Growing Pains; The Continuing Evolution of the Bearcats in a Transition Year


The Cincinnati Bearcats have lost two in a row falling from the ranks of the unbeaten. The snap reaction was to fire everybody and most of all head coach Butch Jones. Let me be clear about something. Butch Jones isn’t going to be fired. The University of Cincinnati’s doesn’t have the cash to fire a coach with his salary and expect to fill his role with a coach close to his pay grade. He’s more likely to show himself out than have UC show him the door.

So you can just throw that idea out the window right now.

Let me be clear about another thing. Butch Jones is the best thing that has ever happened to the Cincinnati Bearcats football program. Why the hell would anyone want to get rid of this man?! He’s added another Big East trophy to the Lidner Center, reeled in the most talented recruits in UC football history, and established a formula for dominating on both sides of the football. Furthermore, UCats membership is up, 1200 Club membership is rising and pumping more cash into the athletic department than ever before, and attendance at Nippert Stadium is holding steady near capacity.

The argument can be made that Brian Kelly with his two BCS bowls and undefeated season was the best thing that ever happened to UC football. Yes those undeniably put Cincinnati on the map. But at this point in time Butch Jones is the ideal person to take this program to new heights.

That’s why the quick reaction to firing this man makes absolutely no sense to me. He’s done so much for UC football so far and you want to cut ties with him? Really?! After two losses by a combined 9 points, both on the road, and one in overtime to an undefeated, ranked, and extremely motivated rival?

Come on.

There a two primary statements that Jones has emphasized this season; 1) The roster is compiled of 65 underclassmen and 2) Cincinnati’s margin for error this season is extremely small. We’ve seen these come to fruition in the past two weeks. The source of this problem has to be attrition from the 2009 class.

If you’ve followed this blog from its inception you know that I constantly hark back to the 2009 class as the reason behind depth issues in Butch Jones’ first two seasons. In his third year at the helm he’s done a solid job of remedying those issues by playing talented younger players. But those players can’t make up for what should be a team full of seniors and redshirt juniors from that 2009 class.

Originally the group of signees totaled 25 high school players. It was Brian Kelly’s final full as Cincinnati’s head coach and the last one where top-to-bottom every recruit was picked by him. Not counting Monte Taylor and Jamar Howard who were JUCO’s and graduated last year and Rueben Johnson who was a solid contributor but was unable to play this season, the 2009 class stands at 22 signees. Of those 22, 12 (!!!!) are no longer on Cincinnati’s roster. That’s an attrition rate of 55%! Good golly no wonder Jones has reiterated the depth issues at UC since he came here.

Don’t believe me on the numbers? Check this list against the official roster and see for yourself:

  • DeMarkus Bracy
  • Angel Clybourne
  • Romel Dismuke
  • Ricky Harris
  • Michael Hilty
  • Everett Horne
  • Malik James (A JUCO but never made it to UC)
  • Josh Jones
  • Mitch Kessel
  • Tristin Marvin
  • Ryan Paxson
  • Will Saddler

Now attrition happens in every recruiting class but 55% is incredibly high. These are 12 players who would have been contributing now as battle-hardened upperclassmen but whose rolls are primarily being filled by transfers, JUCOs, and 1st/2nd year players.

Clearly this “Lost Recruiting Class” is the source of Cincinnati’s low margin for error and large percentage of underclassmen on the roster this season. As such the Bearcats are in a transition year as Jones continues to bridge the gap between the few veterans he has on the roster and the talented young bucks waiting in the wings.

That has to be understood before fans start grabbing for pitchforks and torches and threaten to storm into Jones’ office. Sure the last couple of games have been frustrating. I get it. Just like you I’ve watched this team squander opportunities at Toledo and make untimely mistakes against Louisville. It sucked and I wanted to tear my hair out just like the rest of you.

But to terminate Butch Jones without fully appreciating the current state of the team and simply because Cincinnati lost two consecutive football games is ignorant, short-sighted, and wrong. This is a Bearcat team still adjusting from the losses of Zach Collaros, Isaiah Pead, J.K. Schaffer, Derek Wolfe, and John Hughes and sitting at 5 – 2 with maybe one team left of the schedule who could hand them another loss. UC is in great shape to finish with a better record than most fans had projected before the season even began.

For now we should recognize the warts of the Bearcats and accept the growing pains of a team that had replace so much in the offseason and is “about one recruiting class away”, as Jones has said, from seeing the depth issues completely go away. And then hopefully the “fire Butch Jones” nonsense will finally stop.