Dec. 7, 2012
PRESS CONFERENCE VIDEO
DIRECTOR OF ATHLETICS
Opening Comments …
“Good morning, everybody. Thanks for being here. Today’s a tough day for the Bearcats. I feel especially for our players, our fan base, our student-athletes, our alumni, our faculty and our donors. I’ve known Butch Jones for seven years, we’ve worked together. Our wives and kids are friends with each other, and we lived on the same street. Butch was the first person actually to try to recruit me to UC. I just think of the irony. About 13 months ago, I was sitting in this room accepting this job. I’ll always be grateful to Butch for talking to me about UC.
“We made every effort to keep him, but ultimately he received a tremendous offer from Tennessee and chose not to be a part of our team anymore. I’d like to thank him for his service. He did great things here and that should be acknowledged. I wish him well.
“Having said that, my focus after this press conference is no longer on Coach Jones. Not for one second. It’s on UC. It’s on finding our next coach. It’s on moving forward and turning disappointment into optimism. Today’s press conference will have a few parts to it. I’ll continue my remarks. I want to update all of you all on the events of the last couple weeks, the last couple of hours, and then also on our search for a new coach. We’ll have comments from a couple of our student-athletes, Austen Bujnoch and Ralph David Abernathy IV, as well as our current interim head coach, Steve Stripling. Dr. Ono may make some remarks and then we’ll have a brief Q and A for those of you that want to ask questions.
“Some advice that I received in my career, whether it’s with the media or the fans base, ‘When there’s something big going on, you either tell everything you can or tell nothing at all.’ I haven’t said much for the last couple of weeks, but today I’m here to share everything that I possibly can that led up to today’s announcement. Our players, our fans and our supports deserve that courtesy today.
“I’ll begin it in this way, on Dr. Ono’s second day in office as our president, he asked me to come over to his office. He asked me a question that any A.D. would love to hear. He said, ‘Whit, tell me what it’s going to take across the board for us to compete at the highest levels.’ And I was ready for that question. In addition to athletics, obvious Dr. Ono and our board want to compete at the highest levels across the board. But I can assure you this, UC is in great hands under his leadership and bright days are ahead. I presented a number of things to Dr. Ono that would be difference makers for our department; things like facility enhancements, scholarship funding and retaining quality coaches. I won’t go much into detail on that list but I can assure you it was comprehensive and we shared the same vision. Especially related to football on that list were two topics I’d like to touch on briefly today.
“One was a plan to study, but a plan of action for Nippert Stadium. You will hear more about that in the coming days. I’m not going to comment anymore on that today, but you will hear more on that exciting vision before too long. The second thing that we talked about specifically related to football was a proactive approach to keep Coach Jones at UC. That one I’ll speak more in depth on today. Moving forward from that meeting with Dr. Ono, around the middle of the season, I approached Butch verbally about some goals and parameters that we had in mind to bring forward to Butch at the end of the year, contract-wise. I presented it to him, gave him basic parameters, dollar figures. I delivered it in this way, ‘Coach, whether you win another game the rest of the year, whether you have any other offers at the end of the year; you’re our guy and we’re committed. I want you to know that.’ We were aggressive. After a few more weeks of the season, our cards were on the table, contract-wise in greater detail, prior to the South Florida game. Our salary number was a significant increase over his current deal. I’ll just leave it at that. Again, this offer was sent and presented to him prior to him receiving any other offers, or even any other inquires from any other schools. We also discussed plans for facility renovations and enhancements. We were proactive and he was very excited with the vision and new direction.
“Soon after the South Florida game, we became aware of interest in Butch from no less than five other BCS schools. Butch and I talked about each of those jobs and the pros and cons, each all the while please know I was emphasizing the advantages that UC had over all of them. Ultimately, he expressed an interest in looking at two of them in particular, Purdue and Colorado, ‘For closure,’ as he called it. For that, I want to touch on briefly with Butch. He explained it to me and I understood it this way – last year, there were a number of jobs that he turned down without ever looking at them. He just said, ‘Whit for me, it’s just the way my mind works. There’s just a couple I need to see and make absolutely certain.’ I respected that decision. I did explain the risk to him of public interviews with other schools, the risk for pictures, embarrassment, anger of the fan base and all parties involved. He knew that and understood. Although I smile now, thinking he probably underestimated that a little bit from the coverage that was received.
“He flew to Purdue on that Sunday, which has been well documented. He called me very soon after he landed back in Ohio and told me he was not going to leave for Purdue. He felt great peace with that and great gratification with that. His words to me were, ‘Whit, I’ve never felt better about being at UC. I’m glad I went through that process.’ At that time, I immediately began the process to try to talk him out of going to Colorado and did the same thing the next day. He still felt he needed to go look for the same reasons previously mentioned. His words were ‘closure.’ It bothered me just like it did many of you to see the pictures and read the reports of his interview there.
“When he landed back in Ohio very late that night, we talked for a long time. Butch was candid with me, and I with him throughout the entire process. Colorado threw a lot more than simply a very generous guaranteed salary at him. This room would be shocked at all the things they threw at him. It was an impressive list. Butch was impressed by it, but he also told me during that first conversation that night he was still leaning towards staying at UC. He had a tough decision to make.
“I also need to stop here for minute and talk about Butch’s decision making. When I see him on the football field as these guys do and the instant decisions, as these guys do, I’m amazed and impressed. I’ve known him a long time, so I feel like I can say this, when it comes to others it will take him a while. He’ll sway this way, he’ll sway that way. He’ll want to talk it out. I feel like a part-time counselor in my office at times.
“Did we have an offer to match Colorado? Not necessarily, but we certainly asked what we could do from our end to keep him here. We were willing to do everything we could and then some. When I made that offer to him, ‘What more can we do?’ you should know this: Our current offer was very generous. He did not need or require any more. He stated to me that knowing some of our other coaches’ situations, some of our other scholarship funding situations, that he couldn’t walk in this building with a clear conscience if we did more than we were already offering. As the week went on and the stress level on all parties intensified, on Wednesday evening, I’d had enough. I told Butch absolutely I needed an answer on Thursday morning and we agreed to meet at his house yesterday at 9 a.m. I could tell that he and his wife hadn’t gotten much sleep, none of us had. When I walked in the door, they informed me that they were declining Colorado and staying at UC.
“Later that morning, not minutes later, Tennessee made formal contact with Butch’s representatives. I would like to say this: Dave Hart, the athletic director at Tennessee, called me in advance. He was the only athletic director to do that, and that is a lost courtesy and etiquette. He called me first and assured that he had not talked to Butch, or his agents, or any third party, nor anyone associated with him. I do want people to know in this room that Butch turned down Colorado before he had any knowledge of Tennessee’s interest. I do truly believe that.
“Regarding Tennessee, I once again did my best to sell Butch on what UC had to offer that Tennessee could not necessarily deliver on. I also expressed the fact that the Tennessee decision needed to be made in a hurry. No more public embarrassment, no more public interviews and in less than 24 hours, I needed to know if he was going to take it, and that a team meeting needed to be scheduled for first thing this morning. And for him to give his team an answer, whether he was staying at UC or leaving for Tennessee. He understood it. It was not argumentative (conversation); it was candid as we always were. He was well aware of the stress he’d put a lot of people through. He knew and I knew that it wasn’t fair for our fans, or our players for him to drag it out.
“Before anyone can ask this question later, the strategy of pulling our offer of the table – did it cross my mind at times? Yes, but no we never pursued that. One, we were committed to him. Two, if I pulled the offer at any time I felt like it would push him to Colorado. Three, I felt like it would damage our relationship if he stayed at UC for next year, moving forward. People can second guess that decision, but we were all in on Butch Jones until the very end, until the very last minute.
“Butch then called me at 5:30 a.m. that he was officially accepting the Tennessee offer. Coach Jones then met with the team at 7:30 a.m. to inform the team of his decision and that’s how we got where we are today.
“Now, that’s all in the past. Moving forward, UC is bigger than Butch Jones. It’s bigger than all of us. President Ono and I also met with the team this morning. Steve Stripling is going to coach us through the bowl game, although I will say this: There’s a slight chance that if we hire a new coach prior to the bowl game, he may be given the opportunity to do that. More likely than not, coach Stripling will take that lead. We’ve have been prepared for a search. I wouldn’t be doing my job as an AD if we weren’t prepared. Since August, a small number of us have been working on replacements. We’ve added people to the list, we’ve taken them off. We’ve followed their progression throughout the season. We’re prepared and we will get a great coach. The primary search committee members right around me will be small, but I at least want to let you know who they are. One of them will be Bob Arkeilpane, my Deputy Director of Athletics. Bob was involved in the search with Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, and he’s a former football player at Syracuse. The other person that will help me on a day to day basis is Omar Banks, who is our senior Associate AD, our CFO, somebody I lean on daily. He’s also a former football player at the University of Richmond. And obviously, Dr. Ono will be engaged throughout the process. We will utilize some other industry sources, but I won’t comment on that today. There is no time table to make the hire. Making the right hire is better than the quickest hire, but admittedly, sooner is better if possible.
“Let me caution our fans and our constituents to a few things. I am not trying to win the press conference with this next hire. I am more interested in hiring the best coach we can get. If I can accomplish both of those then great, but I’m more interested in winning games in September through December, than I am in winning the press conference.
“To our fans, the search process, like conference realignment rumors and coach speculation, is a rollercoaster. Hold on. There will be leaks, there will be speculation. There will be coaches in other schools. Keep this in mind that: That most every speculation has been leaked for an ulterior motive. I apologize to our fans in advance, but I wouldn’t put a lot of faith in speculation that will come out. You will hear names of friends, names of coaches that I’ve worked with previously, it will be all over the board. We will respond publicly to none of the speculation. Nor will I comment on any of the candidates, real or rumor. After today, the next time you will hear from me on this topic, will be when we are introducing our next head coach.
“Sitting head coaches, associate head coaches and coordinators will be primarily considered, but our search is wide open. Quite frankly, what I’m looking for in our next head coach is leadership. There have been volumes of books written about leadership. I’ll shorten it up this way: Character and competence. Great character doesn’t automatically make you a great football coach, but nothing can destroy leadership faster than poor character. So we are simply looking for our next head coach to possess character and competence. I also want to encourage our fans that we will be okay. We will come out of this stronger than we are today. UC is a special place and we’ve received incredible interest in our head coaching position already. Our search will be strategic and it will be thorough. We have had a four-month head start on our prospect list for the next head coach and we are prepared.
“I also invite all of our fans to support our student-athletes at the Belk Bowl. Quite frankly, if every fan that had texted me, called me, tweeted at me about Butch or the next head coach, we would have sold our allotment out two times over. So you can choose to turn away now from UC, or you can help us at this critical time. I’m not turning away. These players aren’t turning away. The administration isn’t turning away. Now is the time for our fans to hang with us and stick with us. If you cannot attend the Belk Bowl and you want to help, today the best way you can help the athletic department is to go to our website, GoBEARCATS.com. We have a promotion called One Team, One Ticket that’s for people that cannot go to a bowl game that want to buy a ticket, at least one and then donate them to good use. But if you want to step up to the plate today and help us make a statement to the nation that we’re more than a coach, that is a great action step to take.
“And we are more than a coach. We are Proudly Cincinnati. It’s about all of us coming together right now under one flag, one banner as one team. We have a vision, no one of us is as strong as all of us. It’s time to move forward together and our search will begin immediately. Thank you and go Bearcats!”
JUNIOR OFFENSIVE GUARD
Opening Comments …
“How is everybody doing? I first want to thank Coach Jones for the opportunity he gave us. We couldn’t have won back-to-back BIG EAST championships without him. He will always live in our hearts forever, but it’s time to move on. We play for the guys in the locker room and for the C on our chest at the end of the day. We have had two different coaches in the last five years and have won four championships, so it’s about the guys in the locker room. I also want to urge the fans to get out there and support us and we need your support more than ever right now. Buy your tickets for the Belk Bowl, do whatever you have to do and go Bearcats!”
Ralph David Abernathy IV
SOPHOMORE RUNNING BACK/KICK RETURNER
Opening Comments …
“Good morning. I would like to first and foremost thank Coach Jones for everything he did for me, everything he did for this program. Coach Jones is a great man, we will miss him. I am proud to say I have played for him, but as Austen said, ‘We play for the guys in the locker room and the C on our chest, we play for Cincinnati.’ It is time for us to move forward. Change happens and it can either break you or make you and we are going to choose to let this make us. We are going to grow and become stronger from this. To the fans, I would like to say thank you for all your support. We need your continued support and please come out and support us at the Belk Bowl. Thank you.”
DR. SANTA J. ONO
UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI PRESIDENT
Opening Comments …
“How are you guys doing? I actually talked to a number of you and one of the things you were interested in was what was I actually had to say to the team early this morning, so I’m going to tell you what I said.
“What I said to the team was that I can imagine that you are shocked, dismayed by what has transpired here today and over the past several days, understandably so. I want you to know unequivocally, I have your back and am very proud of what all you have accomplished on the field and as scholar athletes. What this program has accomplished, what you and the entire coaching staff has accomplished is a tribute to you; no one can ever take that away from you. No one can take away your four conference titles in five years, your Liberty Bowl win and all of your individual achievements and memories.
“I know that your sense of perspective has taken a blow today; it is inescapable when a force in your life, one you have believed in and trusted, is no longer here. Although my own emotions will never approach your own, for whatever it is worth, I too am hurt and disappointed, but we will move on.
“Being with you this year has been an honor and a privilege to me. Have no doubt that you have no bigger fan than I am. Those Cat Walks that we had together were the real deal for me, and I will be with you next year and for many years to come. I have and will continue to fight for you and this university and I hope I will get to practice with you again sometime soon. As some of you know, I played at Nippert when it was 106 degrees out and that will be a memory I will always savor. Maybe I will actually learn how to kick a field goal; it is harder than you could imagine.
“I am looking forward to traveling to Charlotte to support you in the Belk Bowl, thus ending your amazing season with another win and this win is just for you and for Bearcats nation. UC is a great university with a remarkable and proud history in intercollegiate sports and as an academic and research institution. As the 28th president of this university, I promise you we will always remain a great university. I am fully committed to ensuring that we will continue to compete at the very highest levels of everything that we do, and to invest in the athletics program moving forward.
“We are fortunate to have an outstanding athletic director in Whit, who has my full confidence moving forward. We will immediately launch a search for the next head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats. We will search for a coach who is not only excellent, but most importantly, who wants to be here and who will make a genuine commitment to this university. I think it is one of the best jobs in college football and UC deserves such an individual.
“Bearcats nation should stand tall and proud, we are much more than any single individual. Other coaches have left and we have proven that we can bounce back and win and we will do exactly that again. We are truly a team and to me you really are my family. Let me end with some words that move me. ‘You can buy a person a lot, but you can’t buy his heart. His heart is where his enthusiasm is, where his loyalty is.’ Men, my heart is with you and the city of Cincinnati today. My heart will be with you at the Belk Bowl. I have never been prouder of you and the University of Cincinnati. Thanks.”
Babcock: “Thank you, Dr. Ono. We’ll now turn over to Coach Stripling. I was pleased to find out he’s undefeated. He has a 1-0 record in bowl games. So please welcome our interim head coach, Steve Stripling.”
INTERIM HEAD COACH
Opening comments …
“Thank you, Whit. Good morning. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to lead the Bearcats into the Belk Bowl. We had a team meeting this morning and the message was simple; that change is inevitable. It’s your response to change that’s important. We talked about simply three things. One, we’re going to prepare for the future. It starts in the classroom. We enter finals next week; I expect the Bearcats to get the job done in the classroom. Second, we will then hit the field and prepare for the bowl game. (Third) we talked about setting a common goal of winning the Belk Bowl.
“Our team this year accomplished many things; nine victories, part of a championship, but the 10th victory would be special. It would make Team 125 an elite team, and that’s what we’re striving for. (Fourth) I told the team we’re going to have fun, that a bowl game is one of the greatest experiences that a college student-athlete can have.
“So with that, we’re going to work hard. You’re going to be proud of us. Our focus will be on these young men here. We’re going to have a great experience and get the job done. Thank you.”
QUESTION & ANSWER
UC has been winning games for a long time now, but attendance is lacking. Is it important to hire a coach who is loyal to Cincinnati and someone the fans trust will stay for the long term?
Babcock: “As far as the stadium goes, I do believe we need to play an exciting brand of football. Our attendance has worked its way back up this year, so it’s a process. I think it’s not only the product on the field, I think it’s the fan experience surrounding the game and other things. But people will show up; they have and will. Obviously we’d like to find somebody that’d be committed here for a long time and I think we’re prepared to make those investments necessary to do that.”
Who else on the coaching staff will be staying at UC to coach in the Belk Bowl?
Stripling: “At this point, that’s unclear. We will obviously be in meetings later this afternoon. Some of the coaches are coming back from recruiting. So we’ll gather and make plans for our practice tomorrow and then next week we’ll set the schedule.”
How do you go through the process of college football coaches coming and going with character and competence?
Babcock: “That’s a great question. I’m not sure I have the perfect answer for it. It’s our industry these days. Every year is different. I believe it’s a compliment when other schools come looking at your coach, but it’s not a real fun experience to have to go through. You can ask people across the country that are dealing with it the same way here. As far as character in this, Butch was candid to me throughout, and I was to him. I have no doubt. I have no reason to doubt that he was not honest with me during the process. Obviously, at time I would’ve like some decisions a little quicker. And we had those, but at the end of the day, he did what he thought was best for he and his family. Character and competence I think are the biggest keys to leadership. This industry can be crazy at times. It can be the best of things, but it can sometimes be a difficult thing. But we’re proud of what we bring as a part of higher education to UC.”
Do coaching contracts mean anything in college sports?
Babcock: “I think contracts mean something or we wouldn’t have them. They have clauses defined in there. You guys can go look at them. There are ways for a university to end its relationship with a coach and for a coach to end his relationship with a university, just like a business contract. So I wouldn’t say they’re worthless, but very rarely in this day and age do you see a contract fully expire toward the end of it. Usually before you get to the end of it, you either renegotiated to keep your coach a little longer or you’ve made a decision to make a change. So I will say that; they very rarely – the contract in your higher profile sports – just expire to the last day. But I do think they serve a purpose and nothing that’s occurred today has been done outside of that contract.”
You were under the impression that Jones turned down Colorado and was going to stay at UC …
Babcock: “Yes. Actually the exact words were, I walked in and we all looked a little rough, I’m sure. He said, ‘We’re not going to Colorado; we’re staying.’ Minutes after that, I don’t know the exact time, but Tennessee reached out and I got a call from (Tennessee Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics ) Dave Hart. Again Dave Hart, he was a gentleman, and I think he was first class. That was one Butch felt like he needed to take a look at and all I said was, ‘We don’t have a lot of time. You know it and I know it.’ And I presented my best case for UC could deliver for him. And I asked him to set a team meeting in less than 24 hours and they deserved an answer, we deserved an answer of whether he was going to be our head coach or not.”
Were you under the understanding, at any time, that Butch accepted the job at Colorado?
Babcock: “The first one I’m happy to answer. I try not to get on – or I don’t much, a little bit, just enough to know what’s going on – social media and other things. So I saw all the stuff that was out there. But no, I was never under any illusion that he agreed in principle or in any way on the Colorado job.”
How much of a priority is it for you that you can do to ensure the next coach stays long term?
Babcock: “It is a priority, but you can’t guarantee that. I can’t sit here today and tell you that we may not be in this position years down the road. I hope we’re not. But yes, absolutely, that’ll be a question that we ask. But I don’t doubt for a minute that when Mark Dantonio took this job, and Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, they all probably thought they were going to be here forever. But I do think we need to drill down a little further on somebody in that area, and I hope their heart is with it to stay here long term. I’ve just been here 13 months and it’s a wonderful community that grows on you pretty fast. I know for Butch and his family that they really like Cincinnati, the school system. Shoot, we live half a mile away from each other. This community is special and that pulls on a lot of people. But I can’t sit here today and make a guarantee that the next coach we hire will never leave. I can’t. I’d like to, but I can’t.”
Did you feel that BIG EAST Conference instability was a factor in Jones’ decision?
Babcock: “Maybe a little bit, yes. But you know at the same time, we talked through that. We talked through our schedule for the upcoming year and we have faith that things will work out. Whatever conference we’re in, we want to be champions of that conference. So maybe a little bit, and we did discuss some of that, but probably not as big a role as a lot of people think.”
Do you have an update on conference realignment?
Babcock: “I have no update on that. We’re in the BIG EAST and we’re going to compete and win, and we’ve got a basketball team that’s doing pretty darn good, and a lot of other sports. In the midst of all this searching, I’m looking forward to going back to a basketball game or two; that’ll be good.”