A few weeks ago while serving as the keynote speaker at the annual Elder stag, Butch Jones received a standing ovation when he got up to speak.
"That's the first standing ovation in history for a 4-and-8 football coach," Jones said to a big laugh.
But the warm reception was no joke to the Bearcats' second year coach.
"That meant more to me than you could believe," Jones told me. "People understand the work that it takes and the support has been overwhelming. I've enjoyed every speaking engagement, and I've felt very welcomed. It makes you feel good and it energizes you and makes you want to win that much more for the people here."
While it's been a tumultuous off-season in the Big East with coaching changes at Pitt and UConn, and a bizarre coach-in-waiting plan at
"Four individuals from our full-time coaching staff were offered positions at other institutions - some would doubled or tripled their salaries - and we managed to keep our coaching staff intact," Jones said. "That's a tribute to loyalty, I think it's a tribute to the vision of where we're going, and I think it's their belief in our kids. It tells you that you're doing things right and it's all about surrounding yourself with the right people and it just proves to me more and more that we have the right people here."
After going 27-13 and winning two MAC championships in three years at Central Michigan, Coach Jones endured a difficult first season at
"(Next season) can't get here soon enough," Jones said. "I already have training camp mapped out and planned. Our motto is 'Be a Champion.' Before you can have a championship football team, the team has to be comprised of champions. It's how you go to class, it's where you sit, it's how you train, it's your focus - that's been our sole purpose. It's been a great off-season to date and we're looking forward to spring football."
Spring practice officially begins on March 28th, but the Bearcats began rigorous early morning training sessions at the start of January in the new indoor practice bubble.
"Last year from January to the middle of March, we weren't able to get outside and run, throw, and do our mental toughness and physical toughness training," Jones said. "It's the first place that I've even been in coaching where we weren't able to do skill development. This year it's been unbelievable. The bubble is first-class and we've been able to work with our kids at 7:00 am workouts. It's already made a monumental difference for us. They're excited that they can work on their skills year-round in 68 degree temperatures. We've really been able to see great growth and development because of it."
The season begins with a September 1st home game against Austin Peay, followed nine days later by a difficult road test at
"To be able to walk into a young man's house and say, 'You're going to play in an NFL stadium in downtown
"We're excited about it and I think it's an opportunity to continue to grow the program on a national stage by competing in a great NFL venue like Paul Brown Stadium. But we need to step up and this is where I need our fans. We have to make Paul Brown Stadium a great home field advantage. It's our job to put a product on the field that they want to come and watch, and we need to make it a great game day environment like it was for the
Bearcat Nation responded to a similar challenge by traveling in huge numbers to the
"We had too much of a break during the holidays this year," Jones told me. "On New Year's Eve I was in contact with our team saying, 'Hey - I hope you enjoyed the holidays with your family but this isn't what's expected here.'"
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