Lumpkin County football coach Tommy Jones is preparing for his seventh year at the helm of the Indians and looking to improve on a 6-4 record in 2011.
It won’t be easy. While Jones said the offensive and defensive lines should be a strength, a number of last year’s top skill position players will need to be replaced.
And it just so happens that the coach will have a chance to evaluate his team against a very familiar opponent. His younger brother, Phillip Jones, will be on the opposite sideline when Lumpkin County scrimmages Banks County on Aug. 18.
It’s the first time the two brothers, sons of another football coach, will meet on the opposite sideline.
The Times sat down with Tommy Jones last week to talk about how he got into coaching, his preparations for the season and what it’ll be like to coach against his brother.
Question: So, what got you into coaching?
Answer: As my brother alluded to in his article a couple of weeks ago, it’s kind of a family business. My dad has been at coaching — I think this is his 43rd year — and he’s at Brookwood High School, right now in Gwinnett County. He’s the offensive line coach and the strength coach there. I have an uncle who was a head coach in Cobb County, currently he’s an athletic director in Cobb County, got a cousin who coaches at Pope, and my brother’s the head football coach at Banks County. Coaching is something that, once it gets in your blood, it’s hard to shake. If I wasn’t coaching I don’t know what else I’d do, I don’t know if I’m good enough at anything else to do anything else. It’s something you love and you know that its not just a love for the game of football but, more importantly, that its an opportunity to influence and impact the lives of young men for generations to come. You really hope that’s why you’re doing it.
Q: Were you and your brother both on that coaching track from the beginning?
A: Ironically we both took similar tracks, a little bit different paths. After I finished college I was a graduate assistant football coach at Furman University for two years. And then I decided that I was going to go into full time ministry, and I went on staff with a college ministry called Campus Outreach for two years. My wife and I had the privilege of being able to sort of plan Campus Outreach at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina for two years. And in the meantime I was going to my brother’s games, he was a football player at the University of South Carolina under Lou Holtz. And I was going to my dad’s football games at Brookwood, where he’s coached for a long time. And I realized over those two years how much I missed it, and then really saw the opportunity to be able to, you know, hopefully combine the idea of ministry by impacting young people, with coaching. And using coaching as a vehicle to do that. And my brother, ironically, he got into coaching for a few years at the high school level, and then he went into seminary for a couple years. And then when he got away, sitting there he realized that it was sort of a call to his life as well to come back too. So our situations are very similar.
Q: Was there any one thing that really made you miss football when you were out of it for two years?
A: I used to joke around about how, you know, some people stay awake at night thinking all kinds of different things. After going to these games I would stay awake at night thinking about different schemes that you could run against different defenses. Just football things in general. I think when you’re laying awake in bed at night thinking about how to block a 3-5 defense or a 4-3 defense and what plays worked best, I think its probably time you start doing that. And the fact that coaching is as much of a ministry as any profession out there, and probably kind of jive best with it.
Q: Now what do you talk about with your brother about football?
A: We probably talk a couple times a week, a lot of time we either have a chance to share frustrations, or just a sounding board where we can run ideas off of each other. The Banks County communities and Lumpkin County communities are relatively similar. Both North Georgia communities, so we see and face some of the same challenges. So its definitely good to get advice from somebody. And I talk to my dad two or three times a week, both of those guys I probably talk to more about football and coaching than anybody else.
Q: Do you have much time to follow what your brother is doing?
A: I think as coaches you definitely keep an eye out about what other teams are doing, and we have a chance to talk to each other, particularly on the weekends after the games. On Saturdays generally we’ll talk to each other. We will have already seen the score, but we can follow up with how they’re doing. You are entrenched, and you’re as busy as you can be, but I think we all have, as far as family goes, we’re all going to invested and involved and know what we’re doing. On Friday nights after the games over I’m going to get a call from my dad and my brother and we’re all going to talk about how we did that night.
Q: Have you guys played each other in the regular season before?
A: We have not, but we scrimmage each other this year on Aug. 18, only a couple of weeks away. I thought that would be a fun way to compete a little bit.
Q: It’s just going to be a scrimmage, but is there still going to be that brotherly, competitive nature?
A: You know, I don’t know if anybody really wins a scrimmage. It’s an opportunity for us both to work on the things we do, and try to prepare for a long season. It’s a chance for us to evaluate players and schemes we’re running and see if we’re on the right track. We’ve had years where we’ve had great scrimmages and had bad seasons, and we’ve had years where we’ve had terrible scrimmages and had good seasons. So its not always the best indicator of how you’re going to perform in any given season. In saying that, I’m sure, in the heat of the moment and when the whistle blows, ya, both of us are going to want to be successful and we’re both going to want to win and we’re both going to want to do the best we can do, but a scrimmage is a little bit different from that standpoint. You want to be successful, you want to build momentum, but you also want to see a lot of different kids in a lot of different situations that you might not normally take advantage of on an in season Friday night.
Q: Now if you were to play a regular season game, what does your dad do?
A: Well he’s coaching as well, so he’s going to somewhere in Gwinnett county playing one of those guys down there. But its a great question, dad’s a career coach and my mom... growing up she’s always been our number one cheerleader, she was one of the original Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders back when the Falcons first moved to Atlanta, so that’s kind of been her role. I don’t know, I’d assume they’d have to wear a split purple and blue shirt and sit in the middle somewhere and hope we fought to a deadlocked tie.
Q: Now going into the season, (2011 senior running back) Ian McIntosh, can you really replace a guy like him? Do you have anybody that can be that explosive?
A: You know, every year’s different. Ian was a very explosive player, obviously he had great big play capability. When you average over 10 yards a carry, I don’t think you look for one player to replace that, we don’t have those kids around here very often that can do that type of thing, so every year’s different, your collection of athletes, players every year has a little bit of a different personality, your strengths are different from year to year. And hopefully you’re able to evaluate your strengths precisely and utilize those. Last year’s team, and I don’t ever want to say stars, but had some recognizable names and had some guys with high level, big play type guys, Ian McIntosh, BJ Dorsey, who was actually injured in the second game and didn’t play the season, but was still signed by Jacksonville State, which is an outstanding scholarship. We had a nose guard in Lee Cagle, who I want to say led the area in tackles, which for a nose guard is almost unheard of. Logan Moye at quarterback has gone to Mercer University to play. So we had several seniors who had some big play capability. This year’s group, a lot more blue collar, very steady, just an outstanding group of kids. They work hard, have just been a pleasure to coach, from February or January when we started offseason workouts to right now, it’s been a lot of fun spending time with those guys, because for the most part they’re here, they listen, they try to do what they’re supposed to do, they’re very coachable, and that’s what you want out of your kids.