I’m so thankful that I can call DeMatha’s Mike Jones, a friend and mentor. Working for him for 6 years (2010-16) was incredibly impactful for me. He is as good as any coach/leader I’ve been around.
Coach Jones took over for Morgan Wootten in 2002. At the time of his retirement, Coach Wootten had coached the Stags for 46 years and amassed an unparalleled record of 1,274-192 (including 5 national championships) and was the winningest coach in HS basketball history. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000.
Despite these ENORMOUS shoes to fill, Coach Jones has created his own legacy and etched his own place among the nation’s top coaches. Here are things that make Coach Jones so successful (all of which can be applied to any business or organization):
- He personally sweeps the floor before EVERY practice and EVERY game. He does it to remind himself that no job is beneath him.
- He cares. He cares about his players (on and off the court), he cares about his assistants, he cares about the program and he cares about the school.
- He creates high standards, for himself and for the program, and he holds everyone accountable to them.
- He teaches his players to focus on the Next Play. He doesn’t sweat turnovers or missed shots – he knows they are part of the game. What he doesn’t allow is compounding one mistake into two.
- He never undermines or upstages referees. Ever.
- When he takes a player out of the game he makes sure that he, or one of the assistants, explains why he took them out. He doesn’t like ambiguity.
- He makes sure everyone on the team knows their role at all times. Again, no ambiguity.
- He is always open to his players’ and assistants’ feedback and input. He never wants to be the only voice. He welcomes other perspectives and opinions.
- He takes his preparation seriously. His practice plans are written down, to the minute, and his scouting reports are thorough.
- He is demanding, but never demeaning. Never.
- He understands that winning is a by-product of doing the little things every single day. He is process oriented, not results oriented.
Here is my favorite Coach Jones story:
There were 15 seconds left in a conference championship game against our rival (Gonzaga). Score was tied and it was their ball. Our freshman sensation made an epic steal, drove the length of the court and got fouled as time expired. All he had to do was make one and we’d be champs. He missed both (to force overtime).
After the 2nd miss, Coach Jones calmly called the team over. He smiled, put his arm around the kid, and told him… “I can only imagine how disappointed you must feel right now. But know this – I love you, I believe in you and we wouldn’t be in this game if it wasn’t for you. And trust me, you have plenty of game winners in your future.”
We ended up getting blown out in OT. They had all the momentum and spanked us. With 10 seconds left, and down by 8, Coach Jones called time out.
Why did he call time out in a game that we had no chance of winning? To teach a lesson.
He brought the team into the huddle and said, “Obviously, we aren’t going to win. And I know you are disappointed. I sure am. But we will lose with class. We will lose with our heads high. We will lose together. The name on the front of your jersey is bigger than you and bigger than me. And you won’t do anything in disappointment to tarnish that name. Got it? I love you guys.”
I won’t lie – I’m getting a bit teary-eyed writing this. Those two moments will be with me for the rest of my life.