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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Jones dressed for success at SMU

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

StoryChat: Comment on this story
Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Take a second look. That's former Hawai'i coach June Jones, who hopes to turn around the football fortunes at Southern Methodist University.

Photos courtesy of SMU

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

June Jones is prominently featured in an SMU ad promoting the sale of season tickets. A seat in the enclosed stadium club costs $1,040.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

In one school promotion, SMU introduces its new football coach with a name tag in Texas-sized proportions 21 by 12 inches.

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It is the suit and tie that initially throw you off. The ensemble going together with a smiling June Jones like, well, a plodding wishbone offense.

This is a guy who, in his nine seasons at the University of Hawai'i, disdained even wearing socks. Somebody who showed up at a wedding reception at 3660 On the Rise in black sweats and ball cap straight from practice.

Now, suitably duded up for Texas consumption, he stares back from everything Southern Methodist University the university's Web site, season ticket brochures ... asking, "You folks ready to have some fun?"

In one SMU circular there is a 21-inch by 12-inch "Hello my name is... June Jones" name tag introducing their new coach. Like they say, everything is bigger in Texas.

Two months after he left Manoa, the image of Jones sitting with a navy blue and red Mustangs' helmet and SMU end zone as a backdrop while promising "the Pony Nation and all of Dallas an exciting, new brand of football at Ford Stadium" is still a jarring sight here.

So much so that even the curious phrase "you may have heard the noise we made all the way over on the Big Island this past year" in a slick season ticket brochure almost slips by in the bewilderment.

But Jones, ever the adroit marketer, has slipped right into his new niche, trading "eo na toa, eo na toa e" for "Pony Up."

And, "Pony Up" it is, indeed. One seat in the enclosed stadium club, the highest echelon at the 32,000-seat facility, will cost you $1,040 ($540 for the six-game season and $500 Mustang Club donation).

And we're told they are buying it in Big D. "While we don't release numbers, we are well ahead of last year's pace and hope to substantially increase our season ticket sales," SMU spokesman Brad Sutton said.

Of course, last year SMU was 109th among 119 Division I-A teams in average attendance (15,428), so the Mustangs pretty much had nowhere to go but up. Sort of like their football team. SMU was 1-11 (0-8 in Conference USA) and has had one winning season since emerging from NCAA purgatory in 1989.

SMU was, you might recall, the team UH beat to end a record 22-game Western Athletic Conference road losing streak in 1999, Jones' first season at UH.

And with such a turnaround at UH to point to, therein lies Jones' appeal in well-heeled University Park. At a school where they still cling to 1948 Heisman Trophy winner Doak Walker like it was yesterday, they want a winner again, bad. So much so that, we're told, the Circle of Champions, a group of 20 prominent boosters, agreed to ante up $100,000 each annually for five years to underwrite Jones' $2 million-a-year deal.

That being like parking meter change for some, including Gerald J. Ford, the billionaire banker, for whom the stadium was named after a thoughtful $20 million donation. It was Ford and a few of the boys who had Jones over for lunch when SMU was wooing UH's all-time winningest college football coach.

At SMU they've tried defensive coaches and inspirational ones. They've experimented with traditional offenses and even a wishbone or two. But after seeing what was achieved at Hawai'i, which they regard as somewhere beyond the edge of football civilization, they want what a niche offense and its leading practitioner gave the Warriors. If UH can do it, then why not SMU, they reason.

Why not, Jones undoubtedly reasoned as well, noting in brochures the commitment was, "why I jumped at this opportunity."

And, Jones is promising to deliver, soon. "From you hungry Mustang fans, I ask only two things," Jones says in the ad. "Your continued support of SMU football and, maybe, just a little patience. Together, we're going to turn this thing around and we're going to do it with a bang."

Over here, on the "Big Island," fans will be keeping an ear cocked.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.

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