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Butch Jones-to-CU report botched by Denver Post based on single source

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Update: Yesterday, we reported that Cincinnati coach Butch Jones had turned down the CU Buffs football coach job, despite the Denver Post reporting that he'd accepted it the day before; see our previous coverage below. Now, we know more about what led the Post to ballyhoo this erroneous information -- trust in a single source that turned out to be flat wrong.

Jones confirmed his rejection of CU's $13.5 million offer yesterday morning, with initial reports stating that he had chosen to remain in Cincinnati. But that assertion didn't hold for long. He subsequently resigned in order to take the head coaching job with the Tennessee Volunteers.

Before the Vols move, Post news director Kevin Dale tweeted the following:

He followed with this addendum:

Not long thereafter, media watcher Jim Romenesko featured Dale's tweets in an item headlined "It's Those Single-Source Stories That Always Get You in Trouble."

Did the Post take the plunge based on the say-so of only one individual? I posed that question, among others, to Dale in an e-mail sent yesterday. In his reply, he didn't answer directly. He wrote:

Clearly we were confident in our sourcing or we wouldn't have pushed the button. As to what happened next, we are fully reporting the story and will publish what we find. If that reporting includes The Post in any way, we'll be transparent about that.

The presumptive example of the latter appears in the story "Colorado football moves to Plan B after Butch Jones backs out," whose headline implies that Jones had indeed accepted the job -- although CU athletic director Mike Bohn doesn't say that in comments to the paper. "It was so extremely close," Bohn is quoted as saying. "We thought we were really in good position in getting the deal done until early (Wednesday) night. Then there was a whole new development" -- Jones's head being turned by an offer from Tennessee, presumably.

The article also states: "Late Wednesday afternoon, a source with knowledge of the situation had told The Denver Post that Jones would come to Colorado and only the final details needed to be worked out. Soon after, Jones denied he had agreed to come to Colorado."

In our previous coverage, on view below, we defended the Post, despite the paper getting a big story wrong in an embarrassing way. The blame, we suggested, should be placed on the source, who for whatever reason spoke prematurely, with the result being public denials that gave Tennessee the chance to swoop in.

Of course, there's also the possibility that Jones cynically used CU to pump up offers at schools he preferred -- and it's a realistic one. But the bottom line is, the Post's trust in its source was misplaced, and it's now left looking oafish on a slew of different levels.

Romenesko was right: It is those single source stories that get you in trouble....

Continue for our previous coverage of the Butch Jones-CU debacle. Update, 10:05 a.m. December 6: In a post earlier today (see it below), we noted that if Cincinnati's Butch Jones didn't accept an offer to coach the CU Buffs after the Denver Post reported that he had accepted the gig yesterday, the results would be finger-pointing and humiliation.

Well, sure enough, Jones has turned down CU in order to stay at Cincinnati.

The Post doesn't deserve the blame for this situation. As we noted earlier, the paper was simply fulfilling its mandate to deliver the news, and it's highly doubtful staffers would have gone forward unless they were supremely confident in the reliability of the source.

Nonetheless, the decision leaves a number of possibilities for what went wrong. Perhaps the source, who said Jones had agreed to take the CU job, was simply incorrect. Maybe Jones said yes, then changed his mind when the story leaked out in a chaotic, unplanned manner that prompted him and administrators to quickly issue denials. In addition, Cincinnati may have responded to news that Jones was ready to bolt by sweetening its offer -- something that might not have happened if CU had been able to keep a lid on things.

Whatever the case, CU's now in the classic circumstance of having put all of its eggs in one basket, only to watch each of them be crushed. Anyone who accepts the head coaching gig at Colorado now will be perceived as a second choice -- and fans who leap to that conclusion will have plenty of justification for doing so. Note that the most prominent alternative name floated by the Boulder Daily Camera is Jeff Tedford, who was recently fired at Cal after registering a 3-9 record this past season.

Which was better than CU's finish, but hardly worth getting excited about.

What happens next is unknown at this point -- but it's clear that the university's Jones romance wound up being a complete flop. Like pretty much everything else involving the CU Buffs football program in 2012.

Continue to read our previous coverage. Original post, 7:03 a.m. December 6: Perhaps the only thing uglier than the CU Buffs' 2012 season was the way the university handled the firing of coach Jon Embree -- a move that led to charges of racism from ex-coach Bill McCartney. But blowing a chance to land Cincinnati coach Butch Jones as a replacement could become a disaster, too, especially if a Denver Post tweet calling it all but a done deal influences its collapse.

CU's very public romancing of Jones, who managed to improve the Bearcats record from 4-8 to 10-3 (including a Liberty Bowl victory) in a single season, was a high risk proposition from the start. The amount of money CU is reportedly dangling in front of him -- $13.5 million over five seasons, plus, presumably, more millions to improve facilities -- has already prompted grumbling among a significant chunk of the student body upset that so much cash might be expended on a football program that's become a national laughingstock in an age of rising tuition rates.

Inevitably, race is part of the equation as well -- just as it would have been even without McCartney's controversial comments. Dan Hawkins, Embree's Caucasian predecessor, was clearly a catastrophe by the end of his third season, but athletic director Mike Bohn allowed him two more years to bury the Buffs in an even deeper hole. Then, Bohn pulled the trigger on Embree after just two years before making entreaties to Jones, one of the whitest-looking guys you'll ever see. Hell, he even wears his hair in a (slightly) modified version of a crew cut! In 2012!

That said, Jones is obviously a very qualified candidate -- and a better one than most folks thought CU could attract given the titanic mess that is football at the university right now. He toured the campus on Monday, spending more than eight hours with officials. But he had studiously avoided talking about where he was headed amid speculation that he might be coaxed into staying at Cincinnati or perhaps leap to either Purdue, which also covets his services, or Wisconsin, a high-profile institution with a sudden coaching opening.

And then, late yesterday afternoon, came this tweet from the Denver Post...

...followed by this sequel.

A scoop? Maybe -- but it prompted quick denials from both Jones ("No decision has been made") and CU ("We have nothing to confirm at this time, and no deal with anyone has been reached").

Did the Post make a mistake? From everything we can tell at this point, no. As is clear from its name, a newspaper's job is to report the news -- and given the size of this story, you can bet the Post wouldn't have gone with the report if it didn't have a damn good source very close to the negotiations. So if Jones winds up balking at CU and going elsewhere, the finger of (partial) blame should be pointed at the person with loose lips, not to mention those at the university overseeing the process.

Jones has said he'll announce his decision today, and if he comes to CU, the stupidity of this leak will be forgotten. Should things turn in the opposite direction, though, CU will have an even harder time landing a qualified coach. And that's when things could really get ugly around here.

More from our Sports archive: "Jon Embree's firing as CU Buffs coach was racist, says ex-coach Bill McCartney."

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