DALLAS -- The way June Jones sees it, staying at Hawaii
would have been easy; it was the challenge of rebuilding a tattered
football program that led him to take the coaching job at Southern
Methodist, which stumbled to a 1-11 record this season.
"Where you are now excites me because the only way is up, and I
am good at going up," Jones said Monday.
The introduction of Jones at a booster-packed press conference
ended the nation's longest college coaching search this year. It
had been 70 days since Phil Bennett was dismissed with four games
left in the season.
School officials hope Jones can bring some of Hawaii's
run-and-shoot magic, which produced 43 points per game, an
undefeated regular season and a BCS bowl berth this year. They were
also impressed by Jones' ability to resuscitate Hawaii, which went
0-12 before he arrived in 1999 and won nine games.
Jones' decision to leave Hawaii came after an extraordinary
bidding war that even involved the governor of Hawaii.
"In 30 years representing athletes, I've never seen the
emotional reaction from a state like Hawaii," Leigh Steinberg, Jones' agent, said.
"There was a flood of e-mails and calls exhorting him to stay."
Steinberg said the coach accepted a
five-year deal worth about $2 million per year. He said Hawaii
offered about $1.6 million per year.
On Sunday, a source told ESPN's Joe Schad that the deal at SMU is expected to be booster-funded. SMU athletic director Steve Orsini reportedly has sold as many as 20 boosters on the concept of donating as much as $100,000 per year for five years.
His contract puts him on the same pay scale as new Texas A&M
coach Mike Sherman ($1.8 million). Baylor, a private school like
SMU, recently signed Art Briles to a deal that could pay him $1.8
million a year with all incentives included.
Besides more money, Jones will be in the middle of the rich
Texas recruiting base, and he'll get better facilities -- SMU
recently built a new brick-faced stadium and a modern training
"There's absolutely no comparison," Jones said. At Hawaii,
"the office that I sat in was the same office that Dick Tomey sat
in in 1986. The carpet was the same ... You're talking about the
NFL and a Pop Warner team."
Jones said he has commitments from some of his Hawaii assistants
to follow him but wouldn't name them for three or four days.
A handful of SMU players met Jones after Monday's press
conference. The coach said he had watched tape of some SMU games
and the Mustangs were "close to turning the corner." But he
declined to predict how many games they'll win next season.
Jones would have faced a rebuilding process even had he stayed
at Hawaii. The Warriors, who suffered a 41-10 thrashing by Georgia
in the Sugar Bowl, will lose quarterback Colt Brennan, who finished
third in the Heisman voting, and the school's career leading
receiver Davone Bess, who is skipping his senior season to enter
the NFL draft.
"No matter what he ever did or no matter how much he won he wasn't going to have the right money or facilities," Brennan told Schad. "I'm sad to see him go but after just having experienced the Sugar Bowl I understand how this is a business."
Still, the Warriors are the only football show in Honolulu,
which helped turn Jones and Brennan into celebrities in paradise.
Brennan won't be back next season for Hawaii.
"My concern is Hawaii," Brennan said. "I hope it doesn't hurt our program and I don't think it has to. I would personally like to see Hawaii hire Norm Chow. I think he would be a great fit for Hawaii just like coach Jones was."
By contrast, SMU is nearly invisible in Big D, overshadowed by
the Dallas Cowboys and better college programs at Texas, Texas A&M,
Texas Tech and TCU. The Mustangs play in Conference USA, which
according to popular power ratings is even weaker than Hawaii's
league, the Western Athletic Conference.
Jones said, however, that recruiting for SMU will be easier than
at Hawaii, where distance made mainland parents reluctant to send
their kids. He added that many Texas high schools now run spread
offenses featuring the passing game, just like his run-and-shoot.
"It'll be fun to watch, and we'll attract the players to come
play in our offense," he said. "I know there are a lot of players
within 30 miles of this campus."
Jones, who turns 55 next month, has a record of 75-41 with
Hawaii, including 4-2 in bowl games. His teams finished first in
the WAC twice and second two other times. He went to Hawaii after
12 years in the NFL, including stints as head coach at Atlanta and
Bennett was the fourth coach to lead SMU since it came off the
death penalty in 1989. The Mustangs are 58-153-3 and have had only
one winning season in that span.
Bennett's departure was announced Oct. 28, with four games left
in the season, and that was just the beginning of the long hunt for
Orsini pursued Navy coach Paul Johnson,
but he took the opening at Georgia Tech instead. Recently fired
Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione and former Miami coach Larry
Coker were among those rumored to be in the running.
While the SMU search dragged on, Navy found a replacement for
Johnson in one day and Texas A&M replaced Franchione in three days.
"We took our time. We did it right," Orsini said. "We have to
fill up Ford Stadium."
SMU got permission to speak with Jones last month. Jones said he
watched as many coaching jobs came open and were filled, but the
only schools that intrigued him were SMU and Duke.
"Hawaii will always be my home," he said. "The opportunity
here surpasses everything ... I just really believe this is the
time for me to move on."
Joe Schad covers college football for ESPN. Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.