Thanksgiving Reflection And Looking To The Future

November 23, 2017 · Filed Under Football · 2 Comments 

Head coach Joey Jones lifts the ‘Battle for the Belt’ championship belt for the third time in the last four years. | Photo Credit: Brad Puckett

South Alabama was shocked and never recovered in Statesboro last weekend. It was kind of like one of those boxing matches where the favored competitor comes out against an underdog and the underdog lands that stunner head blow and the favorite is never able to recover.

The Jags got punched, and punched hard. They didn’t recover either.

Most fans thought that their bowl aspirations were going to be dashed the week before when they hosted Arkansas State, who had never lost to USA in their five previous games. They never thought an 0-9 Georgia Southern was going to be the one to dash their hopes. Which may have been a contributing factor in the loss. In college football, you can never underestimate your opponent.

The Jags went down 7-0 on the first possession, then a turnover set up the Eagles to go up 14-0. By the end of the first quarter the Jags were down 21-0 and it only got worse from there. The Eagles took out a season worth of frustration out on the Jaguars and sent their seniors out with a win in their final home game.

By the time the game was over, the Jags had been handed their first shutout, lost their chance at getting bowl eligible, and probably marked the end of head coach Joey Jones’ tenure as the only head football coach in South Alabama history.

“I’ve never been involved in a game like the one we had tonight in all my years of coaching,” head coach Joey Jones said. “The game plan got away from us. Georgia Southern executed well. They’ve been making mistakes all year and shooting themselves in the foot, and then tonight, they didn’t do that at all.”

“It all ends with me,” Jones said in his post-game radio interview. “I’ve got to get my team better ready to play than that. Obviously, we had some scheme problems. We didn’t coach well on defense, we didn’t coach well on offense. One of those games that got away from us. … Just not a good night at all.”

Just two days later that was affirmed by Coach Jones’ announcement of his resignation effective at the end of his contract and he will coach the Jags final game on December 2nd at New Mexico State.

Then the next day after the announcement of his resignation, coach Jones said, “It’s been a blast. I’m happy for South Alabama. It’ll be in my heart forever.”

“The meeting yesterday was something I was dreading in a lot of ways, just to let them know I wasn’t going to be here anymore,” Jones said. “And it turned into one of the best days of my life. I was hugging them and they were crying on my shoulder for a minute. It was touching and it means a lot to me. I’ll carry that forever. I had about 395 texts yesterday, a lot of them former players and friends. Made me realize I did it for the right reasons.”

Junior linebacker Bull Barge said that the news was tough to take but has given the team a renewed focus with intentions to send Jones out a winner.

“Yesterday was tough,” Barge said. “We love coach a lot. To hear that yesterday, you wish you could have done more. As a man, it’s life. This game is a business. We’ve been taught that from the beginning. Right now, our focus is to send coach out on top, have one of the best games we’ve ever played this last game.”

Senior guard Harrison Louden said that coach Jones not only taught his team about football, but also to “be men off the field. … He was all about character. I think that’s what I’m going to carry with me more than anything.”

After starting 7-0 and 10-0 in their first two seasons as an unclassified program they began their climb toward FBS with a 6-4 record as an FBS independent in 2011. Then they became an FBS transitional team in 2012 they went 2-11 as they drastically stepped up their competition and got their first FBS win over Florida International. Then they have been unable to get over the six win hump records of: 6-6, 6-7, 5-7, 6-7 over the previous four seasons and currently sitting at 4-7 this season with one game remaining.

They notched some historic wins over the last two seasons as well. Wins over Mississippi State, their first Power 5 win, and San Diego State, their first win over a ranked opponent, in 2016. Then they knocked off Sun Belt front-runners Troy and Arkansas State this season.

Jones, 55, has a record of 52-49 with one game remaining in his 9th season leading South.

During his tenure Jaguar fans have seen:

  • Gerald Everett became the Jags’ first-ever NFL draft selection in April and is in his first season with the Los Angeles Rams.
  • 3 individuals selected to participate at the NFL Scouting Combine
  • 4 members of the program voted CoSIDA Academic All-District (highlighted by Trey Clark being selected the Jaguars’ first-ever Academic All-American)
  • 5 players invited to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl
  • 6 alumni currently active in the NFL and Canadian Football League
  • 24 former student-athletes received an opportunity to compete at the professional level
  • 43 times individuals earned all-Sun Belt recognition on the field over the last five years
  • 54 times an individual has been named to the Sun Belt Conference Commissioner’s List
  • 92 times student-athletes have made the league’s Academic Honor Roll

After being a standout player at Murphy High School, Jones went on to be a standout player at the University of Alabama and named to Alabama’s All-Decade Team for the 1980s. He would play professionally with the Birmingham Stallions and Atlanta Falcons. He then began his coaching career in 1989 as an assistant coach at Briarwood Christian School. Two years later he was hired as the head coach at Dora. In 1996 he was hired as head coach at Mountain Brook HS and led the team to the Class 6A state championship game in 1996. He would go 101-27 in 10 seasons there.

He was then hired as the head coach at Birmingham-Southern to restart their football program and led them to a 1-7 record in Division II. He was then hired after the one season at BSC to start the program at South Alabama from scratch. He won the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year in 2013 after going 6-6 in their first season as a full Sun Belt member and improving on a 2-11 record the previous season.

Coach Jones and his wife, Elise, have been invaluable to South Alabama and cannot be thanked enough. When he was hired he started pulling together a staff on the steps of the Mitchell Center and living out of a hotel for a couple of months. They worked out wherever they could, including an improvised weight room in a former student health center and professional business building.

Athletic Director Joel Erdmann and the administration has hired a search firm to aid them in identifying the next head coach. with a number of potential candidates being thrown around. Whoever takes over the helm of the program, they will be inheriting a solid foundation that Jones and his staff has worked hard to build. A great fieldhouse and adjoining practice fields. Soon the covered practice facility with restart construction after the partially constructed superstructure collapsed after a sudden summer thunderstorm exposed the inadequate bracing the builders had not put into place.

There has been talk of an on-campus stadium since day one of the program. As much as fans complain about it, the fans and school are all lucky the City of Mobile has Ladd-Peebles Stadium that the Jags could use as their home stadium since the beginning and for the foreseeable future. Without it who knows if football would have gotten started or how the funds to start the program would have been used as they would have possibly spent funds to outfit a location to play.

  • As for those potential candidates, these are a few names that have been mentioned for the job are:
    John Grass, Jacksonville State head coach who has won four-consecutive conference championships and reached the FCS title game in 2015
  • Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama defensive coordinator, he’s never been a head coach and is currently making over $1 million per year
  • Tee Martin, Southern California offensive coordinator, he was a standout at Williamson HS before leading Tennessee to the 1998 BCS national championship
  • Kevin Sherrer, Georgia linebackers coach, was USA’s defensive coordinator in 2013, spent time on the Alabama staff but is reportedly a candidate to become defensive coordinator at Florida State
  • Kevin Steele, Auburn defensive coordinator, was a serious candidate for the position when coach Jones was hired in 2007 but has a terrible 9-36 overall record as head coach at Baylor and 1-31 Big 12 record from 1999-2002.
  • Chip Lindsey, Auburn offensive coordinator, he’s never been a head coach but has run successful offenses at Southern Miss and Auburn
  • Will Hall, Louisiana-Lafayette offensive coordinator, has a 56-20 record as head coach at West Alabama and West Georgia in Division II football and played at North Alabama, winning the Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II equivalent of the Heisman) as quarterback at North Alabama in 2003, when current USA AD Joel Erdmann was AD at UNA
  • Steve Campbell, Central Arkansas head coach, he is 33-14 in four seasons at UCA including 10-1 this season. He’s a Pensacola native, played center at Troy and was a graduate assistant for Pat Dye at Auburn. He also led Delta State to a Division II national championship in 1999 and won a junior-college national title at Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2007
  • Rhett Lashlee, UConn offensive coordinator, played for Gus Malzahn in high school before coaching with him as a graduate assistant then offensive coordinator at both Arkansas State and Auburn
  • Mario Cristobol, Oregon offensive coordinator, went 27-57 as head coach at FIU and took them to their only two bowl games in program history. He was then on the Alabama football staff from 2013-2016 as offensive line coach
  • Matt Luke, Ole Miss interim head coach, he was thrown to the wolves after Hugh Freeze resigned just before the season started amid scandals. He has been an assistant coach there since 2012 and served as co-offensive coordinator before being named interim head coach. He is Mississippi through and through, playing at Gulfport HS, then Ole Miss. He was a graduate assistant there in 1999, then came back from 2002-2005 then came back again in 2012
  • David Reeves, UAB defensive coordinator, he was a former Alabama high school coach who joined former Jag defensive coordinator in Jacksonville State in 2013, then joined him at UAB in 2014 as defensive line coach then became the defensive coordinator this season when the Blazers restarted their program
  • Kodi Burns, Auburn co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, He’s only in his sixth season as an assistant coach. He was a former wide receiver at Auburn and has had coaching stints at Arkansas State, Arizona State, Middle Tennessee and Samford
  • Butch Jones, former Tennessee head coach, he started his head coaching career at Central Michigan after Brian Kelly left for Cincinnati, he then moved to Cincinatti after Kelly again left for Notre Dame. He then took over at Tennessee replacing Derek Dooley and finished with a 34-27 record there and a 14-24 SEC record. But his reputation of verbal abuse may not make him a desirable candidate. His first season at Tennessee was shakey after the Jags, down by eight points, mounted a last-minute drive to tie the game, but was intercepted in the end zone

Over the past 10 years, the South Alabama campus has changed in so many ways since they started football. New buildings, updated sports facilities, additional dorms, and increased enrollment. What the next 10 years holds only time will tell. For the first time, the Jags are searching for a new head coach. It will be interesting to see who makes it through the coaching carousel, ends up on the final list and eventually gets hired and how it impacts recruiting with early signing period coming up in mid-December and national signing day in February.

As we hear more, we’ll keep you informed.