Phil Jones built his football program on relationships.
That evidence can be seen on Shorter University’s biography page for Jones, as the very first sentence reads: “Ever since the day he first stepped foot on the campus at Shorter University, Phil Jones has made relationships as the cornerstone of the Hawks’ football program he was tasked to begin.”
For those who knew the man personally, those relationships would form bonds that last a lifetime, as the man who now leads the program Jones began 15 years ago attests to.
Current Shorter football head coach Zach Morrison reflected back on the man who gave him his chance to play football at the collegiate level.
After being a football student-athlete in high school, Morrison attended community college his freshman year. Morrison’s father noticed Jones was starting a football team at Shorter and his father encouraged him to go to a place where he could reach his full potential.
“I literally got up the next day and drove to Rome, Georgia, from Forsyth County, and I did not set up a tour,” Morrison said. “I just pulled on campus and knocked on a bunch of doors until I found him. My first interaction with him was me just introducing myself with a DVD in my hand asking for an opportunity to play football in college.”
Jones would watch Morrison’s tape, and about two weeks later, Jones called Morrison to tell him he’d love for him to walk on. Morrison would end up earning a starting job and starting 45 straight games.
Morrison would become just one of a plethora of student-athletes Jones had an impact on during his 47-year career.
Coaching at five different Georgia high schools and serving as an assistant at the University of Georgia, Southern Methodist and Gardner-Webb, Jones arrived in Rome to face the arduous task of building the foundation for a new program.
He would compile a record of 54-65 with the Hawks over 11 seasons, guiding them to a nine-win season in 2008 while earning at least six wins in six separate seasons.
The name Phil Jones is well-known and respected throughout football coaching circles in the southeastern United States.
“You go on Twitter and you see what everyone’s posting about him is just relationships, relationships, relationships,” Morrison said. “Having a coach who had such high standards and morals and knowing him my whole life and never hearing foul language come from him, he was the standard that a lot of coaches on staff and now a lot of coaches today all over the southeast that played for him or coached with him now stand by.”
Morrison said Jones is the reason he got into coaching and teaching.
“I was probably on track to be a business major and do what my dad did,” Morrison said. “So many of us that played for Coach Jones got into coaching because of the impact he made on us.”
Morrison said he shares with recruits how team bonds forge friendships that last beyond the game of football and their time in college.
“I’ve been in 14 weddings of guys I played college football with. I’ve been a best man (and) I’m a godfather to a set of kids because of relationships,” Morrison said. “Heck, I’m here today sitting in this chair in my office right now because of relationships. I want to make that impact because I know I am the man I am today because of his presence in my life and his wisdom.”
When Morrison became head coach in January 2018, Morrison said he sat down with every returning player from 2017 and asked them who their favorite player on the other side of the ball was. The results were not what Morrison had hoped for, but they could be improved.
“Barely any of them could give me names; there was a lack of relationships,” Morrison said. “Team meeting No. 1, we talked about the importance of relationships to the point now where the team is tired of me talking about it. Wins and losses, those things, they’re great and they’re nice to have, but it’s the impact coaches and players make on each other’s lives because it’s not a four-year deal, it’s a 40-year deal.”
Morrison said former lettermen have expressed their desire to do something to honor Jones, but what form that will look like is yet to be determined.
“The outreach to (Jones’ wife) Janie and (his daughter) Connie ... has been outstanding,” Morrison said. “It’s not just Shorter University. It’s the people at Winder-Barrow, it’s the people at Gardner-Webb, UGA, SMU and the coaches around the country, the coaches in the Gulf South (Conference) hitting me up that were here when we entered the Gulf South Conference saying ‘Gosh, what an amazing man.’ I think it just shows his impact. It just shows he was a coach, but man, he was such an amazing leader and example for a lot of people.”
Morrison said Jones was a coach who told his players he loved them.
“I never had a coach tell me he loved me in high school,” Morrison said. “And really just meaning it.”
Upon his retirement, Jones himself would make clear how much he cared for all of his student-athletes.
“I fell in love with Shorter and with these kids,” Jones said in 2015. “I have so much love for these kids who have worked so very hard in all circumstances.”