- Alma School District
It's Family First for Alma's Jeff Jones 9/9/21
It’s Family First For Alma’s Jeff Jones
By Kevin Taylor
Jeff Jones is not the type of person to bang his own drum. Far from it, in fact.
But it doesn’t take long for his coaching passion to emerge — or for young coaches like Wyatt Nehus to jot down a few mental notes.
Alma’s first-year seventh-grade football coach has a coaching tree with ties to Gus Malzahn, Frank Vines, and Bill Koen. In addition, Jones has a blistering .626 winning percentage in 17 seasons as a head coach (126-75).
When Jeff Jones speaks, people listen.
“Anytime coach Jones is talking, I make sure that I am listening thoroughly,” Nehus said. “I might not have a pen and paper out taking notes, but I am taking them mentally. He has so much wisdom for the game, and truly loves it.”
Derrick Haney, the team’s eighth-grade coach, couldn’t agree more.
“As a young coach, it’s awesome to have a guy in the office to throw ideas off of and game situations to see if they have had something in the past that has or has not worked,” Haney said. “I think it is a great addition to our junior high staff for all the experience he has had as an assistant and a head coach.”
“Any time you have a chance to steal a coach like that, to be the seventh-grade coach and the defensive coordinator on the junior high staff, it makes your whole program so much better,” Alma football coach Rusty Bush said. “With our young coaches, it teaches them what coaching’s all about and the time that’s got to be put into it.”
The first lesson is to love your job.
“I love the game,” Jones said. “(But) it’s not about me; it’s never been about me. It’s about coaching. I love the game; I like to see kids improve and get better. Where else can you see more improvement?
“If you love the game and stick with it, it will be good to you. If they (players) love it and stick with it, the cream will rise to the top.”
Jones’ walk from the coaches’ office at Alma Middle School to the practice field adjacent to a clump of trees that hide busy Interstate 40 isn’t without a limp or two — and a baseball cap, whistle, and a scripted practice sheet in tow.
Jeff Jones is in his element.
“To be able to learn from someone like him in my first year, I couldn't be in a better situation,” Nehus said.
But, like so many coaching stories, Jones’ trek from the back roads of Dierks, Arkansas, wasn’t without a couple of potholes.
A graduate of Dierks High School, by the mid-1980s Jones found himself working as a welder in Oklahoma. Hot summers, chilly winters, long hours.
Jones couldn’t let go of another dream — to be a football coach.
“I always wanted to be a coach, so I sold everything and went to Henderson (State) and got my degree,” Jones said. “I got into it a little late, but it’s been a blast.”
Jones returned to his alma mater for one season (1988-89) before another move, this time to Gurdon, where he coached football and basketball. Two years later, he signed on to coach with Koen in De Queen.
In 1998, two years after taking over as the Leopards’ head coach, Jones helped guide the talented squad to the 3A state championship game, where they lost to McGehee, 28-0.
During his seven-year run as the team’s coach, Jones won 55 games, with his ‘98 squad being the last De Queen squad to win a conference championship.
“My wife (Michelle) is from De Queen,” Jones said. “I spent 12 years there. I wouldn’t have left unless Gus gave me a call to come to Springdale. He (Malzahn) did his student teaching under me at Gurdon.”
Malzahn hired Jones to be his defensive coordinator in 2003. In 2005, when Brooks Witherspoon left Alma, Vines called Jones to become his new defensive coordinator.
“I had coached with coach Vines in the 1999 All-Star game,” Jones said. “That was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
Before he was done, Jones had two more head coaching tours; four years at Lonoke (33-16) and six at Murfreesboro during two different stints (2010) and (2012-16).
Then, he came to Alma.
“We came up here for the family, basically,” he said. “I was the head coach at Murfreesboro; it was the best coaching job I ever had. But we wanted to be close to family and grandkids, so we took the opportunity to take the job in ALE (Alternative Learning Environment), an administrative job. Then this came open … I saw it was open and thought this would be a good way to go out.”
For the Joneses, Jeff, and Michelle, it’s a packaged deal. Jeff spends his time at the middle school; Michelle is a second-grade teacher at Alma Primary School.
The biggest part of coming to Alma, however, was to be closer to son Zach (the couple’s only child) and daughter-in-law Kathy. The icing on the cake is getting to see Zach and Kathy’s three kids — Landry, Micah, and Reese.
“It’s great,” Jeff Jones said. “It’s great being around family. In football, it’s all intertwined. But it is good to be back where we’re all kind of in it together, instead of having to call across the state. ‘How did y’all do?’
“Usually, he would come to see me if we were in the playoffs, or if Alma was in the playoffs I would come to see him. But it’s good to be under one roof now!”
Jones coached in two title games, including the ‘98 Leopards’ squad that opened the season with 14 straight victories. The postseason run featured a 35-8 blowout of Booneville.
“In ‘98, we played Booneville down there,” Jones said. “That’s when they had Gator Ray and we thumped them pretty good that year. (But) they got us in 2000, and I think they went on to win state that year.”
After going 55-30 at De Queen, Jones compiled a 33-16 mark over four seasons at Lonoke. Once again, his team made a bid for a state title, with the 2009 Jack Rabbits reaching the 4A title game against Shiloh Christian.
As for the game? There are highs and lows. The Airedales’ seventh-graders beat Gravette two weeks ago.
This week, they lost to Fort Smith Ramsey, 22-20.
“The game hasn’t changed,” Jones said. “It’s still blocking and tackling. The teams that win block and tackle and play extremely hard. The teams that don’t win aren’t doing that.
“There may be a few schemes along the way, but it comes back to that. If you say it doesn’t, then you’re probably not coaching the right things.”
“To bring in a veteran guy like coach Jones that has a wealth of knowledge, he’s not only been doing it for a long time, he’s been doing it with different people at a bunch of different places,” added Bush. “Those kinds of experiences can help you in many ways. I’ve already picked his brain several times about some head coaching decisions over the summer.”
COACH JEFF JONES BIO
Family: Wife Michelle, son Zach
High School: Dierks (1977)
College: Henderson State (1988)
Head coaching record,126-75; De Queene (55-30), Lonoke (33-16), Murfreesboro (38-29)
De Queene (1991-2003
Wickes (2011-12) (Principal)
Alma (2017-21) ALE