In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade columnist Ron Musselman recently talked with former University of Toledo assistant men's basketball coach Tony Jones, who is now the top assistant at Tennessee.
Tony Jones is a dapper
Twice, he has been named the best dressed assistant basketball coach in the country by collegeinsider.com. Jones, 45, just finished his 13th year in college coaching at the Division I level, and his first as an associate head coach at Tennessee, where he is coach Bruce Pearl's right-hand man.
The Volunteers were ranked as high as No. 8 in the country last year, won the Southeastern Conference's East Division, reached the NCAA tournament, and finished 22-8, tying for the second-most wins in school history.
Jones' responsibilities include recruiting and scheduling. He also helped the Volunteers land the third-ranked recruiting class in the country for the upcoming season.
And Jones was the guy responsible for helping secure a home-and-home series with Ohio State in 2007 and 2008.
It will be Tennessee's first meeting with the Buckeyes since 1979. Prior to going to Tennessee, Jones spent four seasons with Pearl at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The Panthers won four league championships and went to the NCAA tournament twice, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2005. They also went to the NIT once.
Jones also spent five seasons at Toledo (1996-2001) as an assistant under Stan Joplin, during which time the Rockets made two NIT appearances, and then three years at Buffalo.
Jones got his first taste of coaching at his alma mater, Detroit Southwestern High School, where he served both as an assistant varsity coach and head junior varsity coach from 1986-91. During his time there, he coached future NBA players Jalen Rose, Howard Eisley, and Voshon Lenard, and that trio helped lead the school to the mythical USA Today national title in 1991.
Jones also served as head coach of Team AAU Michigan for three years (1991-93), posting a 35-1 record and capturing two state championships.
He was an all-city star at Southwestern and went on to earn all-conference honors at Fisk University in Nashville. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in health care administration from Concordia (Mich.) University.
Jones and his wife, Pam, have four children. His brother, Bill, played for the Jersey Nets and professionally in Italy.
"I ENJOYED MY time in Toledo immensely, both on the basketball court and off of it. I really liked the people there at the university and the high school coaches. Toledo was a real good training ground for me. It was my second college job. I had the opportunity to work with some fine coaches in my time there. And I loved being around Toledo football and my man, Tom Amstutz. Toledo also was within close proximity to my hometown of Detroit, which kept me close to my family."
"WE HAD A lot of disappointments in the MAC Tournament when I was coaching at Toledo and that became very frustrating. I wanted to get involved with a program that was closer to my philosophy, so I went to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It was a good fit. The philosophy at Toledo was running set plays, but not utilizing the athletic ability of the players. At Wisconsin-Milwaukee, we used full-court pressure defense and pushed the ball up the floor in transition while looking for opportunity 3s."
"BRUCE PEARL and I, we are very similar. We are good together. We think alike, we do things alike. We have the same philosophies. Working for him has been a godsend. I first met Bruce when he was a young assistant under Tom Davis at Iowa. My brother was thinking about transferring to Southern Cal after George Raveling left Iowa to take the job there. But Bruce made a good impression on him and my parents, and my brother stayed there. I'd go to games at Iowa, and Bruce and I struck up a friendship that has lasted to this day."
"I LOVE IT here at Tennessee. I love being in a competitive athletic environment that includes Tennessee football, women's basketball, and the track and field teams. I'm in awe sometimes when I look around and realize I am coaching in the same building as Pat Summitt, who is the winningest coach of all time, men or women, with 913 victories. She has more wins than everybody - Dean Smith or Bob Knight. It's nice to be on the same campus with a bunch of future NFL No. 1 draft picks, high WNBA picks, and world class Olympians."
"I'M LOOKING forward to playing Ohio State in Columbus in January. I have a lot of friends in Ohio. It'll be great to get back there and play a quality team that's already being forecasted as a top-10 team. Greg Oden is only a freshman, but he will be the No. 1 center in college basketball next year. And he'll be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft in 2007, if he so chooses. My relationship with Thad Matta helped make this series possible. I had a chance to coach with him when he was an assistant at Miami (Ohio), and I almost did, but instead went to Toledo."
"THE HIGHLIGHT of my career so far has been getting to the NCAA tournament three times. I'd like to eventually become a head coach in Division I. I thought I might get a shot at it when Bruce left Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but it didn't happen, for whatever reason, so I followed him to Tennessee. I truly believe things will work out for me. If we continue to be successful here at Tennessee, and there's no reason to believe we won't, I expect a lot of athletic directors to come banging on my door, looking for me to coach their team."