College football coaches run in a tight circle. When they meet on the field during pregame warm-ups, there is chit-chat and banter. But how often do we see the matchup set for Thursday?
Army coach Rich Ellerson and SMU coach June Jones played for Hawaii in the 1970s. But their relationship ran deeper than just teammate to teammate. Ellerson was the center and Jones was the quarterback, requiring a deeper knowledge and understanding of the other.
The two later served on the same coaching staff in Hawaii in 1983 before going their separate ways. They lead their teams into the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl with that bit of shared history and a great respect for the other.
“I've always been a fan of Rich and followed him,” Jones said earlier this month. “Dick Tomey hired me and gave me my first job. He also gave Rich his first job. We both have stolen a lot of things from Dick. I see a lot of that in the things he says. I see that in the way he plays defense still, the way that they play on offense. So there's going to be a lot of crossover between them.”
Ellerson has closely followed what Jones has done in resurrecting the SMU program. He recounted the time he was approached about the possibility of scheduling SMU.
“I didn’t say no. I said hell no,” Ellerson said to laughs. “I know June knows what he’s doing. I know he’s got great resources there.”
As for who Jones really is, Ellerson said, “June is not a lot different than he was back then. He has tremendous confidence in himself and what he’s doing. It’s not in a way that comes across cocky, but just confident and self-deprecating. He is a fascinating personality because he’s not a guy who lights up the room, but yet he’s still a magnet for people.”
Both Jones and Ellerson deserve credit for what they have accomplished at their respective schools. SMU is in back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1983-84, and Army is making its first bowl appearance since 1996.
There is great interest in this game in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as well. SMU is playing at home because of renovations to the normal bowl site, Amon G. Carter Stadium on the TCU campus. The Mustangs sold out their allotment of 10,000 tickets and only standing-room only tickets remain. There also is a big military presence in the area, so the crowd should be well split, watching two old teammates trying to outwit the other.