Interview: Rick Jones thrilled to be going into Greater New Orleans Hall of Fame
Rick Jones, the former baseball coach at Tulane who took the program to its greatest heights, will be inducted into the Allstate Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame later this year.
In 21 seasons (1994-2014) at Tulane, Jones led the Green Wave to a pair of College World Series appearances, the first in the history of the Tulane baseball program. Jones took Tulane to 12 NCAA Tournaments and won 818 games.
Jones was named National Coach of the Year by Baseball America in 2005. He won Conference USA Coach of the Year three times and was the league’s Coach of the Decade in 2005.
The latest induction will make it the seventh Hall of Fame inductions for Jones overall.
Appearing on All Access Friday night on 106.1 FM NASH ICON, Jones talked about what the latest honor means to him.
“It means a lot, going in with Perry Clark and going in with Tim Floyd,” Jones said. “Perry and I both came from Georgia Tech and Lisa Stockton afterwards. I worked 18 years at every level to get my dream job and Tulane became that. We just loved living in the city of New Orleans. Being in New Orleans and being a part of the Tulane community and the Greater New Orleans community was special. We miss that. Being a part of this means so much. I’m gratified and humbled by it.”
Perhaps the most significant win in Tulane history was on June 3, 2001 at Zephyr Field when the Green Wave whipped powerful LSU 7-1, the defending national champion, in the third game of a best-of-three series to clinch its first College World Series spot in program history.
The three games drew 35,268 fans, setting a Super Regional record that stood for 14 years. The deciding game was the final game in the illustrious career of Skip Bertman, who guided LSU to five national championships between 1991 and 2000.
Jones recalls it like yesterday and cited two other great moments.
“There’s no question that if I had to re-live any day in my life in my coaching career, it would be June 3, 2001 because that was the day that we won the Super Regional at Zephyr Field in front of those unbelievable crowds against LSU and Skip Bertman. It was so rabid when we got off the bus. There were a lot of fans watching it on television. That day was really special to me and obviously 2005, being ranked number one for most of the year and being the No. 1 seed in Omaha and winning the regional at Turchin Stadium against Rice.
“In my first year at Tulane, I inherited a group of guys that were just so hungry and Coach Joe Brockhoff had done a great job with that program. That’s why I was so interested in trying to get that job because I knew it had a chance to be really special. That first year, to win 41 games and get to an NCAA tournament with that team, I don’t know that I’ve ever had more fun in coaching.”
While Brockhoff was greatly admired by Jones, another former Tulane head coach was instrumental in Jones getting the job and was a huge help to him throughout his tenure.
“When I came in to interview for the job, the great Kevin White was the athletic director,” Jones said. “The one person I did not meet was Milt Retif because he was at the Major League All-Star game. He always had better seats than anybody there. Ian McCaw, who was assistant athletic director and my sports supervisor, said I needed to meet Coach Retif. I flew from the West Coast to New Orleans. He picked me up at the airport, took me to Ruth’s Chris for lunch and we just had a great lunch.”
That was just the beginning of the relationship between the two.
“Next thing you know, I’m over at his house playing with his grandkids,” Jones said. “He helped me in so many ways. Coach Retif threw a luncheon for us at Commander’s Palace and at that luncheon, that day, we raised $31,000 and we were able to recruit nationally. It was hard recruiting against LSU in-state then. We signed 19 guys, our first-ever ranked recruiting class. Every year, we had a fundraiser honoring his late son, Mickey Retif. There were so many things Coach Retif did.”
As he watches college baseball today, Jones sees one major issue that he feels must be addressed.
“The NCAA, honestly and truthfully, has penalized the elite college baseball player because the sport they happen to excel in is baseball,” Jones said. “Only 11.7 scholarships, half that money allotted goes into a guy that plays one guy out of five, your pitching staff. It’s just not fair. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we go back and play closer to the summer and can increase scholarships. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there’s going to be some positive changes in the near future.”
The College World Series is not quite what it used to be when Tulane reached Omaha twice in the eyes of Jones.
“It’s a different ballpark, obviously,” Jones said. “The fact that they lowered the seams on the ball, pitchers could get away with being up in the strike zone and hitters could hit as hard as they could and it wasn’t going out of the ballpark. It’s a little different, more of a fair game now. I know the new ballpark is nice downtown but I really miss the old Rosenblatt Stadium. When we drove up that hill for our first practice at Rosenblatt, the bus was quiet and one of our players in back said, ‘there it is,’ and the neck stood up on the back of my neck because we were finally in Omaha.”
Tulane benefited from beating LSU in more ways than one.
“When we got there in 2001, we pulled in and we had the best hotel downtown,” Jones said. “It was our first trip. How did we get the best hotel? They weren’t expecting us. They had already made the assignments beforehand and LSU was going to be there.”
Jones is not a big fan of the two-week format now in existence for the College World Series.
“It has been stretched out but also I really liked the Super Regional when you were matching up just like you did on the weekend. Everything you did through the course of the year, that’s what you did in the Super Regional. Let pitch one against one on Friday, two against two and three against three.
“In regional play, when you have four teams, that’s not the case. I would like to see regionals and super regionals and to shorten the format in Omaha a little bit. Also, I would really like for us to be able to play deeper into the summer, giving the northern schools a chance to turn a profit or at least break even and to make our sport more of a national sport.”
With a local effort mounted to return a minor league team to the New Orleans area, Jones is a big supporter of the effort.
“There’s no question that I would love to see it back,” Jones said. “The first year the Zephyrs played at Zephyr Field, I’m out there watching one of my former players and there was a huge crowd with families and their kids. It was a great atmosphere. I went to Rob Couhig (owner) and we moved the LSU game to Zephyr Field. We did it on a handshake. Having professional baseball is great for the community, good for college baseball and good for the game.
Local ownership and upgrading the stadium are huge. Local ownership is the key to this. If we have minor league baseball and it is successful as it once was, it helps everybody in the community. There’s not one recruit that I did not take to Zephyr Field and told them they would play some games there. It was a big plus for us. It really helped us in recruiting.”
Jones, who now lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, will never forget Tulane or New Orleans.
“Those were the best days in my life,” Jones said. “Tulane is so special to my wife (Gina) and I and New Orleans will always be wonderful. I am so thankful to be remembered.”
- < PREV Local group seeking return of minor league baseball to New Orleans
- NEXT > Former University of New Orleans star Ardith Wearren passes away
Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…