June Jones is giving back to communities in ways rarely seen in college football, from championing the cause of wild American mustangs to delivering medical supplies to the people of American Samoa
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jul 04, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 10:29 p.m. HST, Aug 05, 2011
DALLAS » June Jones pulled his late-model Infiniti SUV off U.S. Highway 377 and into picturesque Kyle Ranch in Whitesboro, Texas, about 70 miles north of his SMU office.
He arrived to visit Liberty and Justice, SMU's patriotically named mustang mascots, in an effort to raise awareness for Saving America's Mustangs. The foundation is led by Madeleine Pickens, the wife of Dallas billionaire T. Boone Pickens. Jones serves as chairman of its advisory committee. He stood somewhat comfortably this May morning smack between the two 1,100-pound geldings for a photo opportunity. The scene was far from the usual shots of the coach on the Ford Stadium field, orchestrating his players in the run and shoot.
"How's the team looking, coach?" inquired Pete Kyle, the owner of the ranch who cares for the mustangs.
Since it's the offseason, Jones has more time to devote to his substantial list of projects that goes well beyond rehabbing SMU football -- though he's doing that, too. Sometimes it all intertwines, and Jones' mind always seems to be hatching a new angle, football related and otherwise.
Jones, a former NFL coach, left behind some of the celebrity he built in taking Hawaii to a BCS bowl when he came to a Conference USA school in Dallas, which is cluttered with big-time sports personalities. But the off-the-field work of the low-key, spiritually motivated coach has only continued to ramp up.
"When I came to Hawaii (as a player) in the early 1970s, it greatly impacted me how the culture worked," Jones said. "Everybody helped everybody."
Occasionally, his headstrong surety on issues raises eyebrows -- such as when he pushed SMU last summer to change athletic admissions policies, altered tradition by adding Liberty and Justice and passed up a chance in December to take the Maryland job.
The June Jones Foundation, created in 2004, just completed what has become its annual centerpiece event. Its goodwill mission to American Samoa has provided millions of dollars in donated medical equipment and educational programs since 2008.
"How many football coaches do you know who take a week each year to help an island in the middle of the Pacific?" asked Kevin Kaplan, who runs Jones' foundation, which has raised almost $1.7 million for grants and operating the foundation over the last five years for which tax records are available.
Jones has been active in supporting Gridiron Heroes, which assists high school players with spinal cord injuries. He recently started the College Football Assistance Fund, which provides support for seriously injured college players. He's preparing to launch a large mentoring program for youth in Dallas.
"He is a substantial giver," said Paul Loyd, an SMU trustee and a philanthropist who has served as ambassador for the last three trips to Samoa. "Time becomes by far the most valuable commodity you have. He gives an incredible amount."
Attending the Rose Bowl wouldn't be unusual for any college coach, but Jones went to Pasadena in January for the parade. He walked alongside Saving America's Mustangs' float. He has remained involved in the cause since he and Pickens partnered up in the spring of 2009, following his first season at SMU in which the Mustangs went 1-11. She'd give the football program mustangs, and he'd help bring attention to her foundation. Pickens is passionately at work creating a vast sanctuary for mustangs in Nevada called Mustang Monument. The plan is to open it as a living museum.
"She said we gave her testosterone," Jones said. The foundation's advisory board roster, a Who's Who in Dallas sports, includes Mark Cuban, Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach and Jerry Jones.
The gift of the mustangs can still be a touchy subject. Some SMU supporters have worried their beloved, longtime Shetland pony mascot, Peruna, was being pushed aside. But Jones said his players wanted to be represented by real mustangs. The change is part of his cultural conversion of SMU football. He's taken the Mustangs to consecutive bowl games after a quarter-century drought, and SMU is expected to contend for the C-USA title this fall.
Jones incorporates the well-traveled Liberty and Justice -- they even went to the 2009 Hawaii Bowl with SMU, thanks to Pickens -- into the team's evolution.
"They were different than normal horses," Jones said. "They carry themselves differently. Walk differently. They have mana.
"I've told the team, we have to get this walk. This fall, expectations are higher, and we've got to act like we belong. ... It's not about hoping we're going to win. It's knowing."
Mana is part of Jones' regular vocabulary, referring to a spiritual quality, developed through birth or warfare, that gives power. Jones wants SMU's motto this season to be "Mustang Mana," his twist on the familiar late-'70s SMU slogan "Mustang Mania."
"He has to motivate, and he's an absolute master," Pickens said. "June's about winning. He's also about getting things done."
Jones is somewhat of a rock star in Samoa, Kaplan said. Football is popular on the economically limited islands that produce a significant number of NFL players despite a small population. Jones began recruiting it while at Hawaii, where Polynesian players dominated his roster. Pago Pago is about the same flight time from Honolulu as Los Angeles.
The foundation's trip to Samoa is centered on delivering medical supplies, including a used but much-needed X-ray machine this year. Academic scholarships are also awarded. Jones meets with kids and talks about the value of education and making good choices. The kids start the events by singing a traditional Samoan song.
"Goosebumps," said Jones, who helped open a long-awaited Boys and Girls Club on the recent trip. "They're great people. You wish you could do more."
Loyd noted Jones' ability to create rapport with recruits of all backgrounds, a quality that can be seen in his off-the-field work as well.
Jones used to run football clinics in association with the trip, but the NCAA frowned on the possibility of a recruiting advantage, though the Samoan pipeline has not stretched to SMU. Jones said he wants to improve the opportunities of younger students, so they don't have trouble qualifying for American colleges because English is their second language.
The travel party included medical staff, along with NFL players of Samoan descent.
DO THE RIGHT THING
Jones is usually understated in talking about his spirituality. But when asked, he freely discussed that faith has had a major impact on how he tries to live.
"I've had my own failures," Jones said. "I just try to do it the way it's supposed to be done."
Jones' foundation recently held its seventh annual golf tournament in Maui. Among the foundation's causes: improving the lives of seriously ill children. It also benefits a scholarship at Hawaii in Hawaiian studies, reportedly part of which came out of the settlement between the school and Jones for leaving before the end of his contract.
Tax records show the foundation also contributes to SMU's revamped Annette Caldwell Simmons school of education, which supporters have viewed as key in providing more athlete-friendly majors.
Jones requires his teams to keep journals -- an idea from his late mentor Frank Gansz Sr. -- in which "What you give will grow, and what you keep you will lose," is underlined as an ever-present theme to be applied on and off the field.
"Everybody's going to forget we beat Nevada ... in the Hawaii Bowl in 2009," Jones said. "It's more important what we do with life and the impact on the guys in the locker room ... that is what life is all about."