Rick Jones – Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame
Head Coach, 1994-2014
“No one’s counting,” Jones, who filled out more winning lineup cards than any other baseball coach in the history of Tulane University, said modestly.
Well, let’s add it up.
Jones already is entrenched in six Halls of Fame as he enters the Allstate Sugar Bowl’s Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame as part of the 2020 class. An eighth induction is looming in January (2021) as he will join the Louisiana Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame as well.
Each hall is distinctive as is each honor. Jones called his place in the Greater New Orleans Class of 2020 “very special.”
This one recognizes not only Jones’ unmatched success at the helm of the Green Wave baseball program but also the impact he had on the university and the community.
“New Orleans is and always will be home for us,” Jones said of himself and his wife, Gina. “We built two homes in New Orleans while we were living there and we were ingrained in the community for all the right reasons.”
Nowadays, the Joneses are living in Wilmington in his native state of North Carolina, “taking care of family.”
It’s the current phase in Jones’ life after more 21 years of taking care of the Green Wave baseball family.
We’ll get to Jones’ numbers in a bit, but his impact on Tulane and New Orleans transcends even numbers as significant as his. It’s the history-making moments, the life-long memories, the non-baseball accomplishments that enhance the statistical stuff.
First the moments:
- The historic 2001 NCAA Super Regional victory against LSU at Zephyr Field;
- The 2005 team’s unprecedented stay atop the college baseball world for most of the season;
- That team’s Super Regional on campus;
- The Green Wave’s only two College World Series appearances, which followed those Super Regionals;
- And the 2006 team’s remarkable run in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Jones routinely cites June 3, 2001 as a day he would relive if he could. That was the day of the deciding third game of the Super Regional against defending CWS champion LSU, which was playing its final season under legendary coach Skip Bertman.
“That had to have been one of the greatest sporting events in the history of the state,” Jones said.
The series drew three SRO crowds that totaled 35,268 fans, setting a Super Regional record that stood for 14 years.
LSU won the Friday night opener and Tulane evened the series on Saturday, forcing the decisive third game Sunday afternoon.
Jones told Crescent City Sports that he didn’t sleep the night before Game 3.
“I walked around my suite and kept thinking, ‘Tomorrow, we go back to being the same, or we change forever.’”
The next day Jones’ team changed Green Wave baseball forever, prevailing 7-1.
More history came in 2005 when Tulane was ranked No. 1 in the preseason, stayed No. 1 for most of the season and entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 national seed. That team won a Super Regional on campus and returned to the CWS.
Less than three months later, the fall semester was just getting under way when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Jones and his staff brought 38 student-athletes to Texas Tech University in Lubbock to enroll while New Orleans recovered.
“Guys, there’s no manual for this,” Jones told his coaching staff. “Everything is day to day.”
While the university returned to campus for the spring semester, Katrina-related delays on the Green Wave’s new on-campus stadium sent the Wave seven miles west to Zephyr Field – the site of the memorable win over LSU in 2001 – for its practices and home games for 2006 and 2007.
Despite the challenges of a semester on the road and daily road trips for practices, the 2006 team won 43 games, finished third in the challenging Conference USA standings and reached the NCAA Tournament, advancing to the Oxford Regional title game.
Baseball relies on numbers more so than any other sport and Jones compiled some eye-popping ones.
Not only is Jones the winningest baseball coach in Green Wave history, he is the school’s winningest coach in all sports and the third-longest tenured coach at the school.
In 21 seasons (1994-2014) his teams won 818 games and lost 445 with two ties. The three super regional and two CWS appearances were among 12 NCAA tournament appearances by Jones’ teams.
Jones’ teams won four Conference USA regular-season championships and five C-USA tournament titles.
He was named the National Coach of the Year by Baseball America in 2005, the C-USA Coach of the Year three times (1997, 2001, and 2005) and also was named the Coach of the Decade in 2005. He remains the winningest coach in C-USA history.
Jones’ players earned 22 All-America honors, 17 Freshman All-America honors, 89 all-conference honors, and 28 all-freshman honors. Five of his players made USA National Baseball Teams, 54 were drafted into Major League Baseball and 76 signed professional contracts.
Every player that played four years for Jones earned a degree and many went on to prominent roles in a wide variety of professional fields. More than 200 of his players earned C-USA Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll recognition, including six who earned Academic All-America status.
“At a place like Tulane,” Jones said, “you know you’re going to have players that go on to be very successful in whatever field they go into.”
Jones’ No. 10 jersey was scheduled to be officially retired during “Rick Jones Weekend” in early May, but the ceremony had to be postponed when the Green Wave season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shortly thereafter Jones spoke with South Carolina head coach Mark Kingston, who was Jones’ assistant during the Katrina season.
“We’re in uncharted territory and it’s every program in the country,” Jones said. “After Katrina it was just us [New Orleans].”
Jones said he reminded Kinston that he had the post-Katrina experience to draw on.
“At the end of the day, we’re in the kid business,” Jones said. “You take care of your kids as best you can.”
For 21 years the kids playing baseball for Tulane University were in Hall of Fame hands.
Story by Les East of the Greater New Orleans Sports Awards Committee.