Avoiding the topic Tuesday would be like avoiding the City BBQ. Not going to happen. Too much transpired surrounding conference realignment and coaching rumors to not address it at Butch Jones' Tuesday South Florida press conference.
It took 15 minutes for them to be brought up, but Jones wasn't afraid to jump in when asked about other schools pursuing his services.
"Everyone wants to speculate and throw darts," he said. "That's the time of situation we are in, it's the time of season where it happens."
His bottom line when it comes to rumors that he has been contacted by the University of Kentucky was clear: "No."
He took being linked to other jobs as a compliment.
"You hear things out there," he said. "That's more a compliment to our football program. That's a compliment to our players. That's a compliment to our coaching staff. Like I said, we are 17-6, this coaching staff, we have won three championships at different levels, we graduate our players and I think we do things right."
Hard to deny his contention. To be playing meaningful games in the month of November with a team that lost its starting quarterback, leading tackler, defensive player of the year, offensive player of the year and four players selected in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft can only be considered a success.
Would he have liked a victory against Rutgers? Yes. He called the offensive performance "flat out inexcusable." Yet, taking a deeper look at all the obstacles placed in front of Jones this year it's easy to understand why he's being mentioned in the conversation of top jobs across the country.
He arrived to that spot by refusing to allow outside forces to keep any focus on the task at hand that day, that week, every week of the season. That's where he found himself again Tuesday.
"All my focus and energy is on the University of Cincinnati," he said. "Getting win No. 8 and obviously a quality bowl game and recruitment and all that. I think you know me by now, I think you knew the answer before you asked the question is my car knows home and back and our opponent, I live in a bunker and just study film and all my effort and energy is on every single player in our football program. That is the thing, when you are the head football coach I have a tremendous loyalty to our fans and to our administration here."
Unfortunately, those fans and administration have much more on their minds than Jones' future. They also wonder about the future of Big East Conference and where UC stands in the musical realignment chairs. Monday, Maryland made it official with a move to the B1G and Rutgers joined them Tuesday.
That leaves the ACC looking to replace Maryland. The lobbying has begun from across the Big East as questions arise regarding the latest round of instability.
President Santa Ono sent a letter out regarding his current stance on the situation. You can read it here.
Jones echoed many of Ono's feelings and as any good college football coach would do, equated the latest shuffle to football terms.
"Sudden change," he said. "You have to be able to answer sudden change."
He moved on to the crux of the situation. With what has been built at UC, the strength of the football and basketball programs along with the Cincinnati TV market make the school valuable wherever they stand.
"With all the conference expansion talk it's all about your university, your institution's profile," Jones said. "You look at the University of Cincinnati, I'm confident. You look at President Ono, he's been in front of this, Whit Babcock, our entire administration. When you look at the profile, it starts with academics. We have tremendous academics here, tremendous facilities, our location, our campus life, then obviously our success on the field. And also in basketball as well. Whatever happens, I think we are going to end up in a good place, I really do. I think we have too much value in the landscape of collegiate athletics to not be looked at."
Ono and Babcock continue to work toward the best solution for UC, no matter what that means, a fact made apparent in Ono's letter.
For Jones, his attention stays focused on winning football games because he holds the utmost confidence in the decision makers at the school.
"I've spoke with Whit about it, I've spoke with President Ono about it and I will tell you this, our university is in great hands with those two individuals along with our board of trustees of really being proactive and having a vision for this institution," he said. "I think we are in pretty good shape."
Of course, in realignment, just as in football, you have to stay prepared for everything.
"Now, sudden change," he said. "We leave this press conference and you never know."
If you have any questions, comments or would like to pitch that St. Susanna in Mason be added to the ACC, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.