Jones Out – Who’s Next in Line on the Hilltop?
If you had June Jones as the first college football coach to lose/vacate his job this year, maybe I need to take you with me to Las Vegas. Despite losing the final two games of last season to end SMU’s bowl streak at four straight years (the first four bowls attended by the Mustangs since the Death Penalty), and knowing that there was a lot of youth and uncertainty (especially at QB), no one could have foreseen what has taken place the first two weeks of this season.
Maybe Jones could have predicted it would be a rough night in Waco, with Baylor being a top ten team and wanting to prove itself amidst all the hoopla of the opening of McLane Stadium. Still 45-0 and managing just 67 total yards was embarrassing. But it only set the stage for what proved to be Jones’ swan song as the Mustangs were embarrassed by North Texas 43-6 the following week, with the only points coming on a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game. The Mean Green are much improved under Dan McCarney, but that listless performance made a lot of people wonder if June Jones had lost his team. Turns out he did.
But Jones didn’t lose his team in Waco or Denton. He didn’t even lose his team in those last two games of last year (the finale, of which was a 17-13 loss to UCF, who turned around and handled Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl). Jones lost this team, this program, and the support needed three years ago, when after leading the Ponies to their third straight bowl he started sniffing around for other jobs. He thought he had landed at Arizona State, but when the alumni got wind of it, they rose up and told the ASU athletic director to back down. After that rejection, he interviewed for the Maryland job that ultimately went to Randy Edsall. But the dye was cast. Jones didn’t want SMU anymore, but, amazingly enough, SMU still wanted him. And even with the drop off at the end of last season, he was rewarded with a three-year extension on his contract.
Which makes this “resignation” all the more puzzling. Jones’ agent, Leigh Steinberg, said that Jones “Had accomplished his mission of turning SMU around and that he needed a break.” The only thing that changed in nine months was two embarrassing losses. If Jones had truly needed a break, why did he agree to an extension? Indeed, while Jones did bring SMU to a position they had not achieved in the post Death Penalty era, one could make the argument that the 2014 team, to this point looked no different from those first two Forrest Gregg teams. Was he trying to protect his overall won-loss record? Was he trying to position himself for another job as a coordinator without the stain of a one or two win season with an inept offense (never good for an offensive guru to have a bad offense)?
Whatever, it’s now water under the bridge. What’s next for SMU? What’s next could be a real test of the landscape of college football. Usually a coaching change involves a 180-degree shift from what was previously in place, so the thought of an experienced coach like Houston Nutt or Butch Davis seems unlikely. The thought of a hot, young offensive coordinator seems more likely, and there are a ton of candidates with Texas ties including Clemson’s Chad Morris, Texas A&M’s Jake Spavital, and Baylor’s Phillip Montgomery. All of them clearly want to be head coaches. The question is, do they take a job like SMU which looks to have a lot of positives, the biggest of which is a fantastic recruiting base (even after the big boys take their cut), but is also part of the group of 5 conferences that has almost no chance to compete for a national championship? Or do they wait to see what type of job comes open in a Power 5 conference, even if it’s a bad job, because, at the very least, there will never be a lack of resources with all the money that is flowing into these programs from TV and the College Football Playoff. It wasn’t long ago that Baylor and TCU were considered bad jobs. Can SMU convince a notable they have a good job to offer? Athletic Director Rick Hart and the SMU Board of Trustees, you are officially on the clock.