Cincinnati coach Jones weighing options

JEFF WALLNER Associated Press Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Coach Butch Jones was weighing his options Tuesday after returning to Cincinnati's campus after two days of interviews at Purdue and Colorado.

Jones attended a news conference about the Bearcats' appearance in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27 against Duke. Cincinnati (9-3) finished with a share of the Big East title for the fourth time in the last five years.

He declined to talk about his interviews or his future.

"I'm still the coach here, that's all that matters," Jones said. "This is about the Belk Bowl. I have every intention (of coaching in the bowl). You have to understand why we're here. If you don't, we can end it right now."

School officials were meeting with him to see what it would take to keep him at Cincinnati, where he's finishing his third season. He signed a contract extension following last season that stretches through 2017 with a $1.4 million buyout if he leaves before Jan. 1.

Keeping football coaches has been a challenge for Cincinnati. The last two used the job as a stepping stone to a bigger program, leaving after three-year stints.

Mark Dantonio oversaw the Bearcats' move into the Big East, but was discouraged with their inability to draw much of a crowd at 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium -- a sticking point for years. Dantonio landed at Michigan State.

Brian Kelly took over after the 2006 season and led the program to its greatest heights, including appearances in the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. He also left after three seasons to coach at Notre Dame, his dream job. Kelly went to South Bend as the unbeaten Bearcats were preparing for their first Sugar Bowl appearance, leaving the team in disarray. They got drubbed by Florida, 51-24, while Kelly was settling in at Notre Dame.

Jones, who succeeded Kelly at Central Michigan, also replaced him at Cincinnati. The Bearcats have gone 23-14 in three seasons under Jones, including a win over Vanderbilt at the Liberty Bowl last season.

During Jones' tenure, the university has expanded its practice facilities, adding a football field with a protective bubble for bad weather. The school also has been trying to figure out a way to upgrade Nippert, which is the second-oldest playing site in the nation for a college team behind Penn's Franklin Field. Nippert has been in use since 1901.

Despite their Big East success, the Bearcats have played in front of less-than-capacity crowds at Nippert much of the time. They drew only 21,171 fans on senior night -- their smallest crowd of the season -- for a 27-10 win over South Florida.

The university also has been trying to find a place during the Big East's massive exodus. Last month, Louisville was accepted into the Atlantic Coast Conference, which also considered Cincinnati but chose one of its biggest rivals instead.

Jones interviewed at Purdue on Sunday and at Colorado a day later. Bearcats players have off this week before resuming practice for the Charlotte bowl. The players talked among themselves about Jones' future and were awaiting his decision.

Players were trying not to get caught up in the uncertainty.

"It's not a big deal for us," junior defensive lineman Jordan Stepp said.