In 2019, Donnie Jones was content. He had finished his first season as an assistant for Dayton men’s basketball, working for his long-time friend and former colleague Anthony Grant. It had been three years since his last head coaching job – six seasons at UCF – and while he planned to get back to that spot at some point, he wasn’t in a run to do so.
He knew what the Flyers had coming back, enjoyed working for Grant and was done with aimlessly moving after working his fourth different job in four years. Only if something really outstanding came along would he jump.
“There were a lot of jobs I didn’t want. There were a lot of jobs I never tried to get,” Donnie Jones said. “I was happy staying (at Dayton), knew we had a great program that was Final Four-good the next year, as you can see what they’ve done, and I wasn’t in no hurry. I was tired of moving, and if I was going to move, it was going to be something I really felt I fit.”
When Stetson opened up, Jones believed it was right.
The Stetson head coaching job was the only one he pursued in 2019, and ultimately, it’s the one he landed. Last year, Jones inherited a program coming off a 7-24 season that had only won double-digit games four times since 2009-10.
“I was looking to go to a place where it hadn’t been done, and it hasn’t been done at Stetson,” Jones explained. “We have never won anything. We have never been to an NCAA Tournament; we’ve never won a conference championship. We’ve had 19-straight losing seasons. So, where can be a place where you can go and revive it and reenergize it? It lined up, and we felt it was right.
“It worked out. If it hadn’t, I would still be at Dayton.”
For a few months after Jones left UCF, he waited to re-enter basketball. It wasn’t until September that he accepted a scouting job with the Los Angeles Clippers for the 2016-17 season, opting for a more low-profile position to come back into the sport. He said he used that year, and the time between UCF and the Clippers, especially, to self-reflect and work internally to prepare himself for what was to come.
“I have a growth mindset,” he said. “Every day, I’m looking to try to get better and learn. That’s always been a quality I’ve had. So, I look the moment when I left UCF and did a lot of leadership stuff, a lot of self-reflecting, a lot of self-growing. I had momentum, more time, and focused on me for the first time in a long time. I knew I’d coach again. I had a lot of coaching opportunities in Division I to come in and be a top assistant in places, but I chose to wait.
“I was a part of the John Maxwell Team when I was out that year,” he added. “Did a lot of speaking in corporate America, corporate CEOs and companies.”
He postponed his return to college until the 2017-18 campaign when Gregg Marshall added him to his staff at Wichita State for the program’s first in the AAC. Not only did it give Jones another taste of coaching in the NCAA Tournament, it also gave him an alternate version of success.
“I learned a lot at Wichita State,” Jones said. “Gregg Marshall is a terrific coach, and his program sees some things in a different way. I’d just been with Billy Donovan as an assistant, so it was nice to see another coaching philosophy that had been successful at a high level.”
But when Grant came calling and Jones could coach with one of his best friends and move an easy drive away from his house in West Virginia, his home state, he jumped at it.
It took something that really grabbed his attention to pull him away from Dayton, and Stetson was that. It was what he has been growing and working toward for years, not knowing exactly what or when it would happen, but feeling confident it would come.
It is the coach’s third job in the state of Florida, with his nine years as an assistant at Florida as his first, and something about the Sunshine State keeps calling Donnie Jones back within its borders. What is it?
“I never really thought about it that way,” Jones said. “I love the quality of life here. I love the things the state brings, but obviously I’ve enjoyed the schools and programs I’ve been a part of. It’s just been the right fit. We feel good about waking up every day, and you enjoy being. A lot of people come here and live for a reason: to retire, right? It’s a good place to live and (raise) your family.”