May 10, 2013
ORLANDO - The players, assistant coaches, uniforms and even the home stadium have changed throughout the last 20 years of Tulane Green Wave baseball. But during that time, head coach Rick Jones has been the one constant. On May 10, Jones won his 800th game as head coach of Tulane when the Greenies defeated UCF, 8-1, in Orlando, allowing Jones to become one of only 15 current coaches who have won 800 or more games at their current school.
"I've been fortunate to be able to be in such a good place for such a long time," said Jones. "I've had a lot of really good players, and that's the bottom line."
With the milestone victory, Jones joins an elite group of skippers who have withstood the many changes that have come to college baseball over the last two decades to continue to notch marks in the victory column for their respective school. Gene Stephenson (Wichita State), Mike Martin (Florida State), Mark Marquees (Stanford), Pete Dunn (Stetson), Jim Gilligan (Lamar), John Anderson (Minnesota), Keith Guttin (Missouri State), Wayne Graham (Rice), Gary Powers (Nevada), Fred Hill (Rutgers), Bill Brown (George Mason), Jim Morris (Miami (FL)), Jack Leggett (Clemson) and Danny Hall (Georgia Tech) are the only other coaches who have recorded 800 or more victories in their current position.
"There are a lot of coaching icons in that group," added Jones.
Jones was hired away just months before the 1994 season from Georgia Tech, where he coached under Morris - who left for Miami (FL) just six weeks after Jones came to New Orleans. Instead of returning to Atlanta to lead a team that was mostly recruited by him, a team that starred future Major League players Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek and Jay Payton and a team that ended the following season as the national runner-up in the College World Series, Jones stayed Uptown where he has built one of the top collegiate programs in the nation.
It all started for Jones on February 12, 1994, when the Greenies secured Jones' first victory while donning the Olive and Blue by defeating in-state rival Nicholls State by a score of 5-0.
"I remember that game, vividly," said Jones of his first Tulane win. "It's just all flown by."
The winning hasn't ceased, as Jones has won 40 plus games in a season on ten different occasions, including two 56-win seasons that both culminated in trips to Omaha for the College World Series.
Getting to Omaha is not an easy accomplishment, as Stephenson, Martin, Marquees, Guttin, Graham, Morris, Leggett and Hall - along with Jones - are the only aforementioned coaches who have led their current school to the middle of the country in the middle of June. Graham is the most recent of the coaches to win a championship - defeating Marquees' Stanford in 2003. Morris and Marquees each have a pair of titles, while Stephenson has one. To prove how difficult it is to win it all, Martin has coached at Florida State for 35 years -winning over 1,700 games in the process - but has yet to hoist the ultimate prize.
Since that first victory against Nicholls State, Jones - a North Carolina native - has led the charge against 132 different schools, winning games against 121 of them - including wins against Brown, Gilligan, Anderson, Guttin, Powers, Graham and Stephenson.
Jones will be the first to tell you that his players deserve most of the credit for the wins he has racked up. During his 20-year tenure, 13 former Green Wave players who were coached by Jones have played in the majors, and over 50 have been drafted. Jones has followed their careers closely, and they return the favor by keeping close tabs on their former mentor. Preston Claiborne, a former Green Wave pitcher who made his big-league debut just last Saturday with the New York Yankees, made a surprise call into Jones' weekly radio show this past Monday after travelling to Denver to face the Colorado Rockies. Once Jones realized who it was after the Voice of the Green Wave, Todd Graffagnini, introduced the caller as "Preston from Denver", one could literally see the genuine excitement and happiness on the face of the head skipper.
"Am I talking to a major-leaguer?" asked an elated Jones. It's these kinds of bonds that have been forged over the years that keep Jones in the position he has held for so long.
After his 800th victory at Tulane, one in which senior Alex Byo threw his second-career complete game and the Tulane hitters tied a season high in hits with 14, the senior from Baton Rouge, La., said it best when talking about his teammates' performance for their coach.
"It's very special that everyone was able to be a part of the win tonight," said Byo.
The winningest coach in Tulane history - as well as the second-longest tenured coach in any sport in school history behind legendary former tennis coach Emmett Pare - Jones, too, is clearly a Tulane legend.
After his recent milestone victory, though, it's obvious that Jones has made his mark on something greater than just the baseball program and university he represents on a day-to-day basis. Jones has been an ambassador to the game he has dedicated his life to, and for that, he will go down as one of the finest college baseball coaches to ever wear a uniform.
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