Emmett Jones leaning on authenticity amid KU football coaching search
LAWRENCE — Kansas football’s interim head coach says he considers himself “blessed” to be named a candidate to take over that position on a full-time basis.
And, should the in-house option receive the nod at the end of a national search now very much in full swing, Emmett Jones believes it will be because he’s done an admirable job at being, well, Emmett Jones.
“What I need to do (is) just be myself,” said Jones, speaking Saturday on his approach to the search initiated last week by new athletic director Travis Goff. “I don’t need to get out of character; I just need to be Emmett Jones, continue to be who I was as far as how I got here. That won’t change. I won’t make up nothing. I just speak the truth.”
For a sizeable number of Jayhawks, Jones being Jones is more than good enough.
KU on March 11 selected Jones as the temporary replacement for Les Miles, who had agreed to a buyout of the remaining three years of his contract amid resurfaced allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct from his time at LSU. Jones rode a groundswell of support to that opportunity, with more than a dozen players taking to social media to advocate for the third-year Jayhawk assistant coach to receive the interim tag.
An important recruiter, Jones’ influence stretches beyond the wide receivers room.
“I feel like a lot of players, they have a different connection with Coach Jones,” said quarterback Miles Kendrick. “They want to play for him. They want to practice for him. They’re committed to what Coach Jones is trying to do right now.”
What the Jayhawks are trying to do right now, as Jones has often said since the team’s spring practice slate began March 30, is simply get 1% better each day. The team scrimmaged Saturday and has eyes on its spring game, a 6 p.m. May 1 affair at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
On Thursday, the same day KU announced it would immediately move forward with a “thorough national search” for its next football head coach, Goff met with the program’s coaches and players to inform them of his decision. In a letter sent to Williams Fund donors, Goff praised Jones’ leadership during the period of uncertainty and revealed Jones would be a candidate for the vacancy.
Goff, who has since his April 6 arrival observed the football program and sought input from its players, has done “exactly what he said he was going to do,” said Jones, who added the football team likes having the athletic department’s “No. 1 leader” around the team.
“When you’re trying to improve things, trying to be better, that’s the best way you can handle that,” Jones said. “So I applaud him for carrying himself the way he carries himself and I applaud him for the way he’s handled everything here with KU.”
Still, Jones indicated he’s not actively looking for validation from Goff nor anyone else.
“I don’t seek feedback; I just listen to the product, which is the players,” Jones said. “They’re all excited, fired up, eager to learn, anxious to come over to the facility to study to get better. That’s the testament right there, that’s the judgment right there: the players, the product. So I don’t seek any kind of feedback. As long as the young men feel like they’re getting better every day, feel like they’re getting coached, I’m OK with that. That’s the feedback that we look for.”
One such player, Kendrick, drew parallels between Jones and the team itself in explaining why the former is a good fit for the latter.
“We’ve been looked at as underdogs and we’ve been looked at and kind of counted out,” Kendrick said. “And Coach Jones, I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily call him an underdog, but you know, he’s made the most of his opportunity. He’s preached passion, physicality and just falling in love with the process of getting better every day. That’s really our main goal right now: rallying around this team (and) stick together, rallying around Coach Jones and doing whatever he wants us to do each and every day on that practice field and in the classroom and also off the field as well.”
Asked whether he’s discussed what his role would be should KU go in another direction with the head coaching vacancy, Jones insisted that’s the furthest thing on his mind at the moment and not a conversation he’s sought to have with his athletic director.
“I’m glad to be in this situation, glad to be here at the University of Kansas in this position,” Jones said. “This program, man, it’s awesome to be a part of. Family and brotherhood, man, it’s something special right now. These guys will tell you, it’s awesome just to be here. This is a great deal right here, man.”