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December 7, 2012
Don't judge Jones too quickly at Tennessee
Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.He wasn't exactly the first choice for the job. He has no ties to the school, or even to the SEC for that matter. He's never experienced the intensity of recruiting the South.
Jones has finished atop his conference standings in four of his six seasons as a head coach -- finishing lower than second only once -- and amassed a 50-27 record between Central Michigan and Cincinnati. He also led his team to a bowl game in five of those years.
Following an annual one-victory decline over three seasons under Derek Dooley, Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell said that Jones' ability to win is what is needed to jumpstart recruiting on Rocky Top.
"I have a good feeling about this hire and this guy," Farrell said. "What has been missing at Tennessee are the wins, and I think he can turn that around. In recruiting, that is oftentimes what makes kids notice you."
Jones was not the first choice for Tennessee, but he was a hot commodity. Over the last week he had been offered head coaching positions at Purdue and Colorado. Jones was also tied to Boston College and Wisconsin.
Volquest.com editor Brent Hubbs said that despite the national interest in Jones, he will still have a perception problem to battle.
"I don't think this is the exciting hire people wanted," Hubbs said. "It will be a wait-and-see from most Vol fans, and that is not Butch Jones' fault.
"For him to be successful early he will need to hit the ground running full speed. His name is not going to draw immediate reaction from recruits, and I don't think many are going to be saying they want to go to UT just to play for Butch Jones."
While at Cincinnati, Jones did try his hand at recruiting in the Southeast. He extended Cincinnati offers to 14 players from the state of Tennessee in the class of 2013; among them were five players that Tennessee had also offered. Two players -- Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Jason Carr -- are current Vol commitments.
Paul Fortenberry covers Tennessee recruiting for VolQuest.com and said that those recruits who do know Jones have given positive feedback.
"I think he will prove to be better at recruiting the Southeast than people seem to want to give him credit for," Fortenberry said. "Early indications are that most of the commits are going to stick with him."
[ MORE: College Football Coaching Carousel ]
One of the few crossover targets who Fortenberry said was encouraged by the hire was Reeves-Maybin, a four-star athlete from Clarksville (Tenn.) Northeast.
Reeves-Maybin is rated as the No. 214 overall player in the Rivals250 and was scheduled to have a visit with Cincinnati this week.
"Coach Mark Elder from Cincinnati was supposed to meet with Jalen this week, so I think that having Butch come to Tennessee will probably solidify him for Tennessee," Fortenberry said.
"Some of the junior college guys may still take their visits, and the Florida kids will probably have to jump on the Internet and look up information on Butch. But I think overall this class will stick together."
The first order of business in swaying on-the-fence Tennessee fans would be for Jones to make contact with a trio of players who have expressed interest in the program but fallen away recently.
Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy five-star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Richmond (Vir.) Hermitage five-star running back Derrick Green and Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek four-star receiver Marquez North have all shown varying levels of interest in the program.
The three are ranked inside the top 30 of the Rivals100, and each has been on the Knoxville campus.
Farrell said that landing one would be great but not likely.
"Can he get in quickly with Green, North, Ramsey? Maybe, but it would be somewhat shocking," Farrell said. "I do not think that should be the expectation."
Calls to all three were not immediately returned.
Farrell added that this class is not where Tennessee fans should judge Jones.
"Even in the SEC, it is not fair to try and judge a coach who takes over in December," Farrell said. "Expecting Jones to come in and close on some guys that he hasn't had any contact with is unfair, and fans will need to hold off on judging him until next year."
Hubbs said Volunteers fans will want to see something encouraging much earlier than that.
"He will have to get a quality staff together in short order," Hubbs said. "He will have to hit the phone hard, be good in the living room and really get after it.
"Closing this class off will be a good start, but fans wanted more than Butch Jones, so he will have to win them over quickly."
Farrell believes that the same questions were asked about the last few hires from Cincinnati, and each has proven to be more than met the eye.
"Fans may have wanted (Jon) Gruden or (Charlie) Strong, so this isn't sexy for them. But it is a home run for Butch Jones, and I think he will turn it around."