Jones Returns To Neyland Stadium, This Time As Coach
By Dan Harralson
Some may view Saturday's Tennessee and South Alabama matchup as just another non-conference game, but for South Alabama's head coach Joey Jones, it is kind of special.
Jones played in Knoxville twice during his collegiate career. Jones played wide receiver at Alabama from 1980-83 under Bear Bryant before the legendary coach retired, and then played one season under Ray Perkins. He knows all too well what "The Third Saturday in October" means and understands the task at hand playing inside Neyland Stadium.
"It was a special game for sure," Jones said. "I know Coach Bryant had a great rivalry with Tennessee over the years and I thought it was one of the loudest stadiums that we played in when I was at Alabama. It's just a special game."
Jones' junior season (1982) was the year Tennessee's 11-game losing streak to Bear Bryant and the Crimson Tide finally came to an end. The unranked Vols and Johnny Majors did the unthinkable and defeated second-ranked Alabama, 35-28, in Bear's last season.
Jones is in year number five of building his football program in Mobile. He has the Jaguars' program moving along quickly, and last year, South Alabama joined the Sun Belt Conference. It is pretty remarkable how quickly South Alabama's football program moved in half a decade and also how well the Jaguars are playing on the field. Jones comes into the Tennessee game with a 27-16 overall record and he won his first 19 games.
The former 'Bama wide receiver knows he has to play some of the upper-echelon type teams to continue to make money for his football program.
"Yeah, you got to do it," Jones said. "I mean you're talking about schools writing a million-dollar check to go play a game. We have to play a couple of those a year to build the football program. Plus it's exciting for our program and everybody involved."
South Alabama already has played North Carolina State twice, Mississippi State, and Tennessee this Saturday. The Jaguars have a home game with Mississippi State and a road game at South Carolina next year.
Jones has his docket full of games that will help pump even more money into South Alabama's football program with future games that range to 2020: Games at Nebraska (twice), Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss and Oklahoma State (twice) will not only bring in money, but will also pay off in marquee home games. On top of next year's home game with Mississippi State, the Jaguars will host North Carolina State in 2015 and Oklahoma State in 2017.
Jones attributes some of the qualities that helped him build the USA program to Bryant's philosophies.
"No. 1, do things right," Jones said. "As a coach you always want great schemes. Most of the time, schemes don't work. It's fundamentals of your program, doing things the right way, crossing your T's and dotting your I's, and I think that is the most important thing I learned form Coach Bryant. The game is about fundamentals, not about scheme."
Joey Jones Against Tennessee
1980: Alabama 27, Tennessee 0
1981: Alabama 38, Tennessee 19
1982: Tennessee 35, Alabama 28
1983: Tennessee 41, Alabama 34