KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – They met by happenstance at a Michigan football camp more than 20 years ago.
Brady Hoke and Butch Jones were both assistant coaches at small schools. Hoke said back then, Michigan would hire 60-70 coaches from all levels to work its camp. “We developed a relationship,” Hoke said.
That relationship lasted for many years and through many stops for both Hoke and Jones.
When Hoke got his first head-coaching job, at Ball State in 2003, one of the first calls he made was to the pal he met at Michigan’s camp.
Jones was an assistant at Central Michigan, and Hoke said he offered Jones the job as Ball State’s wide receivers coach.
“He turned me down,” Hoke said, in mock anger. “Hell, yeah, I’m still mad about it.”
Why did Jones say no?
“I don’t know,” Hoke said. “Maybe he didn’t want to work for a defensive coach.”
Jones remembers that call. At the time, Jones was working for CMU coach Mike DeBord, who later would become Jones’ offensive coordinator at Tennessee (2015-16).
But Jones remembers the offer a bit differently.
“Brady offered me the offensive coordinator job,” Jones said. “It was very, very flattering. It was very, very tempting. Sometimes in this profession, loyalty wins out. I chose to stay at Central Michigan.”
Jones was promoted to offensive coordinator at Central Michigan the next year.
“It’s amazing how things work out,” Jones said. “Our relationship didn’t end there. It continued to grow and grow and grow.”
Fourteen years after Hoke tried to hire Jones, Jones tried to hire Hoke – at Tennessee. Hoke said it was easy to accept Jones’ offer over the phone.
“No question about it,” Hoke said. “We play in a great conference. And you look at the great past and legacy that has been a part of Tennessee football. And Knoxville is a great city.”
Jones said Hoke was “excited” and “intrigued” with the offer.
“He was able to follow our program and see everything we’ve done here,” Jones said. “He was very excited for the opportunity. I said, ‘Hey, here’s where we’re at.’ There wasn’t any negotiating. It was ‘I’m in, let’s go.’ “
Hoke said his brief time in Knoxville has been a “great experience” so far.
“It’s a great place,” he said, “and we’re privileged and humbled to be here.”
(You can follow Jimmy Hyams on Twitter @JimmyHyams)
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