The first day on the job didn't go as planned. Bob Jones was scheduled to start as Sherman's athletic director as the school district came back from spring break on March 16, a time with spring sports in full swing.
Baseball and softball were into district play. Powerlifting had two girls about to compete in the state meet. Golf, tennis and track were in the middle of their seasons as well.
But just days before his arrival, the world was in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Sherman ISD initially decided to remain closed for an extra week and then pushed that deadline back through the end of March while the University Interscholastic League had suspended competition through March 29. Four days into his regime, the UIL suspended all activities and said the earliest games could take place was May 4.
He still began on that Monday, participating in the ISD's curbside food service program and other district-wide needs in addition to his regular duties, which are nothing but regular these days.
“The first thing I have is 'We have no sports for awhile.' There's no real playbook for these things. Educators are great at adjusting,” said Jones, who had been through a 21-day shutdown in Aldine because of a hurricane. “I want our parents to know we're thinking about them. They don't have a playbook for this.”
Jones was hired for the position in late February, rising from a candidate pool of around 50 applications which was narrowed to two finalists in the month-long search after Sherman announced it was seeking an athletic director-only candidate.
As part of the hiring process, feedback was accepted from parents, students, athletes and members of the community as to what they wanted to see from the position.
“It always comes down to the people,” Jones said. “This is a place that has that family atmosphere and leadership.”
While it hasn't been business as usual for an incoming athletic director, Jones was able to take those necessary first steps to gain a handle on things.
“I've met with every coach in person and we've talked,” Jones said. “We know we're coming back. We just don't know when. If we get to come back April 6th or August the 1st, we're coming back,” Jones said. “Plan A doesn't always work, so we go to the next plan. We hope we can get back before the end of the school year.”
Sherman has not had someone hold the athletic director title for four years. But with the scheduled opening of the new high school during the upcoming academic year as part of a $176 million bond package passed in 2017 and the increased growth which will turn the current high school building into a second middle school campus and join Piner Middle School at that educational level in the city, the administration decided it was time for someone to oversee the entire ISD's athletic program.
Before Jones' arrival, Sherman has technically been without a full-time athletic director since the fall of 2013. In the past six-plus years there was an interim AD, Tommy Hudspeth from 2014-16, and then current head football coach J.D. Martinez has been the district's athletic coordinator — a position which reports to Dr. Tamy Smalskas, who is the Assistant Superintendent for Student Engagement and Support. In the high school, Martinez oversees boys athletics and girls basketball coach David Upton is the girls athletics coordinator.
Jones and Martinez had a prior relationship and Jones reached out when applying for the job.
“He couldn't say enough good things about it,” Jones said.
The last Sherman AD to serve in the role and not be a coach came during the 1980s when Jimmye Phillips held the title before the hiring of John Outlaw in 1988 combined the athletic director and head football coach positions and stayed that way until 2013, covering Outlaw, Ronnie Tipps, Drew Young and then Garry Kinne, until he committed University Interscholastic League violations and was stripped of the AD title by then Superintendent Dr. Al Hambrick in November of that year. When Kinne resigned in January of 2014, the hiring process for a new football coach kept the positions split.
And while it has been vacant for the past four years, Jones is ready to assume the mantle for such an important position.
“My biggest vision is all our coaches are great teachers,” Jones said. “It's not just about wins and losses. It was about mentoring kids and coaches. Sometimes it's not about the win on the scoreboard but wins down the line. It's life skills we want.”
Jones, who has 27 years of experience across the middle school and high school level, has been the business development manager for Austin-based Hellas Construction, which focuses on building athletic fields, since early 2018.
He took that role after spending two-and-a half years in an athletic-director only position for Bastrop ISD, which is located southeast of Austin. During his tenure there Jones helped along the addition of a second Class 5A high school to the district's athletic endeavors.
“I was still getting to go out and meet with coaches and superintendents. What I wasn't getting to do is be around kids,” Jones said. “I was missing it. I was missing the competition. I was missing the interaction with coaches.”
The last time Jones was in a single school district setup was during his time at Shepherd, a Class 3A program, in 2011.
“It sure is a lot nicer when you get to be a Bearcat,” Jones said. “In Bastrop, I couldn't be a Bear. I couldn't be an Eagle. I had to be both.”
Jones' coaching career started in the 1980s, first at the University of Nebraska at Kearney before going to North Dakota State, including an NCAA Division II national title in 1985. His high school coach was Barry Alvarez, who made the College Hall of Fame for his career at Wisconsin.
In the high school ranks, Jones was the defensive coordinator at Pleasanton and Rosenberg Terry before moving to powerhouse Converse Judson. He was on the staff under the legendary D.W. Rutledge that won the Class 5A Division I state championship in 1995 and was the runner-up the following season.
Jones became a head coach at Fort Worth Dunbar in 1997 and was there for seven years, making the playoffs five times and winning four district titles. He then went to Aldine for five years, making it to the postseason twice before finishing his 15-year run as a head coach with three seasons at Shepherd and with a 75-78 overall record.