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Catching Up: Dale Jones



Oct. 21, 2011


BY JOHN PAINTER
UTSports.com

Dale Jones graduated from UT in 1988 and began his coaching career at his alma mater as an assistant coach under Johnny Majors in 1989. He later spent one season at Florida before a five-year stint at Georgia Military College, including four as defensive coordinator. He moved to Appalachian State in 1996.

Conspicuous in the Jones résumé was a one-year coaching position with the Parma Panthers of the Italian American Football League. Loyal readers of John Grisham novels no doubt recognize the team name from the short novel, "Playing for Pizza," released in 2007. That book was about a former NFL quarterback whose last resort for professional football is in the northern Italian city of Parma.

One of Jones' former teammates helped him land in Italy.

"One of the guys I played with at Tennessee from my hometown, Chris White, was playing over there and he asked me if I would be interested in coming over," Jones said. "It was a great opportunity to spend some time in Italy.

"It was quite a challenge, you know, with me being a young coach trying to teach them the game of football. But it was a good learning experience for me, with the added plus of being able to see the country of Italy. It was pretty neat."

Has Jones read or heard of the Grisham book?

"No I have not, but I ate in their pizzerias many times, about every night as a matter of fact," he said with a laugh. "Now I've got to get that book. It would be pretty neat to read."

Mention Dale Jones is making an appearance in Knoxville and chances are it would resemble something approaching "Jimmy Buffett Night" in Key West. Gonna draw a crowd.

Problem is, ol' No. 54 from the 1985 Sugar Vols can't make it back to town very often these days because he spends his energy coaching Appalachian State.

Jones is in his 16th season at the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision power, the last two as defensive coordinator. He's been a part of three national titles and 148 wins in exactly 200 games since joining the Mountaineers staff in 1996.

"I'm calling the defense now, but we're still doing things the way we've always done here and that's keep it a group effort," Jones said of his 2010 promotion. "It was an easy transition and a situation where everybody has a little bit of input."

Jones is the elder statesman on the staff except for one man, head coach Jerry Moore. The legendary Moore, who was head coach at Texas Tech from 1981-85, arrived at Appalachian State in 1989 and built a powerhouse program.

"Coach Moore is one of the greatest men I've ever met," Jones said. "Being with him for 16 years, it's a fruitful relationship. It's more than just professional. You build a bond that carries on and Coach Moore, for me, is one of the greatest men I've ever met."

Heart and Soul
Jones had his share of greatness as a player at Tennessee. One of the most popular and decorated players in UT history, Jones earned Freshman All-America honors in 1983 and twice was an All-SEC linebacker.

He played for the Vols from 1983-86 and is best known as the defensive leader and heart and soul of UT's 1985 squad that won the SEC title and stunned No. 2 Miami (Fla.) 35-7 in the Sugar Bowl. His point-blank interception of Alabama's Mike Shula late in Tennessee's 16-14 win at Legion Field remains one of the more memorable moments of that run to the championship.

Jones, who grew up just down the road from Knoxville in Cleveland, played on UT teams that went 3-1 against the Crimson Tide.

"For me, every one of those games was always a highlight because I was a kid from Tennessee getting a chance to play Alabama," Jones said. "Being our rival, there was nothing like competing against those guys - especially if you had an opportunity to win.

"It's something that when you're a little kid you always dream about the Tennessee-Alabama football game. For me just to be a part of it was tremendous."

Busy Time in Coaching
Jones says it's not easy keeping up with all his old teammates because he can't make it back to Tennessee games as often as they can.

"Every once in a while I run into a few of them," Jones said. "It's really hard because I never get to come back to the Tennessee games. I guess it's been about five or six years. Obviously, it has to be when we have an off week and Tennessee is playing at home.

"With so much that you do in coaching, this is such a busy time and you don't get to see a lot of the guys. I talk to them on the phone, and it always brings back great memories. I wish I could see them more than what I do."

Jones says he loves his life in the North Carolina mountains coaching a football program that means as much to that part of the country as Tennessee football does here. The Mountaineers have led their classification in attendance each of the last four years, averaging 29,449 last year, which is 36 percent more than the listed capacity for Kidd Brewer Stadium.

"Boone is a great place to have a family and it's a place where the whole community feels like a big family," Jones said of the town located 90 minutes east of Johnson City. "With the university and the school system, it's a wonderful place to live."

 

 

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