Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart, as Louisville's athletics director Tom Jurich has been working on a contract extension and raise for his third year head coach.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Hart, his wife, and Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director Jon Gilbert flew to Louisville for a final hour face-to-face meeting with Strong to try and secure a deal with Strong. The indication from those close to the situation Wednesday evening was that Tennessee felt optimistic about introducing Strong as its new head coach Thursday morning. But, Strong informed Tennessee later Wednesday night that he will remain at Louisville, turning down a deal from Tennessee hovering at or perhaps slightly above $4 million annually.

The search would move into day 18 with no head coach and seemingly having to start over again.
Dec. 6 - The day started with Tennessee taking another look at the candidates left on the board after field several calls late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning with coaches letting Tennessee know they were interested.

Throughout the sorting of names and calls made, Cincinnati's Butch Jones remained. Jones had made it clear to anyone who would listen even before Derek Dooley was fired that he wanted the job. Jones was blown away by everything at Tennessee when he brought his team to Knoxville last season. Jones' people spoke with Tennessee Wednesday night to see if the Vols would have interest following Strong's withdraw. And there was mutual interest.

The Cincinnati coach was in position to take the Colorado job, but put the brakes on the Buffaloes to talk Tennessee. Colorado's athletic director was likely talking about the Vols when he told the Denver Post that something came up Wednesday night.

Thursday Tennessee spent part of the day vetting Jones. They had done background work into Jones before, but really got into that work on Thursday because no one thought this is where Tennessee's coaching. The reviews from football people regarding Jones seem very positive.

Hart was in Knoxville most of the day but Thursday evening after hosting a small Christmas party in the skybox at Neyland-Stadium, sources said Tennessee officials left to go to Kentucky where they visited with Jones. Jones was said to be encouraged with things, but didn't tell anyone that he has received a formal offer from the Vols. Hart told UTAD employees at the party he hoped they got what they wished for for Christmas; he said he wanted a football coach.

Dec. 7 - Early Friday morning at approximately 6:35 a.m., Volquest.com receives confirmation from sources that Butch Jones would be the next head coach of the Tennessee football team.



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