NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Life can take many twists and turns, Tennessee state offensive coordinator Mike Jones knows this all too well.
Jones was a star receiver for the Tigers from 1979-82, twice earning All-American accolades. The receiver left Nashville as Big Blue’s most decorated pass catcher, with a hold of the school record in receptions, receiving yards and overall touchdowns. The Chattanooga, Tenn. native then headed to the NFL and was drafted in the sixth round by the Minnesota Vikings. During his professional football career Jones played for the Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots. But his journey didn’t end there.
Just four years ago Jones was coaching in the Canadian Football League. That was the fourth different professional league Jones coached in and it marked the third country he had spent time in during his coaching career.
Jones’ start came in the now ceased NFL Europe as a receivers coach for the Rhein Fire based out of Germany.
“It’s great because they knew who you were. They knew their football and they loved their football team, it was just great,” Jones said about the European league. “It brings a smile to my face just to say that because of the many people that believed in football there.”
The league took note of Jones’ talent as well, in his two stints with the Rhein Fire (1998-00 and 2002-03) the club went 33-17 picking up two World Bowls in the span. His success led him to taking the head job with the Frankfaurt Galaxy. Where Jones holds the franchise record for wins (24) and posted the highest winning percentage in NFL Europe history (.600) of coaches with two or more seasons in the league.
“Football to us is always what it’s been,” said Jones on his international experience. “So for us, we were in a different land but they loved football just as much as we did and it was just an ambassador job on our part because here we are in a foreign country playing football.”
Not only was Jones trying to win football games, he also wanted his teams to connect with and embrace the German culture.
“I always told our players, especially when I was with Frankfurt, that we need to be able to say something back to German to (the fans),” Jones said. “So they would scramble the whole training camp trying to figure out what they could say. It was great to see whatever they said; some screwed it up but it was just great cause that showed the fans they really wanted to connect to them.”
‘Mit den Händen’ was the phrase Jones came up with; which in German means: catch it with your hands, a phrase that Jones still says to this day on the sidelines at practice.
It wasn’t all just football for Jones during his time in Europe; the TSU graduate was also able to fully take in the culture of the foreign countries he visited.
That included taking a spin on one of the worlds fastest highways: the German Autobahn.
“It’s crazy, you’re not allowed to be in the left lane if you’re not rolling,” said Jones of the Autobahn. “It’s unreal, when you look in the cars in that lane; you’ve got Mercedes, BMWs, Porsches, Audis all the cars like that.”
The Tennessee State’s coach’s favorite city and experience took place in the City of Counts, Bacelona, Spain attending soccer matches.
“They’re real crazy,” Jones said of the Spanish soccer environment. “In the end zones of the stadiums that’s where the hooligans, as they call them, stand. And they stand the whole game they don’t sit down. It is one place where if our players went to a game they would really enjoy it.
In between Jones’ NFL Europe stops, he spent a year in the much talked about XFL as a receivers coach for the Orlando Rage.
“Out of all the leagues that have ever existed I think that was the best one,” Jones said of the league founded by WWE business owner Vince McMahon. “It didn’t last but for one season but I think that was the best one.”
The league itself had many quirks uncommon to most other football leagues, including abandoning the coin toss. Instead each team chose a player to battle for a loose football, with the player who recovers the ball determining which team receives the ball first.
“A lot of guys did get smashed and injured,” said Jones of the dangerous opening play. “So we told our guys you go down there you let him fall on it and if he fumbles it you jump on it. Because our first game in Orlando he ran down there dove on the ball a guy dove on him and he separated his shoulder. So it was tough, but I’ll say this, there was excitement even to that part of it.”
For Jones, that’s one thing his career has never lacked. In all his years as a player and coach he’s been a part of 164 victories all while traveling the world and now he’s back where he started; sharing what he’s learned along the way.