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CINCINNATI - "You know how to stop all this?", Butch Jones asked. "How to end all the schools jumping leagues and coaches bailing out on their kids?"
"How?" I asked. Who wouldn't be curious to get his take. This was back in September, within weeks apparently of when UC Athletic Director Whit Babcock says he began assembling an informal inventory of possible successors to Jones.
"Here's how you do it", he started, leaning forward in his chair for emphasis. "Say a guy signs a five year contract; he can't be fired and he can't leave for five years. End of story. The coach gets a chance to build a program. The kids don't get screwed over and if he struggles at the start, the school can't overreact and can him."
I'm sure that Butch Jones still believes that, though he passed on his first big chance to "walk that walk". Can't blame him though. When I saw the meager crowd on hand for UC's senior day ceremony, I knew it didn't bode well for the future. God bless the Bearcat faithful who were there for the tribute and for other games against less than top draw opponents. There were just too few of them. And that wasn't Jones' fault.
Then there is the no small issue of his representative, Trace Armstrong. He introduced Butch to another client, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra last winter. They bonded immediately, swapping theory upon anecdote upon experience in leading, cajoling, enticing others to reach beyond their self perceived grasp. It obviously wasn't a fools errand as Spoelstra coached the Heat to the NBA title. Jones was in the locker room, posing with the trophy in the aftermath of the tumultuous game 5 win.
He now has a chance to bask in similar glory amidst the awe inspiring expanse of Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. My senior day experience there in 2004, when Michael Munoz played his last game was instructive in terms of seeing what big time college football is like. It isn't like UC.
So in that regard, Butch, whose stock in trade is telling kids to be all they can be, to do otherwise would have been counter intuitive.
But back to Mr. Armstrong. He gets paid handsomely to do Butch's bidding. That way he can say with plausible deniability, that "No, I've not talked with anyone there about anything." That's because Trace already has. In fact, I'm told that Colorado didn't call Jones, Armstrong called on his behalf. But that's for another day.
It would be naive to think that Mr. Armstrong wouldn't have a strong opinion about whether Butch should stay at UC and make this much, when he can go elsewhere and make twice that. He after all, gets his cut of the contract. Three or four or five percent of $18 million is a major incentive for an agent to point out the slights and impediments that his client has endured in his current situation. "Butch, you've done what you can here. Its time to move on."
And so he has. Maybe with his new stability and standing, he can champion that cause he spoke of so nobly in September.
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