MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - A new era in South Alabama Jag football begins in just a few days. The five year old program now has full Division One status able to compete for a Sunbelt Conference Championship, bowl games and even the BCS championship title.
Head Coach Joey Jones, who built the program from zero, recently shared about the Jags, his career from Mobile to the pros and becoming a coach.
"I got chills all over because I felt like that this was the place for me to be. I've always loved the City of Mobile, loved the people in it. I really felt good about coming back, a little apprehension sometimes because when you go home obviously it’s a little tougher. But, bottom line is I enjoy being here. It’s a great place to live, a great deal for me and my family to be here," Jones said.
Jones returned to the Port City in 2008 to start and build the Jags, South Alabama's football team. His football talent was first nurtured at Mobile's Maitre Park at the age of seven.
"Kind of grew up fairly rough and went through some times, some hard times. I think fighting through those hard times as a young boy growing up at Maitre Park football probably taught me more about myself than any other time. Steve Rogers, my head coach, was tough on us and brought us up in a tough way. I lost my father at a young age, and I needed that kind of a man to step into my life. Those days made me believe I could do anything, and he made a little skinny white kid from Mobile could believe that he could play at Alabama and play in the National Football League, NFL," Jones reflected.
Before those two future stops Jones developed into an outstanding receiver at Mobile's Murphy High School. His talent on the field attracted major college recruiters. He committed to Florida State University.
"My mother sat me down and said, ‘You probably need to look at staying in the state; and if you're going to live in this state, you probably need to go to school here.’ And she was right," Jones said.
So Jones de-committed and headed north to Tuscaloosa.
"I go to the University of Alabama all fired up, and I met Coach Bryant. He had never called me or came to see me during the recruiting process. He looked down at me, and you know he's six-four, thinking what in the world are you doing bringing this guy here to the University of Alabama. And so I guess the first part of being at Alabama was a little bit of a bust my bubble so to speak,” Jones said.
Jones said playing for Bryant was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
"To play for him though once I got to know him, the type man that he was, and the type of coach that he was, I wouldn't have traded anything in the world for it. When I look at Coach Bryant, I think of what I call a real man. He wasn't a fake guy that acted one way in front of the camera than he did with his players. What you saw was what you got, and that's the biggest thing I admired. Looking at him being a real person, I wanted to emulate that," Jones said.
All SEC honors at Bama and the Senior Bowl in Mobile, led to two stops as a professional for Joey Jones.
"I have to admit that playing at the University of Alabama was probably my biggest dream. And then I felt like if I ever played in the NFL or in the United States Football League, USFL; that was just going to be extra icing on the cake. And it was. I played four years and was very blessed that I could do those four years. I never thought I would play pro ball. It was always a dream of mine and a goal of mine. In the back of my mind thinking, ‘Heck, you know, that at my size can I even play with those guys.’ So it was a dream come true for me," Jones said.
After the Atlanta Falcons, Jones remembered words of Coach Bryant.
"I heard Coach Bryant say that you if you can live without it don't do it, and that was his philosophy on coaching. He said, ‘it’s a tough profession. It’s a great profession, but it’s a tough one.’ He said but if you can live without it do something else. So I tried to live without it about a year," Jones said.
Success in the insurance business was not quite enough.
"I always found myself going to practices and Friday nights, going to games and on Saturdays going to games. Watching football is what I loved to do," Jones said.
Jones’ first stop was Briarwood Christian in Birmingham, then head coach at Dora High School. Then in 1996, he starts rebuilding the program at Mountain Brook.
"I always wanted to be a head coach. I wanted to learn to be one. I think one of the ways you learn to be one is by actually doing it. You learn that way from experience," Jones said.
"Probably the finest of my memories in coaching was at Mountain Brook, mainly because you know they were a team that had nine losing seasons in a row and averaged two wins per year. They were kind of the laughing stock around Birmingham. I'll never forget our first meeting I told them, I said, ‘If we do what we're supposed to do this year and you listen to me and you do the things that I ask you to do, then we're going to be in the state championship game this year.’ And, sure enough, we ended up there. I don't know if I really meant it at the time, but I was trying to breathe some life into them and get them to believe that they could win. That was a very fond memory for me to go to state championship game in 1996 and have the success we had over those years after that. Those guys making their minds up they could be winners that's something I will remember the rest of my life," Jones reflected.
Ten years of success at Mountain Brook led to a call from Birmingham Southern, and then USA.
"It was very difficult to leave. I was very comfortable at Mountain Brook. I thought I was going to be 65 to 70 years old and retire there and maybe they'll name the stadium after me. But, I wanted to try college football and Birmingham Southern calls me out of the blue. They're starting a football program. Joe Dean the Athletic Director, came and pretty much offered me the job from the get go and said he'd watched what we had done at Mountain Brook. We had all that success at Mountain Brook. He watched how our kids played, the passion they played with and I think that kind of sold him," said Jones.
"I talked to Jimbo Fisher at Florida State about what I should do. He said you need to take it if you're going to get into college football. It’s hard to get in. People don't think they can coach. So I took his advice and jumped in kind of a leap of faith. Then a year and a half later I'm down here at South Alabama so it was probably the right move," believes Jones.
After a successful 23 and 4 in the first three seasons, including the two undefeated campaigns, the Jags are now at the Division One level.
"As a coach, you always believe you can win. It’s been a fun all 4, now five years I've been here. We knew coming in we're having to build a program from nothing. The reality is to step up from zero to now we're stepping to our fifth year having to play Tennessee and everybody in the Sunbelt Conference and Navy, that's a big jump," Jones said. "The success early I think was critical when you're going to Division One that fast."
Jones said his players are ready for the challenge.
"We're going to be a much better football team this year. How it turns out in wins and losses, I don't know. But one thing I do know is I expect nothing but great things. It will be very difficult. I'm real fired up about what we can do, one thing I do know our guys are going to make up their minds, they're going to believe they can do it. And, if they continue to work like they have good things are going to happen I just believe that," Jones said.
Jones also believes that South Alabama's quick 4-year jump to Division One was the best thing for the Jags. Familiar teams like Tennessee, Navy, Mississippi State, North Carolina State and Troy are now on South's schedule. You can even catch the Jags on ESPN and CBS this 2013 season. Coach Jones said he's not sure how the wins and losses will turn out this year but, he is sure Jag fans will see a much better team on the field.
Mobile police have released the names of three shooting victims. Police say the shooting was the result of domestic violence.
Mobile Police have launched an internal investigation into the Third Precinct Captain and a patrol officer, who authorities believe were involved in an ongoing sexual relationship. Captain Carla Longmire is charged with conduct unbecoming …
A Grand Bay family woke up to an unexpected guest on their back porch Wednesday, December 11 - a donkey. Don Edeker said the little guy is lost, and he's trying to help his owner find him.
Clear skies and a secondary push of chilly air arrive tonight as a stronger area of high pressure moves in from the central plains.
You've heard about some brazen criminals and what they will do to get what they want. This time, you are going to hear about a brave bank employee who didn't mind saying "no".
Augusta Evans School is scheduled to move to a new location in the Spring. But according the City of Mobile, the city operated after-school program at will not be moving to the same location.