Story by Sandy Gholston
BIG RAPIDS - Tuesday (March 23), one of Ferris State University's favorite sons and most famous alums returned to campus for the first time in more than a decade.
Butch Jones, a 1990 graduate of Ferris, returned to Big Rapids to speak to students in the College of Business as well as faculty and administrative staff delivering powerful messages of personal responsibility, hard work, being progressive and refusing to settle for anything but the best. Jones, who on Dec. 16, 2009 was named the head football coach at the University of Cincinnati, has come a long way since his days in the late 1980s as an undergraduate at Ferris, as a Bulldog football player and assistant coach.
Returning to campus, for the first time in more than 12 years, tripped a flood of emotions for Jones who also stopped in nearby Mount Pleasant, at Central Michigan University, where he served as head coach prior to taking the job at Cincinnati.
"It feels great to be back and you have so have so many fond memories of this place and the opportunities that it presented for me from an educational standpoint, a personal standpoint and a growth standpoint," said Jones, whose return to Ferris was led largely by the efforts of Stacey Issette, an advancement officer in the College of Business, who knows Jones from their days as undergraduates at FSU. "Ferris established a lot of foundations for me and for my family in general."
The Small Town Kid From Saugatuck Starts From Scratch
Jones, 42, was a two-year football letterwinner at Ferris before a knee injury prematurely ended his playing career. While still working on his undergraduate education, Jones had an opportunity to break in as an intern for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League (1987-89) and enjoyed the kind of experience that is second to none. After graduation, Jones got a position as an as an assistant coach at Rutgers University and two years later he became offensive coordinator at Division III Wilkes University (where the team advanced to the playoffs).
Jones returned to his alma mater in 1995 and became offensive coordinator for three seasons (under current FSU head coach Jeff Pierce) on Bulldog teams that won conference titles and made runs in the NCAA Tournament.
"It was a great opportunity at a relatively young age to be a part of some great championship football teams and some great memories and better than that some relationships that have lasted this long and will continue to last a lifetime," said Jones, a family man who along with his wife, Barbara, has three sons (Alex, Adam and Andrew).
Moving Back Up To The Division I Level
From 1998-2001, Jones held various position coaching positions at Central Michigan before he became offensive coordinator of the Chippewas (2002-04). For two seasons, Jones was wide receivers coach at West Virginia (2005-06) before he finally got his big break as he was named the head football coach at CMU in 2007. He served as head coach at Central until he resigned in 2009 to become head coach at Cincinnati.
Through his rise to the top, however, Jones still reflects fondly on his Ferris. Returning to his alma mater was an opportunity to inspire students and encourage them to create a vision statement for themselves, unleash the passion to be successful and refuse to be held back.
"I am going to talk about a vision and a passion for what you're doing," Jones said. "I wanted them to understand why some achieve some success while some struggle."
The Inspirational Story Of The Will To Succeed
The Butch Jones Story is an inspirational one. He is the first to confess that he did have the best standardized test scores coming out of college. But, he is proud to say he achieved a grade point average of 3.47.
"I have my Ferris State transcript laminated on my desk so when a kid comes in and tells me he hates school and school is not for him and I know he is smart I pull that out and show him anybody can do it," Jones said. "If I got less than an 'A' I was ticked off."
"Everything I've done I have had to work from ground zero and work my way up," added Jones, who always at worked had conversations with former University of Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, current University of Florida coach Urban Meyer and former CMU head coach and athletics director Herb Deromedi. "It doesn't matter where you're at or where you're coming from. If you keep your eyes on what your vision and goals are you can accomplish anything you put your mind to accomplishing."
Jones Proves You Can Always Come Home
But, he was not big timing anyone during his return to Ferris. He returned with fond memories and a lot of smiles as he appreciated a campus that is reinventing itself through the modernization of classroom and new facilities.
"This place has meant so much to me and I am proud to say that I am a Ferris grad and I am an alumnus of Ferris State," Jones said. "Being back on campus I see growth, I see a vision, I see a premise of always continuing to improve. It makes me proud as an alumnus to see the growth the University is making."