MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -Former Alabama star Joey Jones, introduced Friday as the coach of South Alabama's first football team, said the best players in the Southeast live on the Gulf Coast around Mobile and he plans to make recruiting them a priority.
Jones, a 45-year-old Mobile native who spent the past two years at Birmingham-Southern College, where he restarted a football program dormant since 1939, was given a five-year contract at South Alabama. His salary will be $275,000.
South Alabama will field its first team in 2009. The Jaguars will transition to full Division I-A membership in 2013 as a member of the Sun Belt Conference, where it's already a member in other sports.
In building the first team, Jones said he intends to ``lock down'' recruits along the Interstate 10 corridor on the Gulf Coast, particularly in Mobile.
``When they leave the Mobile area, it's going to be tough on them,'' Jones predicted.
Baton Rouge, La., to Panama City, Fla., and in a 150-radius of Mobile.
``South Alabama is a unique opportunity for Joey and we certainly wish him well in Mobile,'' Birmingham-Southern athletic director Joe Dean Jr. said in a statement Friday, thanking Jones for coaching the Panthers.
At a public assembly on the South Alabama campus Friday, Jones, his wife, Elise, and their daughter and two sons, were cheered by South Alabama officials, alumni, faculty and students.
``I can see myself staying here the rest of my life,'' Jones said.
His port city roots run deep. He played at Murphy High School.
Jones touched on growing up in Mobile, crediting those in the community who introduced him to football and acted as mentors after his father died.
``My mother had to take over, basically be a father and mother. My mother was always at my practices,'' he said.
Athletic director Joe Gottfried said the search for a coach began Dec. 6, and nearly 100 candidates showed an interest in the job before Jones was hired.
Jones said he's had many phone calls from those who want to join his staff, but he said he hasn't hired anyone yet.
He also said he hopes to recruit some of the many transfers students who want to play so he can avoid having an all-freshmen team.
``We're going to work hard on transfers, junior college kids that fit this school,'' Jones said.
He said his first BSC team was mostly freshmen. His Division III team was 1-7 in its first season, playing almost exclusively with freshmen and sophomores. The Panthers also won two junior varsity games.
Once the Jaguars hit the field, Jones said it will take some time before USA takes on the Crimson Tide, where he was a standout receiver and kick returner under Coach Paul ``Bear'' Bryant and learned ``you have to earn your stripes.''
``We want to get to that point,'' he said.
Jones played the final three years of Bryant's career at Alabama and finished his eligibility in 1983 under Ray Perkins. He played for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL.
Before joining BSC, he was a high school coach, with a record of 101-27 at Mountain Brook and 24-11 at Dora.

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