SMU enjoying its June Jones effect

If you haven’t taken notice of the impact June Jones has on a football program, just look at Hawaii under Greg McMackin. In two seasons, McMackin has compiled a losing record (13-14), has been involved in off-the-field drama for a derogatory comment made toward Notre Dame and just recently dealt with offensive coordinator Ron Lee choosing to resign.

Not exactly the sign of stability that the Warriors had under Jones, who endured just one losing season from 2001-07 and led the team to its first BCS bowl game in school history during the undefeated 2007 campaign.

Now entering his third season at Southern Methodist, Jones has the Mustangs primed to challenge Houston for the outright West division crown and a spot in the league’s championship game.

Coming off a C-USA West division co-title and a 45-10 thrashing of Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl, SMU is primed for bigger and better things in 2010. Bringing with him the offense that was so prolific at Hawaii, Jones has resurrected a program that was left for dead 20-plus years ago. After a 1-11 debut season in 2008, the team clearly has bought into his system, as the young Mustangs enjoyed a seven-win turnaround in 2009.

It was their first winning season since 1997 and the first time the team won eight games since it won 10 in 1984 — also the last time it went bowling.

Quarterback Kyle Padron took control of the offense from the injured Bo Levi Mitchell in the second half of the season as a freshman and directed the run-and-shoot offensive attack that has been so integral to Jones’ coaching success. The 6-3, 193-pounder, who threw for a school-record 460 yards and two scores in the bowl win, is one of 18 players returning to the team with starting experience. Despite the team’s relative youth, it is experienced because Jones had no problem playing his recruits early and often in order to set the stage for the team’s current state. Depth certainly will not be a problem for the Mustangs.

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.

When he took over at 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. He became an icon across the state.

In his tenure on the islands, Jones went 75-41 — 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.

After showing flashes last season, all expectations are that Jones will build a similarly successful program at SMU. Despite his youth, Padron exudes a veteran confidence and will have plenty of playmakers on the outside for the vertical passing game. The only question mark is at running back, where Shawnbrey McNeal’s departure will make it imperative that the young backs step up. Last year’s backup Zach Line should be healthy in the fall after missing spring practice with an injury, and the ‘Stangs have signees Darryl Fields and Kevin Pope that could compete for time. A consistent rushing attack can only help Padron continue to excel running the run-and-shoot.

We’ll see right away just how much progress the Mustangs have made and how they carry themselves as contenders when they open the season on the road Sept. 5 against Texas Tech on national television. But under their veteran head coach, don’t be surprised if they come into the game expecting to win.

All Jones has done throughout his college coaching career is prove that he could resurrect programs. SMU is on the path back to relevance, and the administration and Mustangs fan base could not be any happier. Jones had his salary raised last season, and all expectations are that the team is ready to win a conference championship.

No matter what happens this year, though, SMU knows it’s in good hands and ready to put further behind the days of the death penalty.

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