|Agent: June Jones leaving Hawaii to coach SMU|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 07 January 2008 08:49|
Jones, who coached Hawaii to an unbeaten regular season, withstood an emotional plea from Warriors fans as well as the governor and decided Monday to head back to the mainland to guide a team that finished with a 1-11 record.
He agreed to a 5-year deal with SMU, which will pay him about $2 million a year, agent Leigh Steinberg told The Associated Press.
``He slept on it, finally came to peace and arrived at a decision,'' Steinberg said. ``I think he's exhilarated by the challenge, by the environment.''
Steinberg expected SMU to hold an afternoon news conference to introduce their new coach.
Jones was touched by the outpouring of support from Hawaii fans, including Gov. Linda Lingle, but he was ultimately lured by SMU's facilities and bigger budget. Jones called Hawaii officials Monday to tell them.
Jones spent Sunday in Dallas meeting with SMU officials and the search committee that has been working since late October to hire a replacement for Phil Bennett. As the day went on, more people from Hawaii reached out to Jones, hoping to persuade him to return to the team he's guided to national prominence the last nine years.
Hawaii officials had made an offer of a salary of about $800,000 a year and a commitment to improve its facilities.
``In 30 years representing athletes, I've never seen the emotional reaction from a state like Hawaii,'' Steinberg said. ``There was a flood of e-mails and calls exhorting him to stay.''
It wasn't enough, however, to keep the 54-year-old coach from leaving the cool island breezes for the heat of football-crazy Texas and its fertile recruiting ground.
Jones went 75-41 at Hawaii, including 4-2 in bowls. His teams finished first in the WAC twice and second two other times.
He ended a 12-year stint in the NFL in the late 1990s to take over a Hawaii program coming off an 0-11 season. He took the team to nine wins the following season, the largest turnaround in NCAA history. With a record passing attack in place, the Warriors became a perennial contender in the Western Athletic Conference. They went 12-0 this season before losing to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
SMU might be a bigger challenge because losing is so entrenched for a program that still hasn't recovered from receiving the NCAA's only death penalty.
The once-proud program of Doak Walker, Don Meredith and Eric Dickerson went 0-8 in Conference USA this season. The struggles were compounded by the long, slow hunt for a coach.
SMU became the first major college to fire its coach this season when it dumped Bennett after the Mustangs were eliminated from bowl contention. Yet it took 10 weeks to find a replacement. SMU got permission to talk to Jones on Dec. 24.
At SMU, Jones will get more money, a bigger budget and better facilities. He'll also have a larger talent pool to recruit. The trade-off is that he'll also have a lot more local competition. His success at Hawaii and his NFL experience certainly should help.
Jones becomes the fifth coach to lead SMU since it came off the death penalty in 1989. The Mustangs are 58-153-3 in that span, with only one winning season. The death penalty was levied in 1987 because of rampant recruiting violations. The school voluntarily sat out in '88.
Bennett went 18-52 over six seasons, matching the longest tenure and the most wins by any coach since the death penalty. SMU was 6-6 in 2006, which let Bennett keep his job and sparked hope for '07 that never materialized.
He broke into coaching at Hawaii in 1983, then went to the USFL and CFL. He joined the NFL in Houston in 1987, then went to Detroit and Atlanta. He became coach of the Falcons from 1994-96, then joined San Diego as an assistant in 1998. He became the interim coach midway through that season, then left for Hawaii.
AP Sports Writer Jaime Aron in Dallas contributed to this report.