Feb. 11, 2014
Over the next few weeks, UConnHuskies.com will take an in-depth look at the new football coaching staff head coach Bob Diaco has assembled. The series will include feature stories along with special edition episodes of "The Blitz" for each coach. Next up, Running Backs Coach and Director Of Player Engagement Ernest T. Jones.
By Steve Lewis
STORRS, Conn. -- Through his work as an administrator and as a coach over the years, one of the strongest beliefs that new Husky assistant coach Ernest T. Jones has is that college football should help develop student-athletes to be well-rounded individuals through their academic work and community service -- not just their performance on the field.
Jones, who was recently named the running backs coach and Director of Player Engagement, has spent his entire career working to make sure players are grateful for the opportunities given to them and are willing to use those advantages to make a difference in the world.
“We want to develop players intellectually and socially, it’s not just about football.,” says Jones. “If you come here to play football, be a star and go to the NFL -- and that’s your number one priority -- that’s not going to work for us here at UConn. You need to want to come here and get a degree and to make a difference in someone else’s life.”
Jones spent the last two seasons at Notre Dame as the Director of Player Development and Engagement. During his time in South Bend, he helped coordinate community service projects through the “Irish Around the Bend” initiative.
“I was with Brian Kelly at Central Michigan, Cincinnati, and Notre Dame and he allowed me to be a voice for community programs,” said Jones. “That was just the name of the program, but ultimately it was about giving back. We’re going to put programs together here at UConn so it’s obvious we care about these young people and the community.”
Jones also helped to coordinate a community project named “Bulls in the Community” during his time at Buffalo as the associate head coach in 2010 and 2011. Current UConn Athletic Director Warde Manuel was the athletic director of Buffalo when Jones was a coach for the Bulls.
“We want our players to visit hospitals, schools and other charities whenever possible,” said Jones. “We don’t want them just to be in the football building, we as coaches don’t want to just be in the football building. We want to go out into the community.”
For the last two seasons, Jones worked with new head coach Bob Diaco at Notre Dame, but their relationship goes further than that. Jones met Diaco at Central Michigan in 2005 when Jones was in charge of cornerbacks and Diaco was the co-defensive coordinator. The duo met again at Cincinnati in the 2009 season, with Diaco as the defensive coordinator and Jones the Director of Player Services.
“It began at Central Michigan, so I’ve known him for a long time…I know that he truly cares about these young people and he is going to do what is best for them,” said Jones about Diaco. “He’s helped me become the man I am today and I like to believe in some way I helped him become the man he is today. We have a great deal of respect for each other.”
On the field, Jones believes there is talent at the running back position and looks forward to working with the UConn halfbacks.
“I’ve talked to them and their energy helps me to think they’re ready to be coached and I’m ready to start coaching,” said Jones about his first encounter with the players.
Jones, a graduate of Alcorn State in 1995, is well aware of the outstanding tradition that UConn has of running the football and is going to make sure the current running backs live up to that standard.
“We’re going to be fast, we’re going to be athletic, and we’re going to love playing football. If they just want to score touchdowns and say that I played running back at UConn, that’s not going to work for me,” said the new running back coach.
“The tradition of running the football here is great. Some of the best running backs in the nation have worn that helmet, so you are going to understand how important it is to become one of those people.”
Though Jones says that coaching is in his DNA, his administrative work and experience allows him to make sure there is proper balance for each student-athlete so one doesn’t just rely on football as the means to an end.
“We want to go out in the community, but at the same time, we want to emphasize the importance of graduating on time to our players, so they can go out and do something substantial in the world,” said Jones.
Jones has been married to his wife, Kimberly, for ten years. His oldest son, Kgai, is a junior at Ohio State and his younger son, Myles, is six years old.
“I love being around young people,” said Jones. “I love making a difference in their lives, something that is genuine.”