JONESBORO, Ga. — What does working on the warehouse dock at Home Depot and being the head baseball coach at Mount Zion-Jonesboro have in common?
Both jobs are among the hardest things coach Kevin “Bull” Jones have ever worked.
If you know anything about Jones, it probably has something to do with football. Jones sandwiched a three-year stint building one of the state’s stingiest football defenses while defensive coordinator at Lovejoy between one-year head coaching stops at Riverdale and Dutchtown before taking the head football position at Mount Zion.
But what you may not have known about Jones is that he has some legitimate baseball chops. He played at Redan High School and has coached before. But his first opportunity to lead a high school baseball program is something that he says is putting “gray hairs” on his head. Yet he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
Our editor Gabriel Stovall recently had an opportunity to put Jones on the hot seat in regard to Mount Zion baseball, coaching his son Austin — who’s hitting .600 on the season, by the way — and the state of Clayton County baseball in general.
STOVALL: I see your son Austin is out here as a freshman. How is it coaching your son in baseball?
JONES: “I can compare it to trying to navigate a maze. It’s definitely a maze. It’s like trying to stay on a tight rope. Especially going through it in football, but now in baseball, learning when to be Dad and when to be Coach. And a lot of times I defer to my assistant coaches to do the coach stuff, because I’m still trying to learn how to work on this. Easier in football because I had position coaches that he had to work on, but now not as many coaches. Very interesting rides home and to school. He’s more silent in the morning, but he’s more verbal in the afternoon. Doesn’t hurt that he’s had success hitting wise, but still room for improvement.”
STOVALL: What is your overall impression of your first Mount Zion baseball team?
JONES: “We’re 0-6. We’re very young. The baseball IQ is not yet where it needs to be. Ninety-nine percent of this team is either first year players or people that have never played travel ball. So it’s pretty hard to — even when we’re having success, the growing pains are extended further. I use the adage of wrestling. You could be a good wrestler but if you wrestle someone who’s got more mat time than you, and he’s been wrestling since the age of six, there’s going to be some things he’s going to be able to get out of that when it gets tight. And those are the situations we’ve been in. Locust Groves, Spaldings, Jonesboro and with the exception of one of those games we could’ve had the chance to do some damage. Just the composure element hasn’t been good for us. Handling sudden changes of the game has been the biggest deal. It’s all mental. The whole mental part of the game yet isn’t there for us.”
STOVALL: How did you even come about to taking this job as a complete rebuilding project?
JONES: “The former coach did not return to the school system, and there was a void, and I was asked if I could help. My emphasis was to help generate a positive influence here. A mindset with the largest program in the school, which is football, basketball they’re going into the right direction won 24 games. Track speaks for itself, so I wanted this to be the last sport to echo that. Haven’t coached in a long time, but I wanted to take it on, and I knew it would come with a price.”
STOVALL: What would you say that price has been?
JONES: “This is by far the most work that I’ve ever done with any sport I’ve coached. This is harder than football because eat least football had a lot of fast kids. But this sport is not about how athletic you are. It helps, but It’s about your IQ. Your baseball IQ is everything. I thought working at Home Depot was tough. Working on that dock back in the day. Oh my goodness that was tough. I lost a lot of weight. That was tough. But this is by far the toughest thing I’ve done in coaching. Had I not gone through this (rebuilding process) in football, I wouldn’t be able to handle this.”
STOVALL: Have you seen many marks or signs of improvement so far?
JONES: “The mental part of the game is starting to click, so I know that we’re getting better. Even the umpires are saying to us now, ‘Coach, your guys are just a few plays away from having a lot of success.’ So we’re getting there.”
STOVALL: What does the future look like for Mount Zion baseball from your perspective?
JONES: “Out of 30 players in the whole program we’ve got only three returners. That’s it. But I can tell you right now, our JV and our freshman players are going to be very good. In a couple of years I feel good about them. IQ wise concerning baseball, they’re far ahead of even our returning kids. Our kids need to get into some summer ball, and if they’re not playing another sport, some fall ball. And my thing is just being able to keep them together. What (former coach) Kelcy (White) was able to do here was completely awesome, considering what had happened in the past. He’s creating a monster down there in Henry County (Dutchtown), and he’s got AAU teams and all of that around him. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that place here, but I think if we can get guys playing more and keep them together, we can build and even surpass some previous success.”
STOVALL: Why do you think it is that Clayton County can’t get to that level of baseball? Why is it so hard to get to that kind of baseball up this way?
JONES: “So much through sports can help the communities around here, but it takes everybody to be on board. Here’s the magnificent thing about a place like Gwinnett County: When they have a new school, that school, as far as facility wise, gets a loan from the bank. I’m not going to say how much it is. I do know how much it is. But that loan is to be paid back by the boosters. And they have the best facilities, the best fields, some of the best coaching and as a result, the most community support.
What we have here in Clayton is the fact that everyone has picked from our tree and they go to the surrounding counties. And if we got more support then maybe those kids wouldn’t be so apt to leave and they would stay here and show success like a Jonesboro in basketball. Like a Mount Zion in track. There are thousands of very good athletes that drive by this school every day on there way going further south, or west, and they don’t stop stop here, even though some of them come from here. It’s hard to compete if the community and the businesses and the administration and the coaches and the parents all are not on that one page. I, for one, think I’m in a great situation. I’ve got great support. I’ve got businesses that are starting to come around. I know that if our kids stay here and believe in what’s going on, we’ll be alright.
There were some tough years, and fragmented years at Clayton County schools at various times. That’s the best way to put it. But it seems to be coming back around. I want to make this to where people can say, ‘Hey, let’s stay home at Mount Zion, in Clayton County. We don’t have to go to other schools or other counties to be great. We can be great right here.'”
STOVALL: Is this baseball coaching thing something that you can see yourself sticking in and seeing through for a while?
JONES: “I probably need my wife to answer that question, man. She’s the real Bull Jones. I’m Coach Jones, but she’s Bull Jones. It’s with her blessing that I’m out here, but I will admit that I believe in Clayton County. I came back to Clayton County. I went out of Clayton County thinking the grass was greener in other places. And there are some great situations in other places. But for me, I’m back home. I’m not looking for anywhere else to go. I want to be able to retire in Clayton County as a dedicated teacher coach who’s brought light to this county that’s positive so when you do see Clayton County on the news it’s not always about something negative happening but something positive happening. So I’m all in. I’m not going anywhere. I can see myself doing this until my younger assistant coaches get some more years under their belts and turn it over to them.”