Jones: Its about fit
The timing may not be "traditional," but University of Tennessee coach Butch Jones is seeking a new offensive coordinator as he prepares to transition into Year 3 atop the Volunteers' football program following Mike Bajakian's official departure Thursday to the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
VolQuest.com managed to track down Jones, who's been on the recruiting trail every single day this week, for an exclusive brief question-and-answer session about Jones' pursuit of his next offensive coordinator at Tennessee.
VOLQUEST: When we sat in your office earlier this month the week after the Taxslayer Bowl win, you showed us a journal you keep in your desk containing coaching contacts and persons of interest to you in the coaching ranks. Is that for situations like this? How prepared do you feel for this major search?
BUTCH JONES: We've had great consistency and continuity amongst our staff, and it's a staple of our family environment and program. Our program is on the rise and with success comes opportunities for individuals on our coaching staff to reach some their professional goals and dreams they have. As the head coach, it's my job to always be prepared and I am.
I do keep a journal that I update monthly with what I feel are coaches who could potentially be great fits for Tennessee football for our staff moving forward, from coordinators to position coaches. I constantly evaluate that, and I've relied heavily on that journal.
I'm very thankful to Mike Bajakian for his two years at Tennessee, for everything we've been able to begin building here, and for his work together at our previous stops.
I'm excited for his career move, but I'm also excited for Tennessee. This also is a tremendous opportunity for us to improve across the board and make us better in all avenues of Tennessee football. I take that as a personal challenge.
Sometimes change is good; it's an opportunity to get some new ideas. It can create new energy. It can be something that keep you ahead of the bell curve. For in terms of what we are looking for, we are going to run our offense. We're going to do what we do. Our players understand the terminology. There is not a need and there will not be wholesale changes.
We're going to advance and enhance our offense, be it different formations or a different few things we can add to it. And we need to take great strides moving forward from a fundamental and technical standpoint.
Particularly in this last week of recruiting, everybody tries to use this against you, but there is no negative about it. It's an opportunity to enhance what we are doing and build upon our success, particularly the growth of our team late in the season.
VQ: With that in mind, what are you looking for? What must Butch Jones' ideal candidate bring to the table?
First and foremost, everything is about fit. It's not about hiring a resume. It's about hiring the right fit for Tennessee football, and there are so many different dynamics that go into the word fit or the terminology of fit. Great character, somebody who is a great, great teacher. Somebody with the best interests of the kids at heart. Who can develop players. I want to look at their track record of success. Again, the dynamics of the staff. Tremendous working environment bounded by family. I think it's critical that our staff and myself have some familiarity and that we can know and trust them.
I want him to come in and manage and develop the offense. To have an individual that's an expert at multiple positions. First and foremost, the quarterback position, but an individual with a proven track record of success, who's coached at all different levels. And to have some NFL background would be great as well. To be an expert at a number of positions and be able to lead and direct a staff and lead and motivate and direct our young men. Somebody who will invest in the lives of our players each and every day. I want a fundamentalist. Someone to continue to improve on our diversity of offense, be forward-thinking. But it starts with character, relationships and building in our family environment.
And again, it get backs to a term I keep using, the right fit. Not looking for wholesale changes. I want someone who can make the entire staff better, starting with me. I want them to make me better, challenge me to get better, as well as the rest of the staff.
VQ: Have you faced this situation before; not assembling a staff at the beginning of a new job but finding a coordinator after you've already spent time at a school?
JONES: Yes, I did after my second year at Cincinnati in replacing a defensive coordinator. Fortunately, I had John Jancek who had been a co-coordinator at the University of Georgia. I did conduct a national search and all paths led me to John Jancek. Anytime you take over a new program, you're always looking at the best needs for a program in that stage. I have been through it, this will be second one that's happened. I am prepared. This is on me.
Having that experience and having been through it before helps you greatly. There is no replacement, there is no substitution for experience and being able to doing that before.
And in each instance, you have to look at what your program needs at this particular time and what's best for Tennessee football. It's not about hiring a resume; it's hiring the best fit and having done this before, as a coach I take great pride in being prepared for these situations when they come about. It's not something that I'm not prepared for; I'm always prepared for these opportunities and the chance and the challenge to improve staff.
VQ: How will you view candidates from the outside while also continuing your ongoing evaluations of your current staff?
JONES: The way we structure our offensive and defensive staffs, I always look at it as a group effort. It's led by coordinators but it's a group effort. Fortunately on the offensive side of ball to have a number of coaches that I view as coordinators sitting in that room, and the coordinator is then basically the head coach of that side of the ball. My philosophy has always been surround coordinators with great quality coaches, and we have that at Tennessee. We have a tremendous staff, and we have that on both sides of the ball. We've got a lot of defensive coaches who are coordinators.
I treat this as a collaborative effort, a group effort of presenting the game plan and developing the game plan. I take great pride in teamwork and it's evident in the way we conduct staff meetings and the way we structure our offensive and defensive staff meetings as well.
VQ: I know you don't want to divulge specific names, but what has the interest level been like for you around the country for coaches interested in joining your Tennessee staff? How much has your phone been ringing?
JONES: It's Tennessee. And the way I look at it is that it's the most attractive coordinator job in the country, when you look at all the things going on here with recruiting classes, environment on campus and in our program, our vision for the program, the overall culture in place. It's a very, very attractive job because Tennessee is a very, very attractive place. It's frankly very humbling the individuals, professional and collegiate, the individuals interested in this job. It's humbling. But again, I have to be able to look at and say it's all about fit, what's best fit for the Tennessee program.
This is a special place. There are not very many places anywhere like the University of Tennessee.
VQ: What has Athletics Director Dave Hart said to you as you undertake this process? How is that dynamic?
JONES: Having an individual like Dave Hart is a tremendous resource. When u look at his years of being an A.D., his years as a coach, I rely on him a lot. He's a great sounding board. But the great thing about working with and for him is that when you're working for an individual like Dave, he knows I live this program 24-7, and I know what we need. We've been able to get where we're at now, and we're still going to keep improving, by trusting your gut. I'm going to trust my gut. I'll do the same with this hire. But Dave has been a tremendous asset and resource for me.
VQ: On a day that Coach Bajakian opted for an NFL opportunity, Tennessee still collected a commitment from a high-profile recruit. What message do you think that sent? What message do you send recruits who ask about Tennessee right now?
JONES: The program is very, very stable. The program is in great shape. We're building the best college football family in America. People see that. Again, this is an opportunity to get better. An opportunity to enhance our program and our system and get better. There is no negative about this at all. I find this challenge all a positive in continuing to move forward. Unfortunately with the timing in the recruiting process, individuals and schools try to use it against you. Hey, that's just all recruiting tactics.
This program is bounded with great positivity moving forward, and honestly I'm very excited and motivated by that.