Whit Babcock stood at the podium in the Lindner Center staring down unknowing, confused, hurt collection of staff, fans, media and players. He opened with a statement everyone across the Bearcats fan base felt.
"It's a tough day for the Bearcats," Babcock said.
Only, the Cincinnati AD spent the next 30 minutes disproving his own theory.
Babcock organized himself, President Santa Ono, players Ralph David Abernathy IV and Austen Bujnoch, alongside interim coach Steve Stripling to place transparency on a process that held hostage the minds, hearts and Twitter feeds of Bearcats fans everywhere. The message placed light on one residing theme: "UC is bigger than Butch Jones."
Even in the instant moments following the conclusion of the press conference and before Jones even dons an Orange tie in Knoxville, Tenn., the Bearcats already appear to have bounced back.
"Coach Jones is a great man, I'll miss him, but we play for the guys in the locker room with the 'C' on their chests," Abernathy said. "We play for Cincinnati. It's time to just move forward. Change happens. It can either break you or make you. We are going to choose to let this make us."
It comes as much with the territory around these parts as Big East championships.
The day Jones stood at the Kingsgate Marriott Podium being introduced to the staff, fans and media, the whispers were heard underneath the polite clapping and smiles.
There's no way anybody could replace Brian Kelly, they would say. Likely a four-letter word preceded Kelly's name during that bitter time, but the message remained the same. Kelly could coach and led UC to heights not only unprecedented, but unimaginable.
What would become of UC football? Would it die somewhere along the side of I-74 toward South Bend?
Funny, the same whispers were uttered the day Kelly stood at the podium.
How could any coach follow Mark Dantonio? He'd returned this program to relevancy out of the doldrums. His style fit UC football and provided a long-desired identity. This program now went to bowl games regularly, nobody wanted to revert to the days of watching postseason football wearing red and black on the couch. What makes anybody think this Kelly guy can replicate his success?
What would become of UC football? Would it die somewhere along the side of I-75 toward East Lansing?
A few weeks from now, whoever becomes the lucky winner of the coaching search will take the podium. And the whispers will flow underneath the polite smiles and clapping.
How could anybody replace Butch Jones? The passion, the enthusiasm, the winning on and off the field. He allowed UC a trademark energy and shared two conference titles in three years. Players swore by him. Jones left his mark on this program and one the fan base happily absorbed. The flash of Isaiah Pead at Paul Brown Stadium against Oklahoma, thunder of Derek Wolfe against Louisville, excitement of Ralph David Abernathy IV in the Liberty Bowl, workmanlike relentlessness of George Winn grinding down Pitt and surreal joy of Munchie Legaux to Damon Julian.
Those moments were real and added to the growing tradition of UC football. But to think because the coach who stood on the sidelines for them now departs, the moments will leave with him would be disregarding the past.
When the next coach takes the podium, though, nobody should be sharing the same concerning whispers. Babcock installed a group to keep an eye on possible coaching replacements months ago. Impressive resumes flow in. You better believe there will be candidates lining up to follow in the path that sent coaches to Michigan State, Notre Dame and Tennessee.
"We will be OK, we will come out of this stronger than we are today," Babcock said. "UC is a special place and we have received incredible interest in our head coach position already. This place has been here for 200 years it will be here long after we are all gone. Hiring good coaches is critical to success but we are bigger than any one individual. We are bigger than one coach. We will survive and we'll thrive."
Indeed, in the near future, they'll say it again. What will become of UC football? Would it die somewhere along the side of I-75 South toward Knoxville?
We all should know the answer to that now. We've seen this movie before; we know how it ends. Butch Jones was great. UC football was greater. They both move on. Just like the last two times. Stronger than ever.
Few thoughts from my Twitter feed responding to the second consecutive impressive early December press conference reacting to adversity at UC. How'd the last one turn out for you?
--- Stated plan for renovating Nippert will be unveiled in coming days. Exciting, but didn't want that celebration to be lost in today's news
--- Said Butch needed to check CU/Purdue for "closure." Warned him of possible backlash of public interviews. Jones didn't quite heed warning.
--- Great line from Whit re: Butch struggling with off-field decisions: "Felt like a part-time counselor in my office at times."
--- Whit clearly had enough runaround by end of process. Gave Butch 24 hours to decide on UT. Circus caused too much stress to too many.
--- Whit not seeking big splash hire. "Not trying to win the press conference." If splash best hire, he'll do it, but not priority.
--- RDAIV being selected to stand up there as a sophomore shows all you need to know about him and the respect he has among his teammates. Born leader.
--- Most importantly, theme of day from Whit and one obv by presence of players, prez, coach, AD: "UC is bigger than Butch Jones."
--- Whit on the need to support team at the Belk Bowl: "If every fan that emailed me, text me, called me, tweeted at me about Butch bought a ticket, would've sold allotment two times over."
--- Even if you can't got to Charlotte, you can support the program by going to GoBearcats.com main page and the One Team, One Ticket promotion. You can buy a ticket and donate it back to UC and they will put it to proper use. It is the ultimate way to help support these players and everyone involved in UC football.
I want to hear from you! I want to hear your comments, questions and thoughts on the coaching situation as well as your feelings about UC football today. I'll address them in a mailbag next week. Shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.