Cincinnati athletic director Whit Babcock had one of the toughest weeks of anyone in college football, there is no question about that.
We all learned just how tough when when he spoke during a news conference Friday. Babcock was refreshingly open, candid and honest, detailing how he and his program fought to keep Butch Jones as their head coach not just this week -- but for months.
In the end, however, their repeated pleas, their new contract offer, their discussions about renovating Nippert Stadium -- none of that was enough to keep Jones from accepting the job at Tennessee.
Babcock said he first approached Jones midway through the season to talk about a contract extension with a salary that was a "significant" increase over the $1.575 million he made in 2012. Babcock told Jones, "Coach, whether you win another game the rest of the year, whether you have any other offers, you're our guy. We're committed and I want you to know that." Babcock says Jones was receptive.
But after the season ended, Babcock became aware of "interest in Butch from no less than five other BCS schools." All the while, Babcock stressed the advantages Cincinnati offered. Jones told Babcock he wanted to interview at Purdue and Colorado "for closure." After returning from his interview with Purdue, Babcock says Jones told him, "Whit, I've never felt better about UC."
Babcock says he tried to talk Jones out of going to Colorado, and reminded him that there would be risks involved with all of these very public courtships. But Jones insisted on going, and Babcock admitted, "It bothered me to see the pictures and read the reports of his interview there. When he landed back in Ohio, we talked for a long time. Butch was candid. Colorado threw together more than a generous offer. The group in this room would be shocked at what they offered. But he also told me he was still leaning toward staying at UC but had a tough decision to make."
Babcock asked what more Cincinnati could do to get him to stay. Jones said the offer on the table was generous enough. But by Wednesday evening, Babcock had had enough. He needed an answer. He met with Jones on Thursday morning, and Jones told him, "We're not going to Colorado, we're staying."
Minutes later, Babcock got a call from Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart requesting permission to interview Jones. To Babcock's knowledge, Jones had not heard from the Vols until Thursday morning. Babcock told Jones he needed a decision in less than 24 hours, because he wanted "no more public embarrassments." Babcock requested Jones call a team meeting be called for the following day.
Around 5:15 Friday morning, Jones told Babcock he was leaving. Jones spoke to his team at 7:30 a.m.
"We are more than a coach, we are proudly Cincinnati," said Babcock, who repeatedly stressed he did everything he could to get Jones to stay. "It's about all of us coming together now as one team. We have a vision. No one of us is as strong as all of us. It's time to move forward together, and our search will begin immediately."
In his search, Babcock says he is going to be looking for leadership and competence. He has no timetable for making a hire. But he was pressed several times on how he was going to find a coach to stay for the long-term, rather than go through the coaching carousel the Bearcats have gone through the last nine years.
"I don't doubt for a minute when Mark Dantonio took this job and Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, they all probably felt they were going to be here forever," Babcock said. "But we do need to drill down further with somebody in that area and I hope their heart is in it to stay long term. I can't say the next coach would never leave. I'd like to but I can't."