When news broke on Friday, February 23, that Brent Barnes was leaving Norman North to take over the head coaching position at Scottsdale Chapparral High School in Arizona, it left folks in the Sooner state wondering who would next lead one of the most prominent west-side schools in recent memory. That was officially answered earlier this week when Justin Jones was named Norman North’s new head football coach at Monday night’s Norman Public Schools Board of Education meeting.
It brought to a close a terrific seven-year stint with Bishop McGuinness that saw Jones and the Irish go 68-22, advance to each of the past two Class 5A state championship games and a pair of 5A semifinal appearances in 2012 and 2015. While it’s a new professional opportunity and challenge for Jones, ultimately, one of the driving factors in his decision to take over at North were the overwhelming similarities.
“There’s a lot of parallels between the McGuinness job and the Norman North job, both when I first started at McGuinness but also as I’m leaving. Norman North is one of the only west-side schools to be in the state finals in recent history in 6A,” Jones said. “McGuinness is the same thing. Both programs need to take that final step. Leaving McGuinness kind of at the top of the mountain but with one step left and taking over a program with one step left, that gets me excited. Again, just looking at the commonalities, it was just the right place at the right time.”
Jones was citing the Timberwolves advancing to a pair of state championship games in the state’s largest class both in 2012 and 2016. The recent run of success at North was clearly a huge factor in the Westmoore graduate’s decision, but there’s more to it than that.
“It was going to take a special place for me to leave and go to. Norman North was one of those that I had always watched from afar. I love the type of kids that they have, I love where the program has gone in the last five to seven, eight years,” Jones said.
“It was just a great fit for me personally, professionally and also for my family. It just checked all those boxes off, and I think it’s got a great administration and obviously a great community. That was kind of the way it went. I relied on my faith and we jumped at it and so happy to be here.”
One of the first orders of business for Jones is to round out his coaching staff. Assistant head coach/offensive line coach Lance Tignor recently accepted the offensive coordinator position at Edmond Santa Fe. With spring ball approaching quickly, putting those pieces in place is key.
“It’s been some long days the past 48 hours, but we’re taking it one step at a time. Any time there’s transition, there’s some anxiousness from the parents and obviously from the players and even the coaches that are on staff,” Jones said. “We’ve already started the process of meeting with the current staff, seeing guys that are going to stay and guys that may have other professional opportunities that they’re going to take and kind of looking at what’s left of the pieces and then trying to fill in what guys we need to bring in to create a quality staff.”
Jones explained what qualities he is looking for in potential coaching candidates to add to his new staff at North.
“The first thing I want is great men of character and integrity, guys that are going to be very intentional about being relational with our kids. That’s the number one thing for me. The second thing I look for are guys that are going to be great teachers and that can teach the game. From there, then we’re going to look at the X’s and O’s and the football aspect of it,” Jones said. “We want guys that number one are going to love our kids up and are going to do everything they can and leave no stone unturned as far as developing our players to not only be great football players but to be great human beings and great student athletes and grow into men.”
Jones said the aforementioned development of players is he and his staff’s “largest job.”
“I tell people all the time, ‘If we were just interested in the wins and losses, we’d be very, very shallow as coaches.’ That’s not us. Our program is very intentional about how we’re going to build things. I want coaches that are going to be on board with that and are going to put that priority first,” Jones said. “Then, we’ll look for the X and O guys. I say all the time, too, ‘Sometimes football is a game that’s complicated by coaches.’ We want to find the right X and O’s that are going to fit our team. We’ll do that through evaluations of our players and getting the right staff together and make this thing our own.”
He stressed that he will not get sped up during the coaching search process, though.
“We’ve got a million things to do, but I’m not going to get in a hurry and we’re not going to do it the wrong way. We’re going to take our due diligence, due it the right way. We’re going to do it methodically and we’re going to make sure it’s right when we make decisions,” Jones said.
After that process is complete and spring football and fall camp are behind us, what then will North look like under Jones’ leadership?
“Number one, you’re going to see a well-prepared team. I’m going to say it over and over and over that we’re going to stick to our preparations. I pride myself and our coaching staff is going to pride themselves on preparing our men to go play every week,” Jones said. “So, what you’re going to see is a team that’s extremely disciplined on the football field, a team that knows what they’re doing, a team that plays fast, but also understands how to play football against an opponent.”
“That’s been my message since I’ve taken over there just the last 48 hours. We’re going to be first-class in all that we do, we’re going to have integrity and we’re going to be really, really disciplined. I told our kids, ‘Our mission statement is that we want to be the hardest working, best conditioned and most disciplined team in the state of Oklahoma.’ That’s what people are going to see as far as the product on the field.”
— If you want to listen to Josh Helmer’s full interview with Coach Jones, you can do so here.