Coach Rick Jones
Coach Rick Jones is the head football coach at Greenwood High School in Greenwood, Arkansas. Since coming to Greenwood in 2004, Jones has led the Bulldogs to unparalleled success, including seven state championships and eight conference championships with his most recent state championship being in 2017. He was named the 2012 National Federation of State High School Associations Football Coach of the Year, the 2013 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette State Coach of the Year, was inducted into the Oklahoma High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 2013, and won the 2017 Semper Fidelis Coach Award. One of the most-respected interscholastic coaches in the game, Jones is a much sought-after speaker at football clinics, employee meetings, community clubs, and motivational seminars across the United States.
We talked to Coach Jones about why he loves the River Valley area, retaining good leaders, maintaining consistency year after year, overcoming challenges, and his hopes for 2018.
YOU MOVED TO GREENWOOD FROM BROKEN ARROW, OK, IN 2004. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY ABOUT LIVING IN THE RIVER VALLEY REGION?
When we met the people we interviewed with, saw the school, and saw the town, it was a slam dunk. It is a nice area--it wasn't too big or too small. It has the right combination of opportunity and small-town feel. We moved here in the Spring of 2004, and it's been a great place to live, a great place to raise a family, and a great place to work. My bosses are amazing, the schools here are fantastic, and we've been really blessed. I feel really lucky to coach Greenwood.
WHAT STRENGTHS DO YOU SEE IN THE RIVER VALLEY COMMUNITY AS A WHOLE?
The thing that I see is there is a pretty good diversity that provides us with a lot of opportunity financially and a lot of opportunity for entrepreneurial endeavors with the attachment we have to Northwest Arkansas. It's a beautiful part of the country; the people are awesome. I've met several people here that are tremendously impressive people--entrepreneurs like Steve Clark, a very out-of-the-box thinker, and people like Judy McReynolds and ArcBest--people that are brilliant at what they do and are very, very impressive, so I think we have a lot of advantages here.
YOU'VE BEEN A COACH FOR 40 YEARS AND HAVE WON NUMEROUS CHAMPIONSHIPS AND AWARDS DURING THAT TIME. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHERS WHEN IT COMES TO SURROUNDING YOURSELF WITH GOOD LEADERS?
What we try to do is basically we have 11 coaches, but they're all head coaches of something. We wear quite a few leadership hats, and we're just going to do the best that we can to take personal ownership in what we're responsible for. I think part of the reason we do have success is because we have specific duties and everyone has to get their duties done. You may not be called the head coach, but if you're the defensive line coach, you're the head coach of the defensive line.
I used to do an elaborate, end-of-the-season evaluation of each of our coaches, and I've learned over the years that the more effective way to do that is a daily process. Don't wait until the end of the year when you can't change or do anything about it; make an adjustment immediately. We want to give feedback to the guys that we work with so we know where we are, where we are going, and how we're going to get there.
YOU'VE BEEN HEAD FOOTBALL COACH AT GREENWOOD HIGH SCHOOL FOR NEARLY 14 YEARS AND HAVE WON SEVEN STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS WITH THE BULLDOGS. HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO CONSISTENTLY COMPETE FOR AND WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS EVEN THOUGH GREENWOOD IS ONE OF THE SMALLEST SCHOOLS IN YOUR CLASSIFICATION?
We have a lot of what we consider major tenants in our program, and one of them is we're not going to make excuses. Period. I think it's easy, when you're the smallest school in your classification, to make excuses and say we're playing schools two or three times bigger than we are. But we're not going to make excuses. It's always Bulldog weather. It's sort of a running joke between me and the kids that if it's 105 degrees it's Bulldog weather. If there's rain, sleet, and snow it's Bulldog weather. So much of it has to do with mentality--we're going to go out there and do the best with what we have, and we're not going to accept any excuses or let anything stop us.
We're very, very conscious of the words we say. The seeds you plant are important and those seeds are planted with words--by using the right words, by using the right terms, and by making sure you always say things in the most positive light.
AS A COACH, HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN CONSISTENCY WITH YOUR PLAYERS AND STAFF YEAR IN AND YEAR OUT?
There's a process that you have to go through to be successful. I've got a little note card in my desk and every time I open my desk I look at it. It's a very simple little notation that says, "I must constantly guard against the drift." I think as a head coach it's my job to make sure that we don't drift--that we don't replace those things that are important; we don't let things slide. If we tell our guys to put their hand on the line it means to be on the line--not in front of the line, not behind the line, but on the line.
If you want to be successful you have to be able to do the little things right. You have to be able to coach the little things every single day. It's a daily process. One of the reasons we've been successful is because we're very aware of doing the little things right. If you do it right in January and February, then if things go well, you get the opportunity to do it in November and December.
We used to have three goals: win the first game, win the conference, win the state championship. We used those for many years, and then I read a book by Josh Medcalf called Burn Your Goals, and it just made a lot of sense to me. So we've changed the approach to what UCLA coach Chip Kelly calls Win the Day (WTD). We just make a focus to win today--not worry about tomorrow or what we did in the past. It doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is what we have in front of us.
YOU'VE BEEN FACED WITH OBSTACLES THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER, MOST RECENTLY WITH THE SEVERE ILLNESS OF YOUR OFFENSIVE LINE COACH, BRIAN SIMS. HOW HAVE YOU LEARNED TO MAINTAIN FOCUS IN SPITE OF CHALLENGES YOU FACE?
It goes back to our basic philosophy that we're not going to make excuses. If one of your key guys is not able to perform his duties, you have to try to make sure that you're doing the best you can with what you have. You're going to make adjustments, fill in the gaps, and try to dot the i's and cross the t's. As football coaches, we have puzzle pieces that we're given, and we have to make the best picture that we possibly can. We love that challenge. Sometimes you're able to overcome it, and sometimes you're not. The question is, did you win every game you could?
FINALLY COACH, WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2018?
There's a totally different puzzle this year. We're going to have to make some big changes--a new approach offensively and some adjustments defensively. That's what makes it exciting and fun. It always changes; it's never boring. There are new things every day--there's drama, there's tragedy, tremendous highs, tremendous lows. You never know if you're going to get a phone call about a player moving in or a player moving out, but I feel very, very lucky to be the coach here, and we love what we do.
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