Mike Jones’ Mississippi College and Co-Lin basketball teams won more championships than he has fingers and won 77 percent of the games they played over 20 seasons.
That’s why, at age 65, Jones will be inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Saturday night.
But there’s more. Before he became a head coach, he helped Southern Miss coaching legend M.K. Turk build a Metro Conference powerhouse program essentially from scratch.
And since he retired as basketball coach and became Mississippi College’s athletic director, he has steered the Clinton school to great strides in fund-raising, facilities and all phases of athletic competition. Yet, Jones points to none of that when asked what makes him most proud of his long and productive career in coaching and administration.
“What I’m proudest of, without a doubt, is seeing so many lives changed because of the environment we provided for our athletes at Mississippi College,” Jones said. “Over the years, we had some troubled kids – not bad kids, but troubled kids – who changed their lives, much for the better, because of their time at MC. We changed people’s lives. That’s by far the greatest accomplishment of my career.”
Nevertheless, winning is what got Jones into the Hall of Fame. At Copiah-Lincoln Community College, his teams won 112 and lost 20 over four seasons. At MC, his teams won 324 and lost 110 over 16 seasons. That’s a lot of winning.
Watching Jones’ MC teams play was like watching a living text book on how to correctly play the sport of basketball. His teams weren’t always the most athletic or the most gifted. They just played the right way. His players knew their roles. Jones’ best shooters always took the most shots and took them from spots where they shot best. The best passers distributed the ball to the shooters in those spots. The best screeners set picks to get the shooters open. The best rebounders were always in position to get the misses. And everybody played defense.
Twenty years ago, in 1998, Turk and I were watching Jones’ Chocs take apart some unfortunate team from Texas for their 17th straight victory in NCAA Division III competition. Said Turk, “I don’t care what level it is, Mike Jones can coach. He’d be successful at any level, because his kids do all the right things. He’s one of the best coaches in the game today at any level.”
Jones’ earliest memories from childhood involve his wanting to eventually be a coach.
“As far back as I can remember, I knew I wanted to coach,” Jones once told me. “In my family, with my dad (Ray Jones), sports were a way of life. My dad pitched semi-pro baseball and coached me in youth baseball and basketball. He loved it, so I loved it, too.”
Ray Jones died of a heart attack when Mike Jones was 14. He never saw his son play junior college and college basketball and baseball, never saw him coach a game.
Mike Jones’ own heart problems caused him to give up coaching and become a full-time athletic director at age 48.
Four years later, in 2006, he returned to the sidelines. The Chocs won 46 and lost 9 and were 35-5 in conference play over those two seasons.
“I tried to do it differently the second time around,” Jones said. “I tried not to be so intense in practices or on the bench. I found out I just couldn’t coach that way. That’s not the way I am wired.”
Heart surgery was required. As much as Jones loved the competition, his heart told him, in no uncertain terms, it was time to give up coaching for good. That was 10 years ago.
Yes, Jones says, he still misses it but has tried to pour all his energy into improving all areas of MC athletics.
There’s no scoreboard in that, but, clearly, Jones is still winning.
Coming Thursday: Archie Moore — yes, he really was from Mississippi.