Memories of Alabama, Bryant will always be special for MSU's Jones

Joey Jones

Staff Writer

Mississippi State special teams coordinator Joey Jones was just 10-years-old when his father died.

As you could imagine, that loss left a tremendous void in Jones’ life. By the time Jones reached his late-teen years, he’d found someone to help fill that hole. It just so happened that individual happened to be arguably the greatest college football coach that ever lived – Paul “Bear” Bryant.

“He brought me along and kind of took me under his wing so to speak,” Jones recalled on Tuesday.

Bryant is of course the legendary man who guided the Alabama Crimson Tide for 25 years and won six national championships and 13 conference titles at the school. At the latter end of Bryant’s coaching tenure with the Tide, he welcomed in an undersized wide receiver from down around Mobile. That man was Jones, who went on to play for Alabama from 1979 through 1983. By the end of Jones’ playing career, he was one of the best receivers to ever play in Tuscaloosa. That wasn’t the case at the start though when he first suited up for the man he now idolizes.

“I think (Bryant) was mad at my receivers coach that signed me because he thought I wasn’t big enough,” Jones recalled. “My whole first year there, I didn’t think (Bryant) knew my name. I’m sure he did, but I didn’t think he did.”

If for some reason Bryant didn’t know Jones’ name, it didn’t take too long to figure it out. Jones was deep down the depth chart in his freshman season at Alabama and then was again at the beginning of his sophomore year. That’s when a rash of injuries struck the Crimson Tide receiving corps in one game and Jones got his shot. He started the very next week and never lost the job from then on. Bryant, the man Jones looked up to off the field, now was counting on Jones on it.

“It’s one of those deals where it was special because one thing coach Bryant would do is he’d make you earn things,” Jones said. “He wasn’t going to give it to you so I always appreciated that.”
Jones went on to have an outstanding career at Alabama. He finished his career with 71 receptions, 1,386 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was an All-Southeastern Conference wide receiver in 1983 and was chosen as a member of the Crimson Tide’s 1980s All-Decade team.

All those accolades and memories will surely flood Jones’ mind this Saturday when he walks back into Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium to face off against his alma mater as an assistant coach with Mississippi State. Jones, now in his 13th year of coaching in the college ranks, admits it’ll be special for him. However he’s handled this week nothing but professionally says MSU head coach Joe Moorhead.

“(Jones) is certainly beloved (at Alabama) and deservedly so, but I think he's bleeding more maroon and white than crimson now,” Moorhead said. “I think it will be great for him when he goes back in there. I'm sure it will be emotional and very positive, but he's done a good job of managing that and making sure we get done what we need to on special teams. I'm sure it will be pretty cool for him.”

Many things will likely go through Jones’ head on Saturday. He’ll remember the many catches he made for the Crimson Tide. He’ll remember the teammates he forged close bonds with. He’ll almost assuredly think of Bryant and the significant role he played in Jones’ life and development.

Make no mistake though, Jones is all Bulldog on Saturday. However no one could blame Jones if he does have a fond feeling or two of when he used to roll right along with the Tide.

“Going back there, that’s where some of my best four years were from (ages) 18 to 22,” Jones said. “You never forget those years. It’s just special to go back there and see all the old players and see some of the old coaches that were there. It’s a special place just like it is here at Mississippi State.”