Tennessee associate head coach Tony Jones was on center stage in Saturday's SEC opener as he took over head-coaching duties during the start of Bruce Pearl's eight-game conference suspension.
And before his first full game as a college head coach, Jones spoke to his players about what it meant for him to be in that position, according to a blog entry written by assistant to the head coach Mark Pancratz.
Coach Jones' pregame speech was heartwarming, passionate and motivating. He told our team that although he didn’t envision his chance at being a head coach to happen in this manner, it was something he always dreamed about and worked for. He went on to tell us how he always looked forward to the day his parents would be able to see him coach his own team, but that because of their sudden, unexpected and tragic deaths he couldn't have them here with him during this special moment. He warned the team that he might shed a tear but that it was because he wanted this game so bad. He was going to give it all today for this team and for his loved ones. So, although I'm disappointed in the loss, I'm proud of the effort Coach Jones gave and the way he coached our basketball team.
Jones' father, Clarence, was found murdered in 2009. And according to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Jones wears a silver bracelet in memory of his late parents who were very much on his mind. Substituting for Pearl is something deeply meaningful for him.
The Volunteers ultimately lost 68-65 at Arkansas while Pearl watched from a hotel room nearby. But at least with his longtime assistant and top recruiter Jones on the bench [while also suspended from off-campus recruiting], Pearl knows he has someone in his place who desperately wants to win just as much.