By Steve Williams
One way or the other, Dale Jones will be at Neyland Stadium on Sept. 3.
I sure would like to see him at the 2016 season opener on the Tennessee sideline as the Vols’ new defensive coordinator instead of on the other side coaching inside linebackers for Appalachian State.
No offense Mountaineers. It’s just that older Vol fans like me haven’t forgotten No. 54 and his playing days as a Volunteer linebacker.
I’ve been watching Tennessee football for at least 50 years and I honestly can’t recall any player who wore the Orange jersey with more pride or loved UT football anymore than Dale.
Thirty-years later, I think he still does, too.
Maybe you heard Jones being interviewed on a local radio sports talk show like I did just a couple of years ago. Dale got emotional just talking about Tennessee football. It sounded like he was having a hard time holding back the tears. UT football still means that much to him.
When the surprising news broke last Wednesday afternoon that John Jancek would no longer be Tennessee’s defensive coordinator, the first person I thought of as a possible replacement was Dale Jones.
No, Dale wouldn’t be a rock star hire. But if he got the opportunity, he would show up with a passion that no other could match. And with Tennessee heading into a season filled with high expectations, I believe that’s the kind of mindset and attitude a head coach would want his defensive leader to have.
By the time you read this, Butch Jones may have already selected a new DC for his staff, and odds are it won’t be Dale. He would be a longshot at best to get the job.
Still, it’s good to reflect on a former Vol who has gone on to have a successful career as a college football coach. In that regard, I put Dale in the same league with former UT quarterback Tee Martin, who recently was named offensive coordinator at Southern Cal.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Tennessee had those two coordinators someday?
Jones, a two-time all-stater at Bradley Central High and now 52, was one of those “Sugar Vols,” a junior linebacker on Johnny Majors’ 1985 team that won the SEC championship – the school’s first since 1969 – and knocked off the No. 2 ranked Miami Hurricanes 35-7 in the 1986 Sugar Bowl – in my book the most enjoyable bowl victory in the modern era.
Before that game, Miami coach Jimmy Johnson was campaigning for the national championship and TV sportscaster Keith Jackson was wondering if the Vols could at least keep the game close enough to keep the viewers’ attention.
Miami scored first, but it was all Tennessee after that. Ken Donahue was the Vols’ defensive coordinator and devised a game plan that rocked Vinny Testerverde and the Hurricanes. Dale was a big part of it.
UT fans took over New Orleans that week and the Superdome that night.
That also was the season quarterback Tony Robinson suffered a season-ending broken leg in a pivotal game at Alabama. Darryl Dickey came in and preserved the Vols’ lead and many UT fans still remember Jones’ point-blank interception of a Mike Shula pass in the 16-14 victory at Legion Field in Birmingham.
Jones, who was a two-time All-SEC honoree, has been at Appy State the past 20 years, including three seasons as the DC (2010-12). He also called the defensive shots for the Parma Panthers, an American football team based in Italy that plays in the Italian Football League, in 1990 and for Georgia Military College, one of the finest junior college programs in the country, from 1992-95.
Dale started as a defensive line and special teams coach at Appalachian State in 1996. In Jones’ initial tenure as DL coach, eight of his players advanced to the NFL, six were named FCS All-Americans and 15 made All-Southern Conference.
Jones was named “Special Teams Coordinator of the Year” by American Football Monthly in 2002.
One way or the other, Dale Jones will be at Neyland Stadium on Sept. 3. If he had to, he would even hike across the mountain from Boone to Knoxville, if Butch needed him sooner.