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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 1:39 p.m., Monday, January 7, 2008

Jones introduced as SMU football coach

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer


Former University of Hawai'i football coach June Jones has accepted a position to be the next head coach at Southern Methodist University today. He will receive a five-year contract worth 2 million dollars annually.

Advertiser file photo

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Former University of Hawai'i coach June Jones today was introduced as the new head football coach at Southern Methodist University.

"It was a tough decision for me, that's all I can say," Jones said at a press conference in Dallas

Jones said it was an opportunity he could not refuse.

"I'll always love Hawai'i," Jones said. "Hawai'i will always be a part of me. But it's time to move on."

Jones said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of e-mails and calls from UH supporters the past few days. He said he broke down and cried at least six times.

He said he turned off his cell phone last night at his Dallas hotel, and prayed for a decision.

"I woke up with such a peace," he said, realizing he would accept the SMU job.

Jones will receive a five-year contract worth $2 million annually.

Last night, signs pointed to momentum changing in UH's favor as the school made an all-out effort to keep Jones, whose contract expires June 30.

Jones arrived in Dallas yesterday morning with the intent of becoming SMU's next head football coach.

But agent Leigh Steinberg said Jones began to have second thoughts after receiving an outpouring of e-mails and cell-phone calls from Warrior supporters.

What's more, UH president David McClain, who took the lead in negotiations, addressed Jones' concerns about plans to improve the athletic facilities and the football program's resources.

Jones replaces Phil Bennett, who was fired Oct. 28.

Jones arrived in Texas yesterday to meet with SMU officials on the private school's Dallas campus.

Jones and Steinberg met with SMU president R. Gerald Turner. They had lunch at the home of Gerald J. Ford, a billionaire who donated $20 million for the campus stadium named after him. Ford is a member of the SMU board of trustees.

They also had a meeting with the search committee, during which Jones was offered the lucrative deal.

Later, Jones and Steinberg had dinner with several SMU alumni, including Dan Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs.

But UH did not back away. McClain sent Steinberg and Jones a list of proposed improvements for the football program.

UH also reaffirmed its offer of a five-year contract with a base salary of $1.3 million annually, according to sources. If Jones stays the entire five years, he would receive a $1 million bonus, sources said.

But Steinberg said Jones was not focused on producing the "best" financial deal. Jones earns $800,016 annually on a five-year contract that expires June 30. Half of the contract is paid by donors, the school said.

"It's never been about (money)," Steinberg said. "It was about commitment. It wasn't until (McClain's list yesterday that) I saw anything in writing about the (UH) facilities."

SMU is a member of the 12-team Conference USA and finished 1-11 overall and 0-8 in the conference last season. The Conference USA, like the Western Athletic Conference in which UH is a member, is not one of the six BCS conferences with an automatic berth to a BCS bowl.

Jones was hired by UH in December 1998 and resurrected a football program that had just finished the season at 0-12. With a record of 76-41, Jones has accumulated the most victories of any UH coach. In his nine years at UH, he has had seven winning seasons. He received a five-year contract extension and a raise from $320,000 in 2003. Since then, Jones had four winning seasons in five years, earned four bowl berths, and accumulated records of 11-3 and 12-1 the past two seasons. The 2007 season was capped by the school's first invitation to a Bowl Championship Series bowl, the Sugar Bowl in the Superdome in New Orleans.

Stay up-to-date on more Warriors news in Stephen Tsai's blog, The Warrior Beat.

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.