December 14, 2024 | The Historic Cramton Bowl

Glance background 1
Team 1 Logo
Team 2 Logo
Glance background 2

December 14, 2024

9:00 pm ET/8:00 pm CT on ESPN

Montgomery, Alabama



ASU PROFILE: Head Coach Butch Jones

Posted December 22, 2023

By Tim Gayle

Nick Saban is famous for resurrecting the careers of fired football coaches with a rehab stint in Tuscaloosa.

The University of Alabama football coach has had volumes written about his work in turning around the careers of Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin and Texas coach Steve Sarkisian, just to name a couple of high-profile coaches who spent time with Saban.

Add Butch Jones to the list. The fired Tennessee football coach, who went into Club Saban for a three-year stay and emerged with employment at Arkansas State University, says Saban was the perfect cure at the perfect time in his coaching career.

“When you bring up Nick Saban, you’re talking to probably his biggest fan,” Jones said. “Him and Miss Terry and what they’ve done for me and my family.”

Jones’ coaching career involves stops at every level, starting with an internship with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1987-89), followed by his first coaching job at Rutgers (1990-92). He served as an offensive coordinator at Wilkes University, Ferris State and Central Michigan, along with a brief stop at West Virginia before head coaching stops in Central Michigan (2007-09), Cincinnati (2010-12) and Tennessee (2013-17).

Fired from Tennessee in 2017 after an 0-6 start in Southeastern Conference play, he was contemplating his next move when the phone rang.

“I was sitting at home, all set to go to Ohio State and be with Urban Meyer,” Jones recalled. “Urban Meyer had to go out of town and the next day and I get a call from Coach Saban. ‘We’d like for you to come in and interview.’ I thought to myself, I ask our players to be comfortable being uncomfortable, I need to do the same. It was the first interview I had been on in a long time.

“You know Coach Saban through competition, obviously the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry, but I did not know him personally. So, I said I need to be uncomfortable. There’s only one person on the staff that I knew, but I went in and interviewed the entire day and left. The next day, Coach Saban called and offered me a job. Urban Meyer was out of town and I said, ‘You know what? What a great opportunity.’ And I took the job.”

His severance from Tennessee would pay him roughly $2.5 million per year (minus the $35,000 Saban was paying him as an offensive analyst) through February, 2021, so Jones was content to enter Club Saban and see how the most successful coach in college football conducted business.

“To be able to experience Alabama football, to be able to experience what Coach Saban has built there and the expectations and how you manage everything, it’s a great way to step back and look at everything,” Jones said. “I think you’re constantly evolving. College football is ever changing, hour by hour, day by day, year by year. So much goes into that. I think what I was able to do is self-reflect and evaluate everything. And a lot of the things were confirmation that we were doing the right things.

“So, when you come to Arkansas State, you apply every experience you’ve had as a head coach, as an assistant and then what we experienced at the University of Alabama as well, then you kind of mold it into our own at Arkansas State.”

By his third season at Alabama, Jones had been promoted to special assistant to the head coach, whatever that means.

“I would evaluate the offense at practice, give Coach Saban a report every single day, broken down,” Jones said. “I had a lot of head coaching responsibilities when it came to the (players’) leadership group, when it comes to a lot of the off-the-field things. I did the freshmen orientation. So guys like Will Anderson were in my first freshman orientation class.

“It’s really just taking things off (Saban’s) plate. You’ve got to be a free thinker, you have to run on your own gas and think like a head coach. I always thought, using my head coaching experience, if I had somebody in this role, what would I want from them? And the amazing thing is Coach Saban and I think identical.”

That season, Alabama went 13-0 during a Covid season with an all-SEC schedule, finishing with wins over seventh-ranked Florida in the SEC Championship Game, fourth-ranked Notre Dame in the CFP semifinal and third-ranked Ohio State in the CFP National Championship Game.

Just as Jones’ contract at Tennessee expired, so did his stay at Club Saban. After a three-year stint, he was refreshed and ready to enter the coaching world again. He went to Arkansas State, determined to rebuild a traditional Sun Belt power with great recruiting classes of high school players, supplemented with a few players from the transfer portal.

“We’re still not there yet but we’ve made significant process,” Jones said. “We’ve had two No. 1 (in the Sun Belt) recruiting classes back-to-back. We’re still the third youngest team in America. We only have 11 seniors. That’s one of the reasons I came to Arkansas State. I knew everything would be a learning opportunity, the ability to teach young coaches, teach a football program how to win.”

And he learned from Saban the value of a demanding workout.

“There’s only one speed at the University of Alabama,” Jones said. “And Nick Saban sets the temperament and the pace. And the pace is at an all-time high.”

After the Crimson Tide won the SEC Championship Game over Georgia earlier this month, Jones got multiple calls from both players and coaches. Several of those athletic personnel from Tuscaloosa will make the trip on Saturday to watch the Red Wolves battle Northern Illinois in the 10th annual Camellia Bowl at Cramton Bowl.

Jones will return the favor a week later, traveling to Pasadena to watch the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide battle top-ranked Michigan in the CFP semifinal at the Rose Bowl.

“We’re actually going to the Rose Bowl and they’re putting us up in the team hotel,” Jones said. “When I talk about them being family, they’re family. I consider Coach Saban a mentor and a great, great friend, him and Miss Terry. They welcomed me and my family at a time when we needed them. The ability to experience what we did and all the players and the opportunities that Coach Saban provided for me in that football program, I can’t say enough.”