One name expected to be on the search list for the University of Illinois football coaching vacancy is very familiar to the Illini's new athletic director Mike Thomas.
Thomas, who spent five years as Cincinnati's AD, actually hired Butch Jones for the Bearcats after his previous hire Brian Kelly left for Notre Dame.
Will Thomas consider Jones for the head coaching job at Illinois? We feel he will.
Jones was named the head coach of the Bearcats after serving three years as the head coach at Central Michigan.
Jones, who is 39-24 overall in his career, has the Bearcats 8-3 this season, with a chance of being 9-3 with one game remaining in the regular season. He went 27-13 at Central Michigan, with his best season coming in his third year, leading the Chippewas to a 11-2 record.
His teams have been bowling four out of five years, with the only exception being a 4-8 record in his first season at Cincinnati.
Here is what Thomas had to say about Jones when hiring him at Cincinnati.
"Butch Jones has proven himself to be a championship-caliber football coach. I am impressed by the qualities he brings to the table, his knowledge of the Big East Conference, and his desire to succeed. We're proud to welcome him to the UC family."
Now the question is, does Thomas trust and believe in Jones to lead his new Illinois Football program.
Jones coached 32 all-MAC performers, including two-time MAC Offensive Player of the Year and 2009 MAC Vern Smith Leadership Award winner Dan LeFevour, and two-time MAC Special Teams Player of the Year Antonio Brown. Under his tutelage, 13 student-athletes earned Academic all-MAC accolades.
LeFevour had an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Record 148 career touchdowns (101 passing, 46 rushing and one receiving). His 101 career passing TDs are the most in MAC history.
CMU was 22-3 against MAC opponents during Jones's tenure, including victories in the 2007 and 2009 MAC championship games. The Chippewas were 12-1 in MAC road games under Jones and earned two-straight wins over Big Ten teams.
In 2007, Jones became only the ninth first-year head coach to lead his team to a Mid-American Conference championship. The Chippewas's eight victories marked the second-most of any CMU coach in his debut season, and Jones was one of three first-year head coaches nationwide to coach in a bowl game.
Prior to becoming the CMU head coach, Jones spent a total of 11 seasons as an assistant at the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision level. He served as the offensive coordinator at three different schools, spanning eight seasons, and worked directly with 24 all-conference selections in 15 years as a full-time position coach.
A native of Michigan and former offensive coordinator at CMU, Jones returned to Mount Pleasant after spending the 2005 and 2006 seasons as an assistant coach under Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia University. West Virginia, employing a spread offensive attack, ranked second in Division I-A in rushing offense (303.0 ypg), third in scoring offense (38.9 ppg) and fifth in total offense (461.4 ypg) in 2006.
A 1990 graduate of Ferris State University, where he was a two-year letterman on the football team, Jones broke into the coaching ranks while still an undergraduate by serving as intern for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1987-89. He spent the 1990-92 seasons as a graduate assistant at Rutgers University before taking over as the offensive coordinator at Wilkes University in 1993.
He directed an offense at Wilkes that led the Middle Atlantic Conference in scoring offense and total offense in 1993, a season in which it won a conference title and qualified for the NCAA Division III Playoffs.
Jones returned to his alma mater in 1995 as a running backs coach, only to be promoted to offensive coordinator for the 1996 season. The Bulldogs, while leading the Midwestern Intercollegiate Football Conference in total offense and scoring offense, won a second consecutive MIFC championship in 1996 and advanced to the NCAA Division II Quarterfinals.
WHY INSIDE ILLINI FEELS JONES WOULD BE A GOOD HIRE: He has taken his teams bowling four out of five seasons as a head coach in two different conferences. His familiarity with Mike Thomas should be a positive, and he has a good feel for the Midwest and especially the state of Ohio.
WHY BUTCH JONES MAY NOT BE THE GUY: Yes, he has coached in the MAC and the Big East. But the Big 10 is a different league entirely. Is he ready for the big-time?