Butch Jones and Whit Babcock have been friends since 2006 when they worked together for nearly two years at West Virginia University. But their relationship changed three months ago when Babcock was hired as UC’s Athletic Director and became the head football coach’s boss.
“We laugh about that,” said Babcock. “We acknowledge that up front – there are certain things that we’re friends on, and then there are other days where I have to tell him something that he doesn’t want to hear and vice versa. I guess that’s why I wear a tie every day – so that he knows that I’m the boss.”
“Sometimes I have to tell him to loosen that tie up,” said Jones with a laugh. “But it isn’t difficult because we have mutual respect for each other. We’re able to separate our personal relationship and our business relationship.”
Their relationship helped produce the contract extension that Jones signed on Tuesday. The new pact will pay the 2011 Big East Conference Coach of the Year more than 10 million dollars – before incentive bonuses – if he stays at Cincinnati for the next six seasons.
“Whit was extremely proactive right from the very beginning and that meant more to me than anything else in the contract,” said Jones. “The way our administration was proactive at a very early stage in our season, showed me that they really believe in the foundation that we’re building, and our philosophy for what we want in our football family.”
“If I played a small role – great – but I really think it comes down to the character of our coach,” said Babcock. “Butch is grateful for the opportunity here and as hard as he sold me on the University of Cincinnati when the A.D. job was open, I know that he cares about it and loves it. He wants to be a part of building this thing and finishing what he started.”
Jones has won three league championships in his five years as a college head coach, including a share of the Big East title this season. Next week, he’s expected to sign the most highly-touted recruiting class in school history. Scout.com currently has Cincinnati’s projected class ranked #23 in the country and #1 in the Big East.
“He’s even better than I thought and I knew he was good,” said Babcock. “People take for granted that every team plays hard every week and they don’t. I’m just really impressed with how hard our team plays for him. That comes from the leader. It’s an overused term, but they would try to run through a wall for him.”
“I’m definitely excited for the university and the program,” said quarterback Zach Collaros. “He’s done a great job of installing what he wants in a program which is family and toughness. I think we’ve come a long way in doing what he wants and it’s only going to get better. I’ve read that they have a great recruiting class coming in and last year’s class was great, so it’s great that Coach Jones decided to stick around.”
“I know that it doesn’t really affect me because I’m a senior, but he’s taking this program in a good direction and I want the best for the team,” said linebacker JK Schaffer. “I am absolutely happy that he is signing a contract extension. I see this program over the next few years climbing even higher than it has over the last four years.”
“I thought it was time that somebody stepped up and said, ‘Hey, we’re committed to being here.’” said Coach Jones. “I’m excited about what we’re doing in this football program. We have a lot of things to be proud of, and we’re going to continue to grow, and build, and elevate this program into elite status.”
The contract extension also includes a $250,000 increase to the salary pool for assistant coaches, raising the total to $1.85 million.
“You win with consistency and continuity and I’m excited about what we’re building and the possibilities that we have for the future,” said Coach Jones. “The big thing for me is being able to continue to attract the best staff in the country and keep them intact and take care of them.”
There is also a sizable increase in the buyout clause that would allow Coach Jones to take another job. It jumps from $1.08 million to $1.75 million in year one, although Babcock admits that figure probably wouldn’t scare away big budget schools.
“There’s a balancing act there,” said Babcock. “You want the buyout to be enough so that if the coach leaves, it can help to fund your search for the next coach. And you want it be a number that gives some people a reason to pause. But I don’t think you want to have it at such a level that you trap a coach. If you ultimately have a coach that doesn’t want to be here, do you really want to handcuff him? There’s a fine line there, but I think it needs to be enough to get people’s attention and to help you – if you do have a coach leave – to conduct the search and get things in place to hire the next guy.
“But my goodness, I look at this contract as a way to have Butch here for a long time and not to figure out what the heck to do when he leaves. I think his loyalty and love for Cincinnati played a real big role in this contract.”
Cincinnati’s previous two head football coaches – Mark Dantonio and Brian Kelly – each spent three years in Clifton. As Jones prepares to enter his third season, he often hears from fans who tell him that they hope that he stays at UC.
“I hear that all the time and it means a lot,” said Jones. “We have a fan base that has been extremely loyal to me since the day that I walked in, and I can’t say enough about the amount of support when things weren’t going as well as we wanted. To me, that means everything. This truly is a special place.”