Emmett Jones didn’t envision getting an opportunity at this point of his career to lead the Kansas football program. But as the Jayhawks’ interim head coach explained in his first interview since accepting the position, Jones is welcoming his current unexpected circumstances.
“This time last year, I never had a clue, never even would’ve thought about it,” Jones said on an episode of “The Jayhawker Podcast,” hosted by Wayne Simien.
But when KU and former head coach Les Miles parted ways earlier this month, following reports of Miles’ sexual harassment scandal when he was the head coach at LSU years back, KU had to find someone to run the program — and it needed to happen quickly with the start of spring practices on the horizon.
When interim KU Athletic Director Kurt Watson placed Jones in charge, the receivers coach and passing game coordinator said he didn’t want that to change his approach as a coach.
“The way I look at it, it’s just a title change,” Jones said. “I’m always a responsible guy, thinking 10 steps ahead. I always have my eyes on next month. I’m just in a different office. Now everything is just amplified. I’m the face of the program along with the coaching staff, along with these kids, because it’s players first.”
As Jones explained on the podcast, his philosophies on building relationships with players were established years back, when he was working his way up through the high school coaching ranks in the Dallas area.
His approach to building a football program, Jones said, involved making sure the players understood him and his expectations for the team. Jones said connecting with the players was part of that, too.
“Being a genuine person and investing as much as possible to the kids that are in the building,” Jones shared of his methods, dating back to his time at Dallas Skyline and South Oak Cliff high schools. “And that’s showing true love — not just football love, not just sports love. I mean showing true love to get true buy-in.”
As Jones provided details on the steps of his career that led him to where he is now, he looked back at his four years at Texas Tech, when he worked for head coach Kliff Kingsbury. During Jones’ first year in Lubbock, Texas, he was the director of player development. Kingsbury had Jones shadow him that year, and through that process, Jones said, he learned important lessons about the organizing and scheduling that goes into leading a Power Five football program.
“I was able to see it on a day to day basis. I was able to work directly with his ops person and his chief of staff and I was able to kind of get a good feel for how everything rolled,” Jones said of how Kingsbury prepared him for the role he finds himself in now at KU.
Kingsbury promoted Jones to become Tech’s outside receivers coach after one year. During his four years at Tech, the Red Raiders played at KU twice. Jones said since he came to KU a little more than two years ago, he has thought back about a pregame conversation he had on the field at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium as a Texas Tech assistant.
“This place is a sleeping giant,” Jones recalled saying. “If the right person takes control of this place, this is a sleeping giant.”
KU, of course, hasn’t won more than three games in a season since 2009. But Jones thinks the program is headed the right direction, because he and other members of the KU staff began laying the foundation for a longterm rebuild two years ago.
As Jones put it, he and other KU assistants who were hired by Miles ahead of the 2019 season began identifying the types of players and prospects KU would need to “get this program going.”
“You have to have multiple layers of foundation. And it starts with guys that can be here from four to five years,” Jones said of recruiting high school players, as KU has with back to back classes, in 2020 and 2021.
“It’s kind of difficult when you’re trying to build off of guys that only have one year left of eligibility or guys that may be coming in transferring, or coming in from a certain junior college with only two years left,” Jones continued. “We want to build straight from the ground up with high school guys, and that’s my mindset, also.”
KU is scheduled to begin its 15-practice spring schedule on Tuesday, with Jones leading the way.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Jones said of his new role as interim head coach. “I feel like I’m ready to go. And I’m excited.”