WVU football: Bearcats' Jones in familiar surroundings
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- One way or another, Butch Jones was going to come back to coach at Mountaineer Field again.
The Cincinnati coach brings his scuffling team to campus for Saturday's noon game on the Big East telecast network for the first time since working as a Mountaineer assistant in 2005 and '06 and interviewing to succeed Rich Rodriguez following the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.
"It's going to be a little different bus ride in and being on the opposite side of the fans pulling up to the stadium," Jones said. "It's going to be a little different standing on the opposite sideline.
"I have a lot of dear friends and true friends there, not only in that community, but in that administration and on that coaching staff. Once game time hits, it's about competing. I am looking forward to going back, but it's also going to be a great challenge."
Jones, 42, was the offensive coordinator at Central Michigan and an aspiring head coach when he was hired at WVU as the wide receivers coach.
After working closely with Rodriguez and the others on the staff, developing receivers and a wildly productive offense and recruiting at a high level that included current senior Jock Sanders, Jones was brought back to the Chippewas in 2006 when Brian Kelley left CMU for Cincinnati.
Rodriguez left WVU for Michigan in 2007 and he and Jones spoke occasionally as Jones emerged as a replacement candidate.
Jones interviewed twice for the job.
Skip Holtz, then the coach at East Carolina, and Mike Locksley, then the offensive coordinator at Illinois, joined Jones as the leading candidates. Bill Stewart then won the Fiesta Bowl and was elevated from interim to head coach following a 48-28 victory over Oklahoma.
Jones went 27-13 at CMU with a 20-3 record in Mid-American Conference play and was hired again to replace Kelly - this time at Cincinnati - last December.
Stewart never has never faced Locksley, now the coach at New Mexico and 2-19 in his second season. Holtz was 1-1 against Stewart at ECU and lost his first game against Stewart as the USF coach last month, 20-6, at Mountaineer Field.
The game against the Bearcats will be Stewart's first against Jones.
"He's a great coach and a great master of attention to detail," Stewart said. "I love him. He made me a better coach and hopefully I rubbed off on him a little bit.
"Anytime you work with someone, you get a special bond and a closeness that people that have never been in sports don't understand. But now, come Saturday, the friendship is on hold and may the best team win."
Stewart is unashamedly fond of Jones. He said his counterpart is the kind of man he'd want to marry his sister and coach his son, but the admiration has boundaries.
"I like Butch, but I ain't going to like him if I play him," Stewart said. "He can marry my sister, but I can take him out back and punch him in the nose
"Think that'll make the news?"
Jones has imparted his offensive acumen on the Bearcats, who, despite their 3-5 record and 1-2 mark in Big East play, lead the conference in total offense and passing offense and are No. 2 in scoring offense and No. 3 in rushing offense.
Receivers Armon Binns and D.J. Woods, who was committed to WVU before the coaching change, are Nos. 1 and 2 in the Big East in receptions. Woods is No. 1 in receiving yards per game (92.88) and Binns is No. 2 (88.88). Running back Isaiah Pead is No. 5 in rushing yards per game (88.29).
"Our defense hasn't seen an offense like this," Stewart said. "They really have some skill."
Jones, who coached CMU quarterback Dan LeFevour for three seasons and to the NCAA record of 150 touchdowns, has had similar success with Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros.
The junior from Steubenville, Ohio, leads the Big East in pass efficiency and total offense and ranks Nos. 39 and 13 nationally. He's completed 139-of-225 passes for 1,918 yards, 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions, but has totaled just 80 yards rushing, due in large part to taking sacks behind a troubled offensive line.
Replacing the injured Tony Pike last season, Collaros gained 344 yards rushing in eight games.
Jones said Stewart, who was the quarterbacks coach at WVU when Jones was on the staff, did have an effect on the way he coaches.
"He made me a better coach in different areas," Jones said. "We spent a lot of time together on that staff, especially being on the same side of the football. You share a lot of things, like how to handle different situations and all that and just overall how you deal with things offensively. When you're on the same staff, let alone the same side of the ball, you grow very close."
The Mountaineers have since grown apart from their past offensive identity under Stewart and Jones said he sees a different approach when he watches this WVU team play.
"I think it all centers around the quarterback, and Geno Smith is doing a great job managing their offense," Jones said. "They're throwing the football a little bit more and so you see a little more that's different in terms of formations and variation.
"A lot of their run schemes are very similar with the zone and some power schemes and all that, but you also see some nuances in the run game a little bit. You see bits and pieces of what we had in '05 and '06, but you do see some different things. I think probably the biggest difference, though, is in the throw game."