Ron Jones’ legacy as a football coach is certainly impressive, but for the members of the Section II coaching fraternity who knew him, it pales in comparison to the kind of person he was.
“He was a terrific human being,” said Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk head coach and New York state football coordinator Gary VanDerzee. “He had the best interest of the game [at heart]. He was a Hoosick Falls man, through and through, but when it came to football, he always did and tried to do what was best for the game of football. He saw the big picture.”
Jones, who won 155 games, eight Section II titles and the 2012 Class C state championship over 23 seasons at his alma mater of Hoosick Falls, died suddenly Monday at 51 when he suffered a heart attack at his home.
His abrupt death sent shockwaves across the Capital Region football community.
“That’s the only word I can think of, is ‘shock,’” Stillwater coach Ian Godfrey said.
“Devastating,” VanDerzee said.
A 1986 Hoosick Falls High School graduate who played under legendary Panthers coach Ken Baker, Jones played football at SUNY Cortland. He became the head football coach at Hoosick Falls in 1996 and coached the team for four seasons before spending the 2000 season as an assistant coach at Siena College. He returned to Hoosick Falls in 2001 and remained at that post ever since.
Overall, Jones’ Panthers teams compiled a 155-76 record. Among the eight area championships were a Section II-record six in a row from 2009-14.
“We may never see that type of dominance and consistency ever again,” Godfrey said.
“He did a great job with the kids,” said Tom Carpenter, the head coach at Fonda-Fultonville from 2006-18. “Hard working guy, dedicated guy. He loved the game. He did a lot for Section II football. He was very important for Section II football overall, and even more than that, he was a great guy. As good of a football coach as he was, he was a better person.”
Carpenter’s relationship with Jones dates back nearly 40 years, when Jones was a middle schooler and Carpenter — then a substitute teacher in the Hoosick Falls district — was Jones’ modified baseball coach.
The two later became friendly rivals on the gridiron, with Hoosick Falls’ path to its six straight Section II championships often going through Carpenter’s Braves teams. Hoosick Falls eliminated Fonda-Fultonville from the Section II postseason in five straight seasons from 2010-14, winning three times in the semifinals and in the 2011 and 2014 Class C Super Bowls.
“It was fun [coaching against his teams,” Carpenter said. “I would’ve liked to win one of them, but it was enjoyable. He had some great players and he did a great job coaching them up.”
Current Fonda-Fultonville coach Sean Thompson was the offensive coordinator for those Braves’ teams and remembered Jones as both a fierce competitor and someone who conducted himself with the utmost class and respect.
Several years back, Thompson said he and Fonda-Fultonville coaching colleagues Alex and Mike Mancini took a trip to a coaching clinic at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, where then-University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly was scheduled to speak about his high-speed, no-huddle offense.
Fonda-Fultonville’s coaches thought that learning the offense would help them gain a leg up in their race to supplant Hoosick Falls.
“We thought we were going to get the inside scoop, we’d be the only Section II guys out here and it would give us an edge against our competition — and our main competition was Hoosick Falls,” Thompson said. “We got out there, checked into our hotel, we went to the clinic and walked in the door, who do you think the first face we see is? It was Ron Jones. I’ll never forget the big smile he had on his face. … Not only was he there, but he beat us out there because he flew and we drove.”
For Godfrey, Jones was as much a mentor as an opponent.
“He was always coming over and offering advice,” Godfrey said, “seeing how things were going.”
The two shared some long-running jokes about Hoosick Falls’ long run of success at Stillwater’s home field, which for years served as the host site for Section II Class C semifinals and championship games.
“We’d always joke around,” Godfrey said, “that [Stillwater] was basically like Hoosick Falls’ second home field. That was always the running joke.”
When Stillwater won its Class C area title last November, Jones was one of the first to reach out to Godfrey.
“Totally unprompted, he wrote me an incredibly heartfelt email,” Godfrey said. “[He was] giving me advice going forward into the state tournament, some things I should say to my kids and things I should avoid saying. I was reading that yesterday with my wife. It’s one of the things I’m going to treasure for the rest of my life.
“For him to do that without me prompting or asking, just out of the goodness of his heart and his happiness for our success, that just speaks volumes about his character.”
VanDerzee met Jones early in the latter’s coaching career, and the two swapped plenty of stories about Jones’ mentor, Baker, over the years.
“He was always looking over his shoulder at his mentor, trying to make him proud,” VanDerzee said. “In doing that, he did his own thing and developed his own way of doing things.”
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.