In the most recent installment in his "Coaching Greats" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spoke with former Jacksonville State head coach Bill Jones. In 24 seasons at the school Jones won 449 games and a Division II national title, and was good enough in slow-pitch softball as a pitcher to become a Hall of Famer in that sport as well.
Jon Teitel: You played basketball at Marshall County High School for legendary coach Tom Richey. What made Richey such a great coach, and what was the most important thing you ever learned from him?
Bill Jones: His lessons lasted my entire career and continue today. He was a disciplinarian but taught us how important every single player on the team was (even the last guy on the bench). He showed us that you have to work hard to get what you want.
JT: You were an All-Conference basketball player at Jacksonville State, averaging around 18 points per game while helping to lead your school to two straight conference titles. How good a player were you back then, and what is the secret to being a good scorer?
BJ: I reflect back to the people who would ask Pete Maravich about his fancy moves on the court. Pete said that he threw 3,000 behind-the-back passes each day before trying one out in a game. I was the stereotypical gym rat who would shoot baskets outside until my parents made me come inside. Coach Richey also helped me with my shooting form. My parents' encouragement and my own aggressiveness also helped a lot.
JT: You set a school record by making 31 straight free throws. What is the secret to being a great free throw shooter?
BJ: It should not be that hard. It is the only time during the game when someone does not have a hand in your face. The key is to relax and have a system in place to block out everything around you (be it three dribbles, a deep breath, etc.). I have a multi-step system: toe placement, ball elevation, etc. Positive reinforcement also helps. Success is built around repetition.
JT: After college you signed a contract to play baseball for the Pirates but only spent one year with the organization before retiring. Which sport did you enjoy more, and which sport were you better at?
BJ: Growing up I enjoyed baseball more due to the weather, the nuances of coaching signals, positioning myself on the mound, etc. I had several games where I played a different position in every inning, which taught me about everyone's different roles on the field. I still love baseball today, and follow the Braves and Cubs religiously. I fell into the basketball coaching ranks by accident but I love it as well.
JT: You had a 28-17 record in two years as head coach at North Alabama before being replaced by Bill L. Jones in 1974. Why did you take the job at Jacksonville State, and was it weird to be replaced by a guy who was also named Bill Jones?!
BJ: I accused the president of replacing me with Coach Jones solely in order to keep the stationery the same! It was hard to leave but I left the new coach with a pretty good team. Since I had played at Jacksonville State it was an easy decision to make, and the school president was very inspiring.
JT: You overcame a five-point deficit with two minutes left to get a one-point win over South Dakota State to win the Division II national title in 1985. How were you able to come from behind, and what did it mean to you to win the title?
BJ: It was an enjoyable, productive season. We had to come from behind several times that year because our league featured a lot of good teams. Our players just believed that we could come back. We were playing a triangle-and-2 defense, and Pat Williams came off the bench to play some great defense.
JT: After losing your season opener to Belmont Abbey by one that year you proceeded to win 31 straight games en route to being named national Coach of the Year. What did you tell your team after the loss, and what did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor?
BJ: I was in the pits after the loss but we had good chemistry. I was not an easy guy to play for. I made about five of our cheerleaders cry just for making noise during one of our practices! I was talking to another coach after the loss who helped teach me about playing a delay-type of game, and he told me that he thought we were going to win the title.
I learned early on not to take anything for granted so I worked my fanny off to make sure we were prepared for every game. I had several rules (be on time, curfew, study hall for some players, etc.), but we went that entire year without having any distractions. It was a combination of athletic players who threw themselves into the fire.
JT: In 1993 you were inducted into the American Softball Association Hall of Fame. How did you get into softball, and where does that rank among your career highlights?
BJ: I love softball but it was strange how I got into it. My friend Vandy Cobb invited me several times to play on his slow-pitch team and I finally relented because he was going to forfeit a tourney game without me. The first pitch I saw looked like a watermelon...and I popped it straight up into the air! I continued to play for the next 25 years and made five times more friends than I did in basketball.
I was inducted as a pitcher because I could put a lot of arc on the ball. In 1977 we finished third in the world. We played one game that lasted over three hours, but the people in charge wanted us to finish our games in 55 minutes.
JT: In 1998 you retired as the all-time winningest coach in school history. What made you such a great coach, and do you think anyone will ever break your record?
BJ: I am sure that someone will break my record. I broke the record that was set by my own coach, who was great himself. We obviously had some really good players so recruiting was a big element, but nobody outworked us. I would talk to the bus drivers and janitors; they were the people who knew everything and give me an honest answer. I tried to recruit hungry players who would listen to me and fit into our system. If I had anything, it was the ability to lead people and get a feel for how they would fit in with my philosophy and spirit of competition.
JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most?
BJ: I would love for people to appreciate our fast-paced game. We were tenacious on defense even when we were scoring 100+ PPG. I hope people remember the excitement of a slam-packed gym with hundreds of people standing outside who could not get inside. We had great fans, ball girls, and a totally exhilarating experience: we played hard and wanted to win.
Jones is also on Jon's list of best coaches in OVC history.
Austin Peay: Dave Loos (1990-present) 363-310, 3 NCAA tourneys, 5 conference titles, 5-time conference COY
Eastern Illinois: Rick Samuels (1981-2005) 344-349, 2 NCAA tourneys
Eastern Kentucky: Paul McBrayer (1946-1962) 219-144, 2 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles
Jacksonville State: Bill Jones (1974-1998) 449-210, 1 D-2 national title, 3-time conference COY, 1-time national COY
Morehead State: Bobby Laughlin (1953-1965) 166-119, 3 NCAA tourneys, 4 conference titles
Murray State: Steve Newton (1985-1991) 116-65, 3 NCAA tourneys, 4 conference titles, 2-time conference COY
SIU-Edwardsville: Larry Graham (1984-1992) 147-84
SE Missouri State: Ron Shumate (1981-1997) 306-171, 7 conference titles, 2-time national COY
Tennessee State: John McLendon (1954-1959) 149-20, 5 conference titles, 3 NAIA titles
Tennessee Tech: John Oldham (1955-1964) 118-83, 2 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
Tennessee-Martin: Bret Campbell (1999-2009) 125-168, 1 conference title, 1-time conference COY