Release Date: 1/15/1999
Clarksville, Ark. --- University of the Ozarks women's basketball coach Jack Jones said a tough career decision he made 20 years ago remains one of the best choices he has ever made.
It was the summer of 1979 when Jones, a recent graduate of the college, was preparing to return to Illinois to take over his family's farm. But a call from then-Ozarks athletic director Jack Holley with an offer to take over the women's basketball program forced Jones to make a difficult decision.
"Everything was set up for me to go back to Illinois and run the farm and do that for the rest of my life," said Jones, who had been a standout on Ozarks' men's team before serving as an assistant on the men's team in 1978-79 while wrapping up his degree. "I had been interested in getting into coaching, but I really hadn't thought about coaching women. I remember telling Coach Holley, 'Women's basketball? You've got to be kidding me.' But I told him to give me three days to think about it, and I discussed it with my family. We agreed this might be the only opportunity to do it. I said I would give it three years and if I didn't like it, I could always go back to farming."
So much for farming. Twenty years later it's been young people and basketball games --- not corn and soybeans --- that Jones has successfully cultivated. He enters Saturday's home game against University of Dallas on the brink of a coaching milestone: 300 career victories. It's an accomplishment he sometimes has trouble comprehending.
"When I look back 20 years ago, I never dreamed of coaching this many years and winning this many games," said Jones, whose 20-year record is 299-217. "I think more than anything (300 victories) is a tribute to the kids I've had come through the program. They brought their talents and abilities here and I provided a little guidance and direction. It was a good combination for success."
Looking back over two decades of basketball, Jones is more proud of the 95 percent graduation rate of his players than he is of their on-court accomplishments. He can quickly rattle off the names of his former players who are now teachers, doctors, lawyers, professors and managers.
"The thing that's motivated me the most over the years is to watch a young girl come into the program and see her grow and mature as a person, get a degree and then move on to have success in the world," said Jones. "I can count on one hand the number of girls I had who didn't get a degree for whatever reason. The fact that most of the girls I recruited here went on to graduate is something I'm proud of. There's a certain closure to the process that is very rewarding for me. I enjoy that part of it more than the actual coaching and I think that's what has kept me in coaching and will keep me in coaching."
Jones said it's some simple advice he received from his father 20 years ago when Jones was trying to decide between farming and coaching that defines his coaching philosophy.
"My father told me to decide what I really wanted to do and then go out and do it and enjoy myself and that's been something I've tried to instill into my players ," Jones said. "I always let my players know that if they are not happy here, then they shouldn't stay. I would much rather have an average player who has a good attitude and who is a happy person, rather than an All-American player who is unhappy and is a problem, even though you may win a few more games with the All-American. If you're happy and enjoy the people you're with and where you are, you're going to do better in basketball, in academics and in life.
"A happy person is more likely to be successful."
Which may be another reason Jones has had so much longevity and success at Ozarks.
"I've had some opportunities to coach other places, but this community has been good to me and it would be tough to leave," he said. "I met my wife (Karen) here and people like (former Ozarks coaches) Lonnie Qualls and Jerry Wagoner were instrumental in helping me in my early years. Friendships and ties like that are hard to give up. I can't imagine being anywhere else."
As far as the 300-win milestone, Jones is quick to downplay the accomplishment.
"I guess 300 is something in coaching, but when I notice that my friend (Lamar High School girls coach) Carl Ramsey has 800 career wins, 300 doesn't seem like that big of deal," Jones said. "After number 300, I'll probably get the team to sign a basketball or something and put it in a case and maybe go out to dinner to celebrate. But the next day we'll go back to practice and forget about it, focus on the next game and continue to plug away."