Talk of former Super Bowl winning head coaches heading to Knoxville reached a fever pitch but never came close to becoming a reality. As the sun rose on Day 19 of Hart's coaching search, he pegged former Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones as his man.
After Louisville's Charlie Strong passed on a lucrative offer from the Vols, Hart immediately went back to the drawing board and Jones accepted Tennessee's offer within 60 hours of its placement on the table.
"I would like to thank Butch Jones for his time at the University of Cincinnati," Cincinnati director of athletics Whit Babcock said on GoBearcats.com. "With that said, we are excited about the future of this program and this job will be extremely attractive nationally. Our search will begin immediately."
The termination of Jones' contract with Cincinnati means he owes the school $1.4 million. He was on trek to make roughly $1.575 million this season with a contract through 2017.
He walked away from a five-year, $13.5 million contract from Colorado earlier this week when news broke of his departure before he told his players, which infuriated him.
The Jones Era ends with the Bearcats after bumping his career record to 50-27 by going 23-14 there. Cincinnati went 9-3 overall and 5-2 in BIG EAST this fall and faces Duke in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27. Those three losses came at the hands of Toledo, Louisville and Rutgers by a combined 16 points.
Cincinnati ended its regular season with a 34-17 win at UConn to move it into a four-way tie atop the BIG EAST. The largest crowd it saw this year was 53,271 in Louisville. The largest home attendance for 2012 was 35,097 against Miami (Ohio).
Rocky Top got a glimpse of a Jones-led team when the Bearcats invaded Neyland Stadium on Sept. 10, 2011. The Vols broke open a 14-all game in the second quarter and cruised to a 45-23 victory in front of 94,207 fans.
Tennessee's new face of the program is a Michigan native with an offensive background. In 2012, Cincinnati's Spread offense averaged 31 points, 67.5 plays and 430.8 yards per game.
What wins in the SEC on a regular basis is an ability to run the football, play stingy defense and convert in special teams. Cincinnati ranked 41st in the country in total defense, allowing 373.75 yards per game. It accumulated 30 sacks and 14 interceptions to go with gaining a net of 5.2 yards per carry.
Although Jones spent just one season with Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, that time altered the way he approached coaching. Most assume given the résumé that Jones learned a tremendous amount under Brian Kelly but they were together at Central Michigan in 2004 only.
The Vols will be flying around Haslam Field at a rapid pace. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's practices are known in the college football community for their pace. The Jones-led workouts are even faster.
Attrition hammered the Orange & White during the transitions from Phil Fulmer to Lane Kiffin to Derek Dooley. If players do not buy in to what Jones is trying to do, they will be asked to leave the school, especially after spring practices.
Remember former Tennessee assistant Trooper Taylor's chest bumping with players? Expect to see more of that on The Hill.
Jones, who turns 45 on Jan. 17, speaks passionately before and after games with his players. He is an emotional man. Look for phrases like "Represent the T" and "Hold the Rope" to be used to light a fire under the Vols.
Under Jones, is Tennessee going to be able to out X&O schools led by the likes of Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier? Can anyone? Big Orange Country finds out for sure this fall.
The last time Jones gameplanned for an SEC team, his squad won 31-24 over Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31, 2011.
The Volunteers kick off against Austin Peay on Aug. 31.