June Jones deserves a big-time job

Southern Methodist head coach June Jones will probably always best be known for his well-documented sideline argument in 1996 with quarterback Jeff George when the two were with the Atlanta Falcons. While it isn’t fair to the accomplishments achieved during his coaching career, Jones’ legacy may forever be tied to that incident — if only because it was caught on national television.

But 13 years and two successful collegiate head coaching stints later, Jones has not only made a smooth transition to the college ranks, he’s also proven to be a master at reviving dying programs.

If you missed SMU’s 45-10 thrashing of Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve night, you’re not alone. You may have been attending religious services, playing football in the snow with old high school buddies or pounding cups of spiked egg nog. The thing is, it’s only fitting that the SMU victory was lost in the Christmas holiday — June Jones has been overlooked his entire coaching career.

After taking over the University of Hawaii in 1999, Jones orchestrated the most dramatic turnaround in NCAA history. Replacing Fred von Appen, who oversaw a team that lost 18 games in a row and finished the ’98 season 0-12, Jones led the Warriors to a 9-4 mark and a share of the WAC title. Almost instantly, he became an icon across the state.

In his tenure on the islands, Jones compiled a 75-41 record, including three 10-plus-win seasons and three other nine-win campaigns. He took his teams to six bowl games, including the Sugar Bowl after a 12-1 season in his final year at the school in 2007.

Still, athletic directors at big programs weren’t buying into Jones, who was still looked at as a coach with a gimmick offense that was only successful because it covered up a player’s weaknesses and played to his strengths.

Wait, doesn’t that sound an awful lot like the spread offense? The very offense that has overtaken the college football landscape?

Jones’ first experience with the run-and-shoot offense occurred during his time as quarterback at Portland State, where he was introduced to the philosophy by offensive coordinator Mouse Davis. When he received his first head coaching gig with the Falcons, he instituted the run-and-shoot, and the system proved successful. George flourished running the offense the first two seasons before the altercation with Jones derailed the pro careers of both parties.

Jones brought the offense with him to Hawaii and again to SMU when he was hired in January 2008. After a 1-11 debut season, the team clearly has bought into his system: The Mustangs enjoyed a seven-win turnaround in 2009.

The question now becomes how much longer athletic directors will continue to overlook Jones when head coaching jobs open up at their schools. Critics might look at his 19-29 record in three seasons with the Falcons, along with a 3-7 mark on an interim basis with the San Diego Chargers, and say that Jones couldn’t get it done on the big stage — in this case, the NFL. Even if Jones’ system is not conducive to success in the NFL (and let’s not forget that he took the Falcons to the playoffs and only had one disastrous season — the year he benched George), isn’t it OK for some great coaches to struggle at one level and thrive at another?

Plenty of great college coaches have failed in the NFL: Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and Pete Carroll to name three.

Why can’t Jones succeed at a Big 12 program? The trend in college football has been the employment of variations of the spread across the country, so why couldn’t Jones’ run-and-shoot work just as efficiently?

Whether it was Timmy Chang or Colt Brennan or any other QB running the system, Jones’ teams at Hawaii put up points — defense was always the issue with the Warriors. What if Jones went to a big program and was able to lure a high-priced defensive coordinator? Scary thought, right? Throw in the fact that he’d be able to recruit better talent on the mainland to play in his offense, and any program with Jones at the helm should be a sure bet to be a consistent top-25 program.

This season, freshman QB Kyle Padron — who threw for a school-record 460 yards and two scores in the season-ending bowl victory — showed that the magic of the run-and-shoot is alive and well.

Perhaps what makes Jones so unique is his ability to make players believe in themselves and make them believe they can win — specifically at programs so used to losing and losing badly. After all, winning isn’t the only thing that becomes a habit.

All Jones has done throughout his college coaching career is prove that he could resurrect programs. His most recent, and perhaps best, example is SMU — a program that was left for dead 20-plus years ago.

Dave Miller is the Web Manager of the National Football Post. You can follow him on Twitter at Miller_Dave.