Mike Jones, out of coaching for 11 years, will return to the sidelines at Mississippi College.

They will hold a press conference this afternoon at Mississippi College to announce that athletic director Mike Jones will return to basketball coaching next season.

Tuesday, he already had.

Rick Cleveland

When Jones answered his cellphone Tuesday afternoon, he was in the weight room where his returning players were going through workouts. The previous night, he said, he had spent several hours on the phone making contact with potential recruits.

Some coaches might beat Jones next season. Few, if any, will out-work him. None will be more intense.

Those traits were what made him one of the best coaches I have ever covered in any sport.

The record shows it. In two different previous stints at Mississippi College, his teams won 323 games while losing 110. At Copiah-Lincoln Community College before that, his teams won 110 and lost just 20 over four seasons. Before that, he helped the late M.K. Turk build a Metro Conference powerhouse at Southern Miss.

He has won nearly 80 percent of the games he has coached. He has won championships galore. He has won so often that last July, he was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

But he is 65 years old. He last coached in 2008. Why return now?

“Why not?” Jones answered.

Mike Jones

Dr. Blake Thompson, the relatively new Mississippi College president, asked him to consider it. Jones did. He talked to his family. He talked to his doctors. That was an important part. Heart problems weighed into his decision to retire from coaching twice before. Doctors gave him the go-ahead.

Jones also talked to Don Lofton, the man who succeeded him as head coach and will stay on his staff now. Lofton was all for it. Jones weighed all factors. He decided to coach again. He will remain the athletic director.

There’s another way of putting all this: Fish swim. Birds fly. Coaches coach. Mike Jones is a coach.

Years ago, when Turk was still living but had retired from coaching, he and I sat watching Jones coach Mississippi College to an important playoffs victory. It was like watching an execution. The Choctaws executed set plays perfectly. They guarded relentlessly. They scored out of every timeout. It was text book basketball. Choctaw players weren’t bigger or more athletic. They just played harder and more as a team. They knew their roles. The best shooters took the most shots and took them from where they shot it best. The best rebounders were always in position to do just that. The screeners screened. The passers passed. Everybody played defense.

Why, I asked Turk, is Jones coaching at this level and not making millions in the SEC or ACC?

Turk’s response: “I don’t care what level it is, he’d be successful. His kids do the right things. He’s one of the best coaches in the game at any level.”

Ole Miss’s Kermit Davis, Jr, one of those guys now making millions, knows.

“Mike Jones is one of the very best coaches at any level of college basketball,” Davis has said. “He is a relentless recruiter and a people person. His X’s and O’s are on par with any coach at any level, and he will be able to get MC back to recognition at a national level.”

The key will be keeping a check on his own intensity. Health problems caused him to quit coaching twice before. And I remember what he told me after he quit the second time.

“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.”

He will need to find that sweet spot, that happy medium. Can he?

This will be fun to watch.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.