Cincinnati football coach interviews for Purdue job

Butch Jones with first of two stops this week

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -    One of Purdue's top coaching candidates visited campus Sunday.

   But will Butch Jones be coming back on a permanent basis?

   One day after Cincinnati clinched a share of its second straight Big East title, the Bearcats' coach got a look at the facilities in West Lafayette while meeting with school officials. A person with knowledge of the trip but who requested anonymity because the athletic department was not providing coaching search updates told The Associated Press that Jones was on campus.

   Jones is considered one of the nation's hottest coaching prospects. He reportedly met with Kentucky officials about their job opening last month and reportedly will be at the University of Colorado on Monday -- if he doesn't take the Purdue job first.

   But Jones has attempted to downplay interest in any jobs other than the one he currently has.

   "I'm not going to talk about that," he told reporters following Saturday's 34-17 victory at Connecticut. "That's absolutely ridiculous. It's about our kids tonight. You know what, it'll all work out, but this is a night for the kids and for our football program."

   The Boilermakers are looking to replace Danny Hope, who was fired last Sunday after going 22-27 in four seasons. The Boilermakers (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) won their last three regular-season games to qualify for the postseason -- a run that still couldn't save Hope's job.

   Purdue found out Sunday it would play Jan. 1 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl and held a short news conference to discuss the bid. Athletic director Morgan Burke gave an opening statement but again did not take questions about the coaching search.

   Jones went 27-13 and won two Mid-American Conference titles at Central Michigan after replacing Brian Kelly, and when Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame job three years later, the Bearcats turned to Jones, too. He's gone 23-14 in three seasons and earned a share of the last two Big East crowns.

   If Jones leaves Cincinnati, he would become the third straight coach to leave after just three seasons. Kelly and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio did the same thing.

   Purdue receivers coach Patrick Higgins, who has been calling the plays since offensive coordinator Gary Nord hurt his back, has already been named the interim coach for the bowl game.

   Higgins, quarterback Robert Marve and defensive tackle Kawann Short were more focused on their next game rather than the rumors and speculation swirling around Purdue.

   "We're preparing to win a game, as we always do," Higgins said Sunday. "We can work on fundamentals and get back to basics and we have two weeks to put in a game plan, which is great."

   Getting Jones is no slam dunk, though.

   The 44-year-old coach was reportedly a candidate at Illinois, North Carolina and UCLA last year but opted instead to accept a three-year contract extension in Cincinnati.

   This week, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Bearcats athletic director Whit Babcock was so intent on keeping Jones that he was willing to redo the contract again.

   Jones' guaranteed compensation this past season was $1.575 million, and he will get $1.6 million in guaranteed money in 2013 if he stays in Cincinnati. The buyout will reportedly cost $1.4 million if Jones takes a new job before Jan. 1.

   Hope earned a Big Ten-low $950,000 in guaranteed compensation last year, and Burke has already acknowledged he is willing to spend more on his next coach.

   Jones has quickly become the fans' favorite choice, a key factor, too, as Burke tries to rebuild interest in a program that has seen attendance dwindle from an average of roughly 54,000 per game in 2007 to about 37,000 last season.

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