CINCINNATI (AP) — The University of Cincinnati ended a whirlwind week on Friday looking for Butch Jones' replacement as football coach while the team started preparing for its bowl game.
The Bearcats have experience at doing both simultaneously.
Jones resigned to take the job at Tennessee early Friday morning, as the players met to start preparing to face Duke in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27. Cincinnati (9-3) shared the Big East title for the fourth time in the past five years.
The team plans to start practicing for the bowl game on Saturday, trying to get past several days of uncertainty and change. It was unclear how many members of the current coaching staff would stay in Cincinnati to prepare for the bowl.
"This industry can be crazy at times," athletic director Whit Babcock said.
The last three Bearcats coaches have used the job as a stepping stone to bigger things, each leaving after three seasons. Mark Dantonio guided Cincinnati into the Big East before leaving for Michigan State. Brian Kelly led Cincinnati to back-to-back titles and berths in the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl before heading to Notre Dame.
Kelly's departure for his dream job left his players and fans angry in 2009. The team was unbeaten and, suddenly, in turmoil heading into its first Sugar Bowl, where it got drubbed by Florida 51-24.
Jones replaced Kelly and, after a disappointing four-win season, won shares of the last two Big East titles. He went 23-14 overall at Cincinnati. Like his predecessor, he leaves with his team starting to prepare for a bowl game.
Defensive line coach Steve Stripling, who joined Jones' staff in 2010, was chosen interim coach on Friday.
Cincinnati's football program was on hold for a week while Jones weighed his options. Babcock said Jones had trouble making a decision, and ultimately the athletic director forced him to make one by Friday morning.
"All I said was we don't have a lot of time, you know it and I know it," Babcock said. "I asked him to set a team meeting less in than 24 hours, and they deserved an answer and we deserved an answer whether he was going to be our head coach or not."
Babcock said he approached Jones about an improved contract and facility improvements during the season, and the coach was delighted. Five BCS schools contacted Jones about job openings as the season wound down, and he told Babcock that he wanted to interview with Purdue and Colorado.
Jones interviewed with Purdue last Sunday and quickly decided against accepting the job. He went to Colorado the following day and was more intrigued, Babcock said.
"This room would be shocked by all the things they threw at him," he said. "It was an impressive list."
Babcock said he was bothered by the pictures of Jones being interviewed at other schools and the speculation about whether he was leaving, which built during the week. Babcock said the coach can make quick decisions during a game, but has a more difficult time with other issues.
"When it comes to other decisions, it will take him a while," he said. "He'll sway this way, he'll sway that way."
Babcock told Jones on Wednesday night that he needed a decision. The next morning, Jones turned down the Colorado job, saying he would stay at Cincinnati. A short time later, Tennessee contacted the university about interviewing him for its open job, which Louisville coach Charlie Strong had turned down.
That's when Babcock set the deadline for a final decision.
"No more public embarrassments, no more public interviews. In less than 24 hours, I needed to know if he was going to take it," Babcock said. "He knew and I knew it wasn't fair for our fans, for our players to drag it out."
A 7:30 a.m. meeting was scheduled with players, even though Jones was still unsure what he would tell them. He informed Babcock at 5:15 a.m. on Friday that he was taking Tennessee's offer.
Jones' contract with Cincinnati includes a $1.4 million buyout. The deal was extended through 2017 after the Bearcats got a share of the Big East title last year.
The Bearcats have trouble keeping coaches for more than three years. They're looking for their next one with a lot of uncertainty over the school's future.
The university has been disappointed by the Big East's massive exodus and lobbied to get into the Atlantic Coast Conference. Instead, rival Louisville got accepted by the ACC, leaving Cincinnati hoping it could make the move in a few more years.
There's also a lot of work to do on the athletic facilities.
During Jones' tenure, Cincinnati expanded its football facility, adding a practice field with a protective bubble for bad weather. The school is trying to figure out how to upgrade 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium, which is the second-oldest playing site in the nation for a college team behind Penn's Franklin Field. Nippert has been in use since 1901.
Despite their Big East success, the Bearcats have played in front of disappointing crowds at Nippert. They drew only 21,171 fans on senior night — their smallest crowd of the season — for a 27-10 win over South Florida this year.
The Bearcats' last two coaches came from the Mid-American Conference. Kelly coached at Central Michigan and was succeeded there by Jones, who then replaced him in Cincinnati. While Jones interviewed and weighed his options this week, two high-profile MAC coaches moved on to bigger schools.
Kent State's Darrell Hazell took the Purdue job after Jones decided he wasn't interested in it. Northern Illinois' Dave Doeren went to North Carolina State.
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