Deep into the 2010 football season and in the months that followed, Bearcats fans were up in arms with the hiring of Butch Jones. Most couldn’t believe that a team lead by Zach Collaros who set the world on fire in four games in the previous 12 – 1 campaign along with talent in Isaiah Pead, Armon Binns, and D.J. Woods around him could somehow go 4 – 8 and get blown out in most of their losses. After a single season at the helm, these fans wanted Jones gone.
Well that just didn’t make any sense whatsoever. College coaching hires need to be judged at least three years into the job especially when transition years are typically difficult for the new coaching staff and the players alike. Unfortunately in this ‘show me now’ world we live in even the smallest mistake is scrutinized to the Nth degree. The comparisons between Brian Kelly and Butch Jones are never ending but one that is absolutely false is the idea that both run the exact same offense simply because they are labelled as ‘Spread’. If you have watched both Brian Kelly’s offense and Rich Rodriquez’s Michigan and West Virginia teams, you know that they have two completely different ways of doing things. Kelly stretches the field with the vertical passing game and Rich Rod opts for a heavy option attack that spreads the defense out with multiple receivers. But both are technically ‘Spread Offenses’ but with different tendencies.
The same can be said of the Butch Jones offense which is nothing like Brian Kelly’s. You can read a much more detailed analysis of the difference here but to put it simply, Jones opts for a more balanced attack utilizing inside/outside reads when running the ball. They are also meshed with the passing game because the quarterback can easily run play action off of those reads if he deems it necessary. This passing game is also different from Kelly’s system. Jones’ wide receiver route tree does not revolve around keeping the secondary on it’s heels but instead opts for shorter passes to the sidelines that spreads the defense East-West vs. North-South, similar to what Rich Rod did. Coach Jones does come from the Rich Rod coaching tree after all.
The point is that the team went from one way of scoring points to a completely new way almost overnight, which is what most people didn’t realize when Jones took over. Learning his offense isn’t easy and you could tell last season how players struggled to grasp the complicated schemes in just a few months. Now with a full year of understanding his system, it’s clear the players ‘get it’ and 9 wins is the proof of that. From this season forward, players will only have to refine the minute details of their game instead of learning a brand new system. As long as Butch Jones stays at Cincinnati, that bodes well for the future.
But it’s more than just the Butch Jones offense that Bearcats players now fully understand. During the offseason the players on defense were playing under the same coaches for the first time in 3 years. The Bearcats also improved in the weight room under Dave Lawson. Cincinnati had a rack of injuries in 2010 presumably from players being unaccustomed to the workouts that heavily worked the legs. After a year of adjusting to the new workout routine, injuries are down and the lack of depth problem in 2010 was all but erased in 2011.
This ‘lack of depth’ is the perfect segway into what Jones does on the recruiting trail that is 100x better than what Kelly did. To be blunt, Kelly was a lazy POS when it came to recruiting. Sure he was a solid in game coach and could turn no-name players into stars but his recruiting plan revolved around snagging a ton of tight ends and somehow turning them into offensive tackles and defense ends. His recruiting board was also not nearly as deep as Jones’. What I mean by this is that when a prospect on Brian Kelly’s list went elsewhere, he replaced him with whoever he could find be it a walk-on, a player with few scholarships, or someone who is in danger of not qualifying academically or legally. If you look back at Kelly’s final full class while at Cincinnati (2009), you’ll see 25 players on that list. But when you compare it to the current roster, you’ll see that less than half of those players are donning Cincinnati Bearcats uniforms now. That kind of attrition will kill a football program.
Jones instead has a longer list consisting generally of academically qualified players with good character and with better raw talent. He is also taking Bearcats recruiting to a different level. As I find myself saying over and over again, ‘Cincinnati Bearcats’ is a national brand and the coaching staff is utilizing that to the best of their abilities. In two full recruiting classes so far, they have pulled kids from recruiting hotbeds of Georgia, Florida, and Memphis, Tennessee. This is why the 2011 class was the best in the history of the program and the class of 2012 is on pace to top that.
But, getting high quality recruits doesn’t mean anything if you can’t develop them (see: Rutgers). Thankfully, Butch Jones didn’t forget how to coach when he came to Cincinnati as many had thought. Let’s take the example of Munchie Legaux. He was thrust into the starting quarterback position when Zach Collaros was lost for the year against West Virginia. In his first full game against the Scarlet Knights, Legaux had horrible mechanics and constantly threw at the feet of receivers or the helmets of defensive linemen. In the two games following, the turn around was remarkable. While still rusty, Legaux displayed much better foot work and had a better overall understanding of the offense. That’s a testament to Coach Jones and his staff working with Legaux tirelessly on these basics. It also shows how the staff adjusted their gameplan to better fit his abilities, and that change also has to be commended.
Finally, as I mentioned Coach Jones is a workaholic. Not like these guys (great show, by the way) but is a blue collar kind of guy that citizens of Cincinnati can get behind. He’s also a family man that truly loves his coaching staff and players. This city holds those two values in high regards and it’s for that reasont that they should embrase him as one of their own. Jones is certainly proud to call Cincinnati his home so it only makes sense to return the favor and call him their Coach.
So if you’re one of the few who are still camped outside his house with a sign calling for his head, then you are probably a very lonely person. Because the rest of us realize the great head coach, program builder, and person the Cincinnati Bearcats have. I for one am excited to see where Coach Butch Jones takes this football program.