Pat Jones was obsessed with sports when he was growing up in Little Rock.
His heroes in football were University of Arkansas Razorback stars.
When it came to baseball, he would argue with his friends about which one of them would wear Yogi Berra’s and Mickey Mantle’s numbers.
His father would take him to watch the Travelers play baseball “virtually every night” the team was at home.
“Jones said he never wanted to be anything except a coach,” Jimmie Tramel wrote in the Tulsa World. “He wrote a theme paper about coaching while in the seventh grade. He played football for one semester at Arkansas Tech but was advised by his father to transfer to Arkansas. Dad’s reasoning? If you really want to be a coach, you can get exposed to big-time coaching at Arkansas. Dad was right.”
Jones went on to have quite a coaching career, serving as the head coach at Oklahoma State University from 1984-94 after having worked for five years there as an assistant under Jimmy Johnson.
Jones’ teams at Oklahoma State compiled a 62-60-3 record and went 3-1 in bowl games. During the five-season stretch from 1984 through 1988, the Cowboys were 44-15 with records of 10-2 in ’84, 8-4 in ’85, 6-5 in ’86, 10-2 in ’87 and 10-2 in ’88.
Oklahoma State won the Gator Bowl after the 1984 season, the Sun Bowl after the 1987 season and the Holiday Bowl after the 1988 season.
In recognition of his accomplishments, Jones will be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame on Friday, Feb. 3. Tickets for the annual induction banquet at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.
Jones is among 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Class of 2012. The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 University of Arkansas national championship basketball team.
Jones was born in Memphis in November 1947. His parents, Erwin and Frances Jones, moved to Little Rock the following year. Jones attended the public schools in Little Rock — Pulaski Heights Elementary, Williams Elementary, Forest Heights Junior High School and Hall High School. He was a football letterman at Hall in 1963-64 and played on a state championship team for the Warriors in 1964.
Jones later would tell Tramel that the two best times of his life were that senior football season at Hall and when his first Oklahoma State team defeated South Carolina in the 1984 Gator Bowl to earn a Top 10 ranking. He said the postgame bus ride after the Gator Bowl was “really magic stuff.”
Jones played at Arkansas Tech in 1965 and transferred to Arkansas in 1966, walking on for football and graduating from the university in 1969. He returned home to Little Rock, where he coached football alongside Charles Ripley and Philip Bryan at his old junior high school, Forest Heights. The 1969 team at Forest Heights went 8-0 and won a city championship.
Jones moved up to Hall High School the following season to serve as a defensive coach under the legendary C.W. Keopple. The Warriors went 10-1, 8-2, 9-1 and 7-3 during the four seasons Jones was on Keopple’s staff.
Jones’ move to college football came in 1974 when Frank Broyles brought him on as a graduate assistant at Arkansas. He was an assistant defensive line coach during Broyles’ next-to-last season as head coach in 1975 when the Razorbacks won the Southwest Conference championship and defeated Georgia in the Cotton Bowl. His coaching career then took him to Southern Methodist University in 1976-77 under Ron Meyer, Pittsburgh in 1978 under Jackie Sherrill and then Oklahoma State starting in 1979 under Johnson.
As the head coach at Oklahoma State, Jones coached nine All-America athletes, including Thurman Thomas, Hart Lee Dykes, Leslie O’Neal and Barry Sanders. Dykes ended his career as the Big 8 Conference’s all-time leading receiver, O’Neal was a Lombardi Award finalist in 1985, Thomas finished his career as the Big 8’s second all-time rusher and Sanders won the Heisman Trophy in 1988 after shattering numerous Big 8 and NCAA records.
In 1984, Jones was the UPI Big 8 Coach of the Year. He was The Associated Press Big 8 Coach of the Year in 1992. He coached in the 1986 Japan Bowl, the 1988 Hula Bowl and the 1992 Blue-Gray Classic.
After taking some time off from football in 1995, Jones headed to the NFL in 1996 to join Johnson’s staff at Miami. Jones was with the Dolphins through the 2003 season as they won the AFC East in 2000 and made playoff appearances in six of the seasons he was there.
Jones ended his coaching career with the Oakland Raiders, serving on the staff there from 2004-06. He returned to Oklahoma after his retirement from coaching and is now a sports radio personality.
Oklahoma City television reporter Dean Blevins once said of Jones: “He bucked the system for doing things like wearing a sweatshirt on the sideline with ‘Aggies’ on the front. He used words like ‘bumfuzzled.’ He might be the world record holder for words per minute. He was accessible to the media, where he had no enemies.”
Tramel would later write: “When Pat Jones announced he was resigning his position as Oklahoma State’s head football coach in 1994, a newspaper account of the event indicated he talked for 15 minutes before taking a breather. He said he would stay until every question had been answered. The media tired before he did.”
Tramel described an interview with Jones as one that began with a “monologue that spanned more than 2,400 words. By the time a question was asked, he had broached the subjects of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, integration in Little Rock, playing for a state championship in high school, John F. Kennedy’s assassination and TV coverage of the Korean War.”
Tramel teamed up with Jones to write the book “Pat Jones’ Tales from Oklahoma State Football.”
Fans and reporters loved the fact that Jones never showed a dark side.
“Even when things weren’t going good, he was still pretty much Pat,” said Houston Nutt, who was an assistant coach under Jones.
Jones said he left the NFL for the simple reason that it was no longer fun.
“For some reason, at that level no one is having any fun,” he said. “There was a time when you put up with that. I am past putting up with that. I promise you, you become 58 and you are in one of those nonsense meetings with somebody in their 30s, I ain’t going to put up with that.”
Jones said too many NFL coaches worry about the volume of work rather than the quality of work, often holding meetings just for the sake of meeting. He seems to be having fun now as a media personality in Oklahoma.
Jones still thinks every day about the lessons he learned as a boy in Little Rock. For example, he reflects often on the 1957 integration crisis at Little Rock Central High School, which came to a head when Jones was 9.
“It was mob violence,” he said. “It’s imprinted in my mind, the faces of the people in the crowd who were hollering obscenities, the hate that was there.”
When he was an assistant at Little Rock Hall, Jones worked hard to get black athletes involved in the football program.
“There weren’t many people who looked like you or me who went to the east end of Little Rock at that time,” he told Tramel. “But we did. We found those kids and got them and said, ‘We want you here.'”
Jones is known for his honesty, integrity and humor.
An example of his humor is a comment he made in 1993 when asked about television commentators: “It’s really irritating when I’m watching highlights and there will be a shot of me on the sidelines and the sportscaster says ‘ol’ Pat’s thinking this, ol’ Pat’s thinking that.’ He doesn’t have any idea what ol’ Pat’s thinking. Ol’ Pat just might be thinking about a Kansas pompom girl.”
Pat Jones is one of a kind.