Taking the right path
by Bran Strickland, Star sports editor
Jun 18, 2011 | 2961 views |  1 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Some of the best decisions in your life don’t always start with the smartest ones.

Just ask Bill Jones.

Before his decorated coaching career, before his hall of fame inductions, before his wife, Sue, of 30-plus years, he had a decision to make.

Leave a job — making $32,000 a year in 1970 (approx. $215,000 today) — to earn $100 a month and pay for his own education to be a graduate assistant at Florence State, now University of North Alabama.

“My poor old daddy,” Jones started, “I remember sitting on the couch with him to tell him what my plans were.

“And he is stoned faced as he’d ever been. He was not a laugher or not a joker or a poker or anything. He said, ‘Son, I never thought in my lifetime I’d say this, but I’ve raised a fool.’”

Tonight will once again prove that he didn’t.

Jones will be inducted into the Calhoun County Sports Hall of Fame alongside five others in a banquet at the Anniston City Meeting Center.

That life choice Jones made that day catapulted him to a four-year stint at UNA, and then on to a career at Jacksonville State where he won the 1984-85 Division II national championship, 449 games and national coach of the year honors.

But Jones said as a youngster, he never thought much about his path in life being about coaching.

“My only dream when I was growing up was to play professional baseball,” he said.

And he was good at it, too. He played with a semi-pro baseball team, the Guntersville Redbirds, at the age of 15 when his teammates were much older and making a career out of hardball.

But it was a phone call one day after his professional life had already started that put the wheels into motion.

Before leading Jacksonville State in scoring for two seasons, Jones’ basketball career started out at Snead State.

While working as a contract negotiator on the Saturn rocket project at the Redstone Arsenal, his junior college coach, Emmett Plunkett, called him at home.

Plunkett’s cancer had returned and he couldn’t continue coaching the team.

Jones took the reigns of a 2-11 team and guided them down the stretch to a 14-2 finish and a playoff berth.

“There was really no question that after two or three really good practices into it with that group, that was something that I really enjoyed more than what I was doing,” Jones said.

After that season, Snead offered him the job permanently. Jones said because of the money — astronomically low, he said — he couldn’t do it.

“I stopped by the church on the way home, and talked to our pastor, a good friend from a long, long time ago,” Jones said. “He made a statement that was very profound, and I didn’t know how much, but he said, ‘Don’t worry because there’s something good going to happen from this very soon.’”

Very soon became two days later.

Jones got the call that set his Florence State days into motion. After two years as a graduate assistant and after two more years, he got the head basketball job at Jacksonville State and was married, cementing his course.

With such a leap of faith that started his career in athletics, it’s almost out of place to understand what Jones calls the driving factor in why he was so successful as a coach: His fear of failure.

“That’s the vehicle I rode,” he said. “… a lot of that is because the taste that’s in your mouth after you lose something has never been something that I’ve enjoyed, whether it was Chinese checkers with my sister that I never could beat or any kind of a game — card games on the bus to me were serious.

“Sometimes I think that was a curse, at the same time, that’s the thing that kept me motivated.”

Staying motivated and not being too afraid to chase his dreams was something Jones has become known for in this neck of the woods.

And it was because of his “dreams” that he became nationally known in the non-sports world with his 15 seconds of fame.

After a 107-77 win over Kentucky Wesleyan, the preseason No. 1, in the semifinals of the D-II tournament, a television reporter asked Jones if in his wildest dreams he’d thought he’d score the win in that fashion.

Jones replied: “My wildest dreams don’t include basketball.”

“I don’t know why I thought of it, I guess because I was pleased that we’d won the ballgame by that much and fixing to go into the finals again, and it just came out.

“Everybody in the room thought it was real funny except for Mike (Scruggs). He thought for some reason I was cracking on him or trying to embarrass him. It took me a while to convince him it in no way was directed toward him.”

The quote landed Jones in Sports Illustrated and Readers Digest, too. But not in hot water with his wife, Sue, “I though it was funny,” she said.

While Bill’s dreams were limited, Sue said she knew exactly how it all would turn out.

“He was a graduate assistant when we first started dating,” she said.

“He was an assistant coach the next year, head coach the next year … I’d been around sports; I had two brothers that played at Auburn.

“With how passionate he was about it, I knew he was going to go a long way.”

Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3570 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.

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