Beating Impossible Odds with the Power of the Possible
Story by Carissa Stith
Playing in the National Football League not only takes superb talent, it requires beating the odds. Those players who put everything on the line to enter the draft risk losing it all in order to chase down their childhood dreams. Even the best often fall short of reaching those dreams, falling victim to struggling organizations or to teams that misuse their talents. Even worse, many players will suffer the misfortune of never receiving the training and the grooming needed to succeed – both on and off the field. For many ambitious young men, the possibility of playing and succeeding in the NFL is an impossible dream.
rian Jones is one former player who refused to fade away. Being part of disorganized teams and the inability to thrive on the big stage never deterred him from finding success at the end of the road. For Jones, the “improbable doesn’t mean the impossible.”
The odds were against Jones from the beginning. He never met his father, and his biological mother failed to perform her maternal responsibilities. He had no one except his grandmother and her hometown community of Lubbock. As a child, he relied on his grandmother and a woman from the neighborhood named Stephanie Hill to fulfill his parents’ roles. The two women stepped up to the task and provided him with the tough love he needed to stay off the streets. With their help, along with encouragement from the local Boys & Girls Club, Jones found a safe haven where he could grow and play football.
At an early age, Jones’ grandmother introduced him to her beloved Dallas Cowboys and Texas Longhorns. Every weekend, the two would listen to the radio broadcasts as the announcers outlined every pass, tackle and touchdown. While most young boys rely on their fathers to teach them the rules of the game, Jones turned to his grandmother and the radio. His grandmother showed him how to love the game. The radio shows taught him the rules. Inevitably, his dream of playing professional football began to form.
When the Lubbock community announced the organization of its first youth football league, the then 10-year-old Jones knew it was his opportunity to start chasing down his dream. He grabbed the closest item he owned that resembled a helmet — a plastic shell cap void of any padding — and ran over to the practice field. When the head coach eyed Jones’ headgear, he immediately pulled him aside and told him he wouldn’t be allowed to play with that helmet.
Jones was confused and defeated. All he wanted was to play football, even if that meant cracking heads without the proper gear. Fortunately, the coach took an interest in Jones and purchased his first helmet. It was one of the first instances of many in Jones’ life in which those who believed in him would step in with encouragement and help. Jones’ feeling of defeat quickly faded away.
“I think every kid grows up watching professional sports and aspires to get there,” Jones says, “but as you develop and continually become one of the better players on the team, the more you realize that dream.”
As Jones grew, nothing could stand in the way of him realizing his dream. He endured the pain of training in shoes two sizes too small. He played against other children three times his size. As he recalls everything he went through, he simply says, “There was nothing that could deter me.”
In high school, Jones excelled in both academics and football, maintaining a 4.0 grade average and earning All-American honors in football. The hard work paid off and he became part of the small margin of players who earned the opportunity to play college ball.
A handful of schools offered Jones a spot on their roster, including Notre Dame, Georgia, UCLA and Iowa. The Southwest Conference was in turmoil at the time, leaving Jones without the opportunity to play in state. Southern Methodist University just received the death penalty. Texas A&M was on probation. The NCAA started its examination of the programs at both Texas Christian University and the University of Texas. Although his dream was to become a Longhorn, the ongoing investigations pushed Jones to become a Bruin at the University of California, Los Angeles.
He played as a freshman and received All-American honors at UCLA. However, the entire time he was in California, Jones longed to play for Texas. UCLA was performing well as a team, advancing to two bowl games during Jones’ tenure. Texas, on the other hand, faced tough losses to Oklahoma, Arkansas and A&M on a consistent basis. The Longhorns’ faltering performance on the field didn’t alter Jones’ view of the team or the school; the pull was too strong. After completing his sophomore year, Jones made the move to Austin.
Playing for Texas from 1989 to 1990, Jones dominated as a middle linebacker and became known for his inside blitzes. In his senior season, he helped drive the “Shock the Nation” tour, leading the team in tackles. The once ill-fated Longhorns pushed their way to becoming the Southwestern Conference Champions that year, their only loss coming at the hands of the eventual champion, Colorado.
The postseason marked the end of his eligibility to play, and Jones made the decision to enter the NFL draft. For the first time, Jones failed to beat the odds. By leaving school, he became another college football player without a degree. At the time, pursuing his dream of playing in the pros outweighed the benefits of staying in school.
Jones left Texas the spring semester after his senior season to prepare for the draft. Reflecting today, he laughs about his choice.
“Ironically, I should’ve stayed in school. I performed horribly at the [Scouting] Combine and at our Pro Day,” Jones says. “And to top it off, I was drafted in the eighth round.”
An intent young man, he showed up at the Raiders’ training facilities thinking the NFL had a flaw in their process.
Fortunately, things changed quickly. The 1990s marked a growth period for Jones as he transitioned from team to team. During an eight-year period, he played for three different organizations: the Los Angeles Raiders, the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints. With each transition, he picked up lessons that would later influence his business career. From the Raiders, Jones learned the value of leadership. From the Colts, he discovered how disorder can impact an entire brand or organization. In his final four years with New Orleans, he finally learned how to work effectively. He learned how to take care of his body, how to train and how to respect the game.
“That’s the key,” Jones says. “Everyone is strong. Everyone is fast and everyone is big, but it’s the mental game you have to learn to get to the next level.”
Unlike so many others, Jones ignored the unfavorable conditions of the NFL and developed into a mature, disciplined adult. He took advantage of his position on the New Orleans Saints team, and of the knowledge he gained from his communication courses at Texas, and began hosting the WWL-AM sports radio show. He knew that his time with the NFL would eventually end and the sports radio show was a stepping stone to what would become his adult career, something to build on when the crowd stopped cheering and the slaps on the back ceased.
After the 1998 season, Jones announced his retirement from the NFL. He left New Orleans and his sports radio show, and moved back to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. His pursuit for Hollywood stardom was short-lived, however. After a series of small speaking parts, Jones realized that he couldn’t rely on other people to map out his future successes. He needed to take control of his life. His destiny was within his own reach.
He made the decision to return to Austin and finish his degree in corporate communications. Hoping to join the 50% of college players who do graduate, Jones became a student once again after being absent for almost 10 years. He fell into the life of a normal student: attending classes, studying and working full time. He stayed close to football, however, working on the sidelines for the Texas Longhorn Sports Network. As with any other newcomer, he had to work in an entry-level position to get his foot back in the door. During the 2000 football season, spectators could see Jones on the sideline carrying the parabolic microphone. The following season he found himself back on the air when he landed the sideline reporter position for the network. He also started co-hosting the daily sports talk show on KVET-AM.
When Jones graduated in the spring of 2002, university officials asked him to speak at the university-wide commencement ceremony. Dressed in his cap and gown in front of his fellow graduates, he pointed to the Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium and said, “I’ve had many victories over there, but nothing compares to graduating from this great university.”
Armed with a degree, Jones pushed forward with his life, post NFL.
He continued to build his résumé and his tenure on the Texas Longhorn Sports Network. He became the sideline reporter for all the Texas football radio broadcasts until 2003. Simultaneously, he hosted Longhorn Sportscenter with Mack Brown, and the Rick Barnes television show. Jones continued on the path of television broadcasting when he became a college football studio analyst for FOX Sports Southwest. After two seasons, he moved to CBS Sports and CBS College Sports Network to continue his career. Today, he’s entering his seventh year with the network.
When he’s not tackling his co-hosts or spending time with his wife, Gladys, Jones dedicates his spare time to his efforts within the community. Nine years ago, he started the Brian Jones Celebrity Golf Classic to raise money for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area. The organization holds a special place in his heart; without his own membership, he doesn’t know where he would be today.
“The Boys & Girls Club saved my life,” Jones explains. “Based on my own experiences, I know the difference they can make.”
With 86 cents of every dollar earned by the golf classic going to the children, Jones does everything he can to give back to the organization that helped him as a kid.
He also supports the Helping Hand Home for Children, an organization dedicated to helping abused children. And Jones holds a position on the board of the Texas Program in Sports and Media.
Looking forward to the future, Jones now dreams of fully funding the Boys & Girls Clubs’ local budget on an annual basis. Although many people may consider this to be a far-fetched goal, he’s been beating the odds his entire life. Simply stated, Brian Jones puts the possible back into impossible.
Conference Realignments, New Coaches & The Fighting Irish
Brian Jones on the 2011 College Football Season
During the 2010 offseason, all talk surrounding college football involved conference realignment. The advent of “super conferences.” Texas contemplating heading to the Pac 10. Colorado actually accepting the invite to join the Pac 10. Nebraska taking its ball to the Big Ten, which now has 12 teams.
This past offseason the conversation focused on off-the-field issues as well. There was a shift from investigating new potential partnerships to investigating athletic programs affiliations. Preseason top-five programs LSU and Oregon are embroiled in a recruiting scandal involving the same recruiting service. Ironically, these two face off in a huge matchup first game out of the box. Ohio State continues to reel from tattoo-gate, resulting in the departure of their very successful head coach Jim Tressel and quarterback Terrell Pryor. And yes, Auburn, last season’s champion, remains under the microscope because of their record-setting, Heisman Trophy-winning QB Cam Newton.
As for on the field, I anticipate another vicious clash for the right to be crowned champion. The SEC seeks its sixth straight national championship. Undoubtedly, the most competitive conference in college, the SEC has become even stronger, especially in the SEC West. So hold up on placing Bama in the SEC championship game.
The Big 10, which is actually the new Big 12, adds Nebraska. Many pundits have the Cornhuskers favored to win the conference title. Be careful not to discount Wisconsin. All they did was pick up the top college free agent in former North Carolina State QB Russell Wilson. Michigan is not rebuilding. Michigan State will be tough, as will Ohio State and Northwestern.
Is this for real? Is Florida State actually back? After their first 10 win campaign since `03, this might be hope Seminoles fans can believe in. Virginia Tech, although breaking in a new QB, is still the conference’s bellwether.
The new Pac 12 is generating quite a buzz with its new billion dollar television deal. Oregon had all of us abuzz a season ago, scoring a point a second. The excitement returns to Eugene in the form of Heisman finalist RB LaMichael James. QB Andrew Luck shocked everyone and returned for another season at Stanford. At USC, in the last throes of probation, it will seem like the good old days again.
The Big East has a number of new head coaches, including Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia and Todd Graham at Pittsburgh. Both have huge contests with legitimate national title contenders LSU and Notre Dame.
The Mountain West adds Boise State as Utah and BYU depart. TCU is reloading its defense. Could this be the first of many MWC titles for the Broncos? First, they must get past an early trip to the deep south to take on Georgia.
Wake Up The Echoes! The Fighting Irish are loaded and in my estimation will be in the title hunt.
The new Big 10 still referred to as the Big 12 has Oklahoma on top. The national media covets the Sooners as well. Texas A & M and Oklahoma State will have something to say about OU’s claim to either title. As usual, regardless of Texas’ downturn last year, circle that little Red River Rivalry game on your calendar.
Finally, the season is upon us. So, sit back, relax and enjoy the season. Wait a minute. There’s no relaxing when it comes to college football. Let’s try this again. Get ready to scream, holler, cheer and cry in your beer!
UT coaches talk with Brian Jones
Co-Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs
6th season at Texas
4th season as running backs coach
(Graduate assistant 2003-04)
Q. What was your initial reaction to being named Co-Offensive?
A. Just excited about the opportunity and the responsibility. I thought we’ve got a lot of stuff to improve from last year, so let’s get to work. Having played here and then coached here, you know it’s an awesome responsibility. You feel the weight of the responsibility, but you’re also excited about it, and you know you’ve got good players. You’ve been here, so it’s not like going into a brand new job. You feel inspired and a little bit motivated because you know you have some good guys coming back.
Q. How’s it been workingwith Coach Harsin?
A. That’s probably been one of the biggest questions I’ve gotten. How’s everything worked out with Bryan? How has it all melded? The funny thing is that I’ve worked at Syracuse, Rice and Alabama. I’ve worked with a lot of different coaches. So, you have to learn how to work with people. That’s just part of life. To be honest with you, the more you coach, the more you play, the more you realize it really isn’t a damn bit about you. Probably not a whole lot is going to have to do with Bryan and me. It’s a lot to do about the players, the momentum of the game, where these guys’ heads are, their confidence, their ability.
Q. How anxious is the team and staff to hit the field? Is there more anxiety, eagerness than in seasons past?
A. Yeah, I think there are more unknowns than there have been in Texas football, probably more than anytime since Coach Brown has been here. There’s a new offense, a new defense, new look on special teams, a lot of new personnel. A lot of youth will get a chance to play. It’s always been “well, we know Vince is coming back as a sophomore, or Vince is coming back for this great junior year,” or “at least we got Jamaal back and Jermichael Finley and this great defense. We don’t know if it will be Snead or McCoy.” There’s always been a theme, especially the last three or four years. Well, Colt’s coming back and Jordan and Quan and Sergio. This is the year where I think people are saying, “Who’s coming back?” I don’t know. We have some good players, good recruits, some guys that have some stars next to their names, but what are they going to be, who knows? It’s one of those deals as a coach you just look at it and say we’re in a situation where maybe we have some problems that we haven’t had in the past. Where other football teams look at their team and say we don’t know who we’re going to be this year, we’re going to have to be a work in progress. We’re going to have to get better during the season. That’s fine with me. That’s what makes people want to prove themselves. I think that’s why you play football or play any sport. It’s to prove that I’m better than you and you can’t beat me. I think these guys have a lot of pride. They’re not going be told just because you don’t have a Cedric or Ricky or Jamaal or Vince that you can’t win games. So, we’ll wait and see how the season goes.
1st season at Texas
Q. Why Texas and Austin?
A. I had a great a job at Mississippi State. Loved coaching there and loved coaching in the SEC, but there are a handful of places that are just special. The reason why they are special is because if you do everything right and do it the right way, you will have a chance to win and win big. Its’ location in terms of recruiting grounds, in terms of the people, the infrastructure here, the city of Austin; it’s a place without peer.
Q. Do you have all the pieces in place currently to be a successful defense?
A. I don’t think I know whether we do or don’t. That sounds like I’m dodging the question, but I felt the same way last year. Being new to the conference, until you get into the games, you really don’t know what you have. There are two things I have to see because I’m new to our players. I’ve not seen how they respond once the bullets start flying. I don’t know how we match up to the people that we play against. I can look at film and make judgments. You don’t know until you’re standing on the field and you’re watching your bunch running with their bunch. Only then can you have an idea athletically how you match up. Last August at Mississippi State I felt the same way. By about the fifth week of the season last year, I could look at the other team and see our team and figure out what’s gonna happen.
1st season at Texas
Q. Why Texas?
A. I didn’t know about Austin the city. I’d heard about it. I feel like I know it somewhat now. It’s been awesome for my family, we love it. There are a lot of things to do. As far as the program goes, I was at a successful place in Boise. However, Texas was a place we were trying to model a Boise after. ‘What are these guys doing?,’ ‘How do we get to that level?’ Coaches want the opportunity to play for a national championship, it’s no secret. You have an opportunity to do that here. I knew about the recruiting part of things. Now I know how special this is – how special Texas is and the players you have around here and the high school coaches and the recruits. Here you are in the mix with everyone!
Q. Will we see a similar offensive system to Boise’s in terms of a balanced “O”?
A. Yeah. I mean that just stems from our philosophy, from the standpoint we want to be physical and run the football. It starts there. Everyone on the staff believes. So yeah, you’ll see a similarity from what we had at Boise. You are going to see similar sets and things like that. The beauty of it is we’ve got some different players, we’ve got some different talent than we had at Boise. We will utilize the talent we have so we’ll do some different things. We’ll build our system based on what we did at Boise, but it’ll be Texas and it will evolve into its own system as we go.