Tennessee introduced Jones on Friday as its successor to Derek Dooley, who was fired Nov. 18 after going 15-21 in three seasons. Jones becomes the Volunteers' fourth coach in six seasons, ending a tumultuous couple of days for both parties. The new Vols coach said he was taking over "the best college football program in America."
"We'll be working to be champions each and every day," Jones said. "We will be a champion in everything we do. That's not only on the field but off the field."
Jones, 44, has a 50-27 record in six seasons as a head coach. He went 27-13 in three seasons at Central Michigan and was 23-14 at Cincinnati the past three years. He now faces the task of rebuilding a former Southeastern Conference power that has posted three consecutive losing seasons.
Jones takes the job after declining an offer to become the new coach at Colorado. A six-year contract was finalized with the Volunteers early Friday, sources told ESPN, and Cincinnati said Jones had resigned his position with the Bearcats effective immediately.
Tennessee went after at least two other candidates before hiring Jones.
During the 19-day search to replace Dooley, the Volunteers contacted ESPN analyst and former Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden, who indicated he wasn't interested. The Vols then pursued Charlie Strong, who said Thursday he had turned down their offer and would stay at Louisville.
"Rarely in life is anything exactly what it seems to be," Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said. "Life doesn't throw us all fastballs. It throws us curves, and then you've got some screwballs. ... You've got to be able to adjust."
Jones, meanwhile, apparently was waiting for a job like Tennessee.
On the same day Strong made his announcement, Jones rejected an offer to take over Colorado's program. He also had been linked to the Purdue coaching job before withdrawing his name from consideration.
Cincinnati athletic director Whit Babcock said Jones told him Thursday morning he was rejecting Colorado's offer. A few minutes later, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart called Babcock to express his interest in contacting Jones. Babcock said he gave Jones 24 hours to make a decision on whether to stay if Tennessee offered the job.
Babcock said Jones notified him of his decision at 5:15 a.m. ET Friday and informed Cincinnati's players at a 7:30 a.m. ET team meeting.
"It's been kind of a whirlwind," Jones said.
Jones' hiring means each of the four Southeastern Conference teams that fired coaches this season has filled its vacancy.
Kentucky hired Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops last week to replace Joker Phillips. Arkansas hired Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin on Tuesday to take over for John L. Smith. Auburn selected Arkansas State's Gus Malzahn on Tuesday as the replacement for Gene Chizik.
The Volunteers' recent coaches include: Phillip Fulmer, who was fired after the 2008 season, ending his career with a 152-52 record; Lane Kiffin, who coached in 2009 before leaving for USC; and Dooley.
After winning at least eight games for 16 consecutive seasons from 1989 to 2004, Tennessee hasn't earned more than seven victories in any of its past five seasons. The Vols went 5-7 this fall for their fifth losing season in eight years. This also is the first time since 1909-11 that Tennessee has finished below .500 three years in a row.
Hart said at the start of the search that head coaching experience was "critically important" and that he wanted a coach who "knows the difficulty of climbing the ladder in the SEC." Jones lacks SEC experience, but he has a career winning percentage of .649. Jones' teams have earned at least a share of a conference title in four of his six seasons as a head coach.
After replacing Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly at Central Michigan and then again at Cincinnati, Jones maintained the momentum his predecessor had established at each school.
In Jones' three-year stint at Central Michigan, the Chippewas won two Mid-American Conference championships and posted a combined league record of 22-3. Jones went 4-8 in his first year at Cincinnati, but the Bearcats are 19-6 since and have tied for first place in the Big East each of the past two seasons. Cincinnati's 2011 season included a 45-23 loss at Tennessee.
Jones signed a contract extension after the 2011 season that includes a $1.4 million buyout if he left before Jan. 1.
He becomes the third consecutive Cincinnati coach to leave after three seasons. Mark Dantonio went 18-17 from 2004 to 2006 before Michigan State hired him away. Kelly posted a 34-6 record before leaving for Notre Dame at the end of a perfect regular season in 2009.
Cincinnati has made defensive line coach Steve Stripling its interim head coach for the Dec. 27 Belk Bowl against Duke in Charlotte, N.C., while it begins searching for Jones' successor.
"There is no timetable to make the hire," Babcock said. "Making the right hire is better than the quickest hire, but admittedly sooner is better if possible."
Jones' background as an assistant is entirely on offense, but one of his biggest challenges at Tennessee initially will be strengthening a defense that allowed the most points (35.7) and yards (471.4) per game of any SEC team this season. The Vols hadn't allowed that high a scoring average since 1893, when they gave up 42.7 points per game while playing a six-game schedule. They hadn't yielded that many yards per game since at least 1950, the earliest year Tennessee's sports information department has that statistic on file.
The makeup of Jones' first offense at Tennessee also remains uncertain, at least for now.
Bray threw for 3,612 yards and 34 touchdowns this year to rank second on Tennessee's single-season list in both categories, behind Peyton Manning's 3,819 yards and 36 touchdown passes in 1997. Hunter caught 73 passes for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns. Patterson gained a school-record 1,858 all-purpose yards.
Junior offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James also has been mentioned as a possible draft candidate.
Information from ESPN's Joe Schad, ESPN.com's Chris Low and The Associated Press was used in this report.