Jones met with his players this morning in Cincinnati. The school announced his resignation shortly thereafter.
Jones waited this week while the Vols’ search unsuccessfully targeted Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy and Louisville’s Charlie Strong. Courted by both Purdue and Colorado in the last five days, Jones nearly agreed to a contract with the Buffaloes on Wednesday night, but backed out when Strong turned down the Vols contract offer. A day later, Jones met with Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart to put the new deal in motion.
Jones, who will turn 45 next month, has a career path that has closely followed that of Brian Kelly, his one-time boss at Central Michigan. When Kelly left for Cincinnati after the 2006 season, Jones replaced him, going 27-13 in three seasons. When Kelly left UC for Notre Dame, Jones followed him again. Jones is 23-14 in three seasons with the Bearcats, including a 10-win performance in 2011.
Cincinnati (9-3) is scheduled to meet Duke in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27. It’s unlikely that Jones will coach in that game, although that has yet to be confirmed.
Jones grew up in Saugatuck, Mich., and graduated from Ferris State in 1990. Jones made $1.77 million this year. It will cost $1.4 million to buy out his contract.
Jones replaces Derek Dooley, who was fired on Nov. 18 after three losing seasons. He becomes Tennessee’s third permanent head coach since Phillip Fulmer was forced out after the 2008 season.
Jones has been to Knoxville before. The Bearcats were routed by Tennessee 45-23 on Sept. 12, 2011, in Neyland Stadium. Cincinnati recovered from the loss to finish the season ranked 25th, giving Dooley his only win against a team that finished the year in the Top 25.
Jones had been a rumored finalist for jobs at Kentucky and Colorado, but sources in both searches have said that he told them he was holding out to see if he could get the Tennessee job.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.