Whether it was winning a pair of NCAA titles while at UCLA or successfully coaching four major-college programs, Tom Jones lived and breathed track & field. Jones passed away in March 2007 at age 63 following a lengthy battle with cancer. Over three decades, he served as the head track & field coach at North Carolina State (1978-84), UTEP (1984-88), Arizona State (1988-92), and Florida (1992-2007). At his four head-coaching stops, his athletes earned 335 All-America honors and won 12 conference team championships, and Jones was a 12-time District/Region Coach of the Year, nine-time conference coach of the year, and three-time National Coach of the Year.
Jones was born in Van Nuys, California. He attended Madera High School and Reedley College before transferring to UCLA. At the 1966 NCAA Outdoor Championships, Jones won the 220-yard dash and ran a leg on the Bruins’ first-place sprint relay as UCLA won the men’s team title under Hall of Fame coach Jim Bush. He also was a member of the U.S. National team in 1966. Jones received a bachelor’s degree in physical education from UCLA in 1969.
Jones started his collegiate coaching career at the University of Washington (1970-71) after serving as a graduate assistant with UCLA’s track & field program from 1969-70. He received a master’s degree in physical education from the University of Washington in 1971. Jones then coached and taught at the high school level at four schools in the southeast from 1971-76. He returned to the college ranks as an assistant coach at the University of Alabama from 1976-78 under fellow Hall of Famer John Mitchell.
Jones earned his first head coaching position as men’s and women’s coach at North Carolina State from 1978-84. During that time, the Wolfpack claimed the 1979 and 1980 AIAW national cross country titles and finished second in the AIAW women’s track & field championships in 1980.
As head men’s and women’s coach at Jones at the University of Texas-El Paso from 1984-88, UTEP track & field athletes earned All-America honors 18 times and claimed three NCAA titles.
Jones led the Arizona State men’s and women’s track & field program from 1988-92. During that time, the Sun Devils won 10 women’s individual national titles and one men’s title. His 1991 ASU 4x400m team set an American record at the NCAA Championships.
From 1992-2007, Jones led the Florida women’s track & field team to the most successful period in its history. Florida won eight SEC championships under Jones’s leadership and the inaugural outdoor East Region team title. His athletes were equally successful in the classroom as Florida was honored in 2003 as the USTFCCCA All Academic Team of the Year. In the first two NCAA Graduation Success Rate reports, the Florida women’s track & field team achieved perfect scores.
Perhaps the most successful of his athletes was Maicel Malone, the Arizona State standout who won a gold medal in the 4 x 400 relay at the 1996 Olympics. He also coached such outstanding athletes as Olympic Gold Medalist Joan Benoit (NC State) and Olympians Lynda Tolbert (Arizona State) and Hazel Clark (Florida).
Internationally, Jones was a member of USA Track & Field’s Executive committee and its Board of Directors starting in 1988. He was the head men’s coach for the U.S. Team in the 1988 meet against Great Britain and head coach for the U.S. Olympic Festival South Team in 1985 and 1987. Also a developer of young talent in the sport, he served as the head coach for the 1983 U.S. Junior team.
In 1994, USA Track & Field honored Jones with a Master Coach certification for his contributions to USA Track & Field and his many years of work and coaching. Jones was very active in the USATF Olympic Development Program, an organization for which he was the sprint chairman for eight years. For his many achievements, Jones is honored in the Florida Track & Field Hall of Fame and the Helms Athletic Hall of Fame.