Jones worked this season as a special assistant to Alabama head coach Nick Saban, after spending the previous two seasons as an offensive analyst on the Crimson Tide's staff. Jones said the time he spent with Saban was invaluable.
"Those kids at Alabama mean so much to me, and what Coach Saban and Ms. Terry (Saban's wife) did not only for me, but my family, I'll never be able to repay them," Jones said. "Everybody at Alabama, from day one, welcomed me with open arms, and it's an experience that helped me get back to leading a program again."
Jones, who was in the running for the Rutgers and Colorado State head-coaching jobs a year ago, said having the chance to work so closely with Saban will make him a much more complete coach in his fourth head-coaching stop.
Jones spent five seasons as coach of the Volunteers, going 34-27, though just 14-24 in the SEC. Jones led the Vols to consecutive nine-win seasons in 2015 and 2016 -- including Tennessee's only win over Florida in the past 16 meetings, and the Vols' only two wins over Georgia in the past 11 -- but was fired with two games left in the 2017 season with a 4-6 record. Tennessee would finish that season 0-8 in SEC play.
Before that Jones had successful stints at Cincinnati (23-14 in three seasons, including a Big East conference championship in 2011) and Central Michigan (27-13). Jones' teams have gone to bowl games in eight of his 11 seasons as a head coach.
"You learn so much from every stop along the way, and you always work to apply what you've learned to the next place," Jones said. "But when you have the opportunity to go inside a program like Alabama's and be around arguably the best college coach that has ever coached the game, every day is a clinic."
Jones joins Lane Kiffin, Mike Locksley and Mario Cristobal as former head coaches who worked under Saban and then went on to land other head-coaching opportunities.
Jones replaces Blake Anderson at Arkansas State. Anderson left to take the Utah State head-coaching job after seven seasons with a 51-37 record and two Sun Belt championships. The Red Wolves have been one of the most consistent programs in the conference, though they slipped to 4-7 this year.
"Butch Jones' outstanding record of success at both the [Group of 5] and [Power 5] levels is evident, and we're excited to having him leading our football program into the future," Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir said in a statement. "He is the only coach over the last 12 years to lead Tennessee to back-to-back nine win seasons, and he led Cincinnati and Central Michigan to four conference championships over a six-year period.
"Butch has also worked with one of the most-well-respected coaches in history in Nick Saban the last three years at Alabama. Our candidate pool was fantastic, but following extensive and positive conversations with Butch, while also looking at his winning history, coaching and leadership abilities and vision for our program, we became confident he was the clear choice to be our next head coach."
Jones was able to meet with the Arkansas State team on Saturday evening.
"It was great to be back in front of a room," Jones said. "I coveted being a head coach again, but you're always looking for that right fit. This was the right fit."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.