Saturday, December 8, 2012
Cincinnati gets big name, but will he stay?
By Andrea Adelson
No, you are not living in some strange alternate reality.
Yes, the Big East hired away a coach from the Big 12 today.
The enormity of the surprise announcement that Tommy Tuberville had decided to leave Lubbock for Cincinnati on Saturday had yet to sink in by early evening. What appears to be a step down for Tuberville is in actuality a step up for Cincinnati.
Athletic director Whit Babcock pulled a big name out of his pocket and delivered in 24 hours, replacing Butch Jones with a man who has more head-coaching experience in the SEC and Big 12 than anybody who has ever stood on the sideline at Nippert Stadium. The move has been universally embraced, from players expressing their jubilation on Twitter, to national media proclaiming that Babcock hit a home run.
Cincinnati does have a winner on its hands, but the one question that remains unanswered is a simple one -- how long will he stay?
"We'd like for Coach Tuberville to finish his career here and I believe he's willing to put down those roots," Babcock said during a news conference introducing his new head coach.
The question is not meant to put a damper on today. Babcock went rogue with his hire, if only because he got an experienced coach from a program in a top-tier league. And, well, that does not happen in the Big East, a league that has lost its footing as a power conference, particularly after the events of the past month. Any Big East team that makes an undefeated run will have an extraordinarily difficult time when it comes to competing for the national championship.
More difficult than Texas Tech. Tuberville may have been feeling the heat in Lubbock, may have wanted to get the heck out of town as quickly as possible, may have seen the writing on the wall. There will be various reasons given for why he decided to take on this job. Tuberville says, "I want to help the Bearcat Nation take that next step forward, take the next step to what we can do to be better every day as a group and as a university."
He certainly does not fit the mold of the men who have passed through recently.
In the past, Cincinnati has been a place that has hired coaches from smaller schools and groomed them for much bigger opportunities. Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly and Butch Jones moved on after proving themselves at Cincinnati. Each stayed three years.
Tuberville does not have much of anything to prove. He has been successful everywhere, so this could end up being his final home. But he also has had a wandering eye in the past, and has held out hope that one day he could get back into the SEC. Jones just went from Cincinnati to Tennessee. Successful coaches at Cincinnati have gotten jobs at bigger, better programs.
The truth is, we have no idea how long Tuberville will last. He could be a lifer in Cincinnati. Or he could bolt the way Dantonio, Kelly and Jones did. Babcock and Tuberville go way, way back, to their days at Auburn together. Perhaps this relationship will ensure that Tuberville won't be three-and-done.
"I've got a lot more years," Tuberville said. "The thing about coaching is, it's the players that make you feel young. Somebody asked me a long time ago, 'Why did you want to coach?' I was an athlete, and I wanted to stay around sports. Because of that, it keeps you young, it keeps you feeling every day you're the same age as these guys are. I hope I can coach a long time. I hope I can go many, many more years."
There is another part of this hire that raises eyebrows -- Tuberville was reprimanded by the Big 12 earlier this year after he ripped off the headset of graduate assistant Kevin Oliver on the sideline. Babcock cannot tolerate such behavior at Cincinnati, big-name coach or not.
Given some of these questions, Babcock took a risk. He also made a bold, surprising move. And that, in the end, is the headline of the day.