Butch Jones watched the Sugar Bowl from Cincinnati athletic director Mike Thomas's box in the Super Dome until he couldn't stand being so far away from the action anymore. At that point, he told Thomas, "Let's go down to the field."
Of course, the game didn't go the Bearcats' way, but when it was over a a new era had officially begun.
"When it ends, now you're thinking this is finally your team," Jones said. "A million thoughts start racing through your mind."
Jones has had time since to put his thoughts into action as he inherits the two-time Big East champs. I caught up with Jones this week for some of those thoughts, and this is Part I of my interview with the new Cincinnati head coach. Check back tomorrow for Part II.
Had any chance to catch your breath yet?
Butch Jones: We've been going nonstop. We took a long weekend off, but looking around the staff room, there are six of our guys from Central Michigan who haven't had any time off at all from playing in the GMAC Bowl on January 6th and getting here January 7th and then having an official visit on the 8th. I gave them few days off just to catch their breath and get settled in a little bit, but we've been going nonstop.
You were around for the Sugar Bowl, though you stayed in the background. How much did it help to be around the team and see the players in action?
BJ: Oh, I thought it helped immensely. I was able to hit the ground running. You know, it was extremely difficult to stay in the background and not be a distraction. That was difficult, because I think if you talk to any coach, you want to get in there and get going. But I thought it was very beneficial to sit back and kind of see different things and evaluate body language and different things like that. I thought it was good for the kids because it gave them some familiarity with me. I thought that helped ease the transition and it's been, so far, an extremely smooth transition.
This is, oddly enough, the second time you've replaced Brian Kelly at a program. Are there things you learned from doing that the first time, and does it help at least knowing what kind of program you're stepping into again?
BJ: I think so, a little bit. You're going through this for a second time, taking over for a successful program, and I had such a great experience from going through that at Central Michigan that I think it will be extremely beneficial here as well. The second time around, you always learn from the first time. Like, what you did coming in and things maybe you'd do a little bit differently. I think that's a tribute to experience and going through a transition before.
You walk into a great situation with a team that's won two straight Big East titles. But are there some difficulties in taking over a championship level program in terms of the players perhaps resisting change because they've been so successful in the past?
BJ: That's a great question, and I think there are some difficulties because of the success we've had the last two years. But I'll tell you what, our players have been great. They've been all in from the get-go. And they understand what it takes to win, and they've been working extremely hard. They've done their due diligence with everything and accepted all challenges I've laid out in front of them. I've been pleased with the way our kids have handled change. And, you know, change is what you make of it. Change, I think at times is uncomfortable, but I think change is healthy. What it does is create renewed spirit, renewed competitiveness. Our kids have done a great job with it and we have some very good leaders on this football team. So I think we're benefiting from the competition part of it right now.
How much difference is there between your offensive philosophy and Kelly's? You both run a high-tempo spread.
BJ: I think with any offensive system there's little nuances, philosophically speaking. But there are a lot of similarities in terms of being a no-huddle, being a spread. It's a lot of the same schemes, just the terminology is different. There will be some subtle changes here and there. I think that's only natural with each coaching staff. And you rely on the different backgrounds of the coaches you have on staff. So there will be some differences, but also lot of similarities as well.
How important is this spring for you just to install your way of doing things?
BJ: It's going to be critical. You're starting over and training the team in the way you want them to take the field, the way you practice, the different things you do in practice. They're learning a new system and new terminology. I told the team that we're building the identity of the 2010 Cincinnati Bearcats every day. I've talked to each player and told them everyone is starting at ground zero. Everyone has a clean slate.
You brought most of your Central Michigan staff with you. How much does that help the transition?
BJ: If you look over time at why are programs successful, it's the continuity aspect. Having these coaches that have been with me before, they understand my expectations, they understand the expectations I lay upon the players and the foundation of our program. It's made the transition that much easier. They know what I'm thinking and I know what they're thinking. Any time you bring in coaches you've worked with for a while, I think that eases the learning curve.
Zach Collaros told me at the Sugar Bowl that you called him Christmas Day to tell him you looked forward to spending a lot of time with him the next two years. What did you think about what you saw from him and his potential?
BJ: I'm obviously very excited about Zach. He has the intangibles you look for in a quarterback, with his ability to lead a football team with his confidence, his moxie, and his ability to learn, his functional intelligence. And so far, he's showed me all those intangibles. I think he's really hungry to compete and win the starting quarterback job. You throw in another individual in Chazz Anderson, and they're both very, very hungry.
I've always said a head coach has to have a special bond and special feel for his quarterbacks because they are an extension of you on the football field. I think these individuals have done a great job of building these relationships and coming around the offices. I'm excited about these kids.They just take everything and run with it.
One thing you can't put a price tag on, it's invaluable, is understanding and knowing how to win. These kids expect to win. We're not coming in here having to teach a group of individuals how to win. They understand the expectations that are now laid upon our football program. They understand the expectations and price tag of being a Cincinnati Bearcat.