One of the most successful coaches in Harlan County history stepped down earlier this summer, perhaps ending a coaching career that began on the high school level in 1980 and has connections to most of the great players and teams in the county since that time.
Mike Jones posted a 613-255 record in 28 seasons as a boys basketball coach in a career that included stops at Cawood, Jackson County, Todd Central, Harlan, Clay County and Harlan County.
Jones’ son Michael, a former all-state guard at Harlan and an assistant at HCHS the past six years, took over as head coach of the program this summer and led the Bears to a 19-12 mark as they try to bounce back from last year’s 14-15 season, only the second losing season in Jones’ career. Harlan County had lost five seniors from a regional runner-up team in 2013 but had only one senior last season and started two freshmen.
“I just thought it was a good time. I have given over 50 years of my life, either playing or coaching, to the game I love,” Jones said. “I have always done my best and expected others around me to do the same.”
Jones is excited about his son taking over the program and is confident he will do well.
“I have never valued anyone’s opinion in coaching any more than his,” Jones said. “Michael is very knowledgeable about the game. He is well liked by the players and parents and relates well with the public. He will be fair, but firm. I think he deserves this opportunity. He has valuable experience as a player and coach, being involved in district, regional and state championship games.”
Jones, a 1970 Clay County graduate, began his high school coaching career in the 1980-81 season as an assistant under Kirk Chiles at Cawood High School. The Trojans were regional runner-ups in both 1981 and 1983 before Chiles left for Somerset and Jones took over as head coach. In addition to being an assistant with the boys team, Jones was the girls head coach for two years, winning 49 games and two 52nd District titles, including a regional runner-up season in 1983.
Cawood opened the 1983-84 season with a 67-65 win at home over Harlan on Dec. 3, 1983. Ironically, Harlan was also being led by a new coach who had numerous battles with Jones through the years. Billy Hicks, who went on to coach at Corbin and then Scott County, started his career at Evarts, his alma mater, before going on to a three-year stint at Harlan.
After winning 85 games in four years at Cawood, including a regional runner-up finish in 1986 with all-stater Nick Sanford, Jones left for Jackson County and stayed four years. After one season at Todd Central, Jones returned to Harlan County in the fall of 1991 to begin an amazing eight-year run as the Harlan coach.
The Green Dragons won 205 games in eight years under Jones, winning 13th Region titles in 1993, 1995 and 1996 and Kentucky All “A” Classic state titles in 1994 and 1995. Jones coached several more all-staters at Harlan, including 1995 Mr. Basketball Charles Thomas, along with Michael Jones, Todd Cox and Casey Lester.
After a six-year stint at Clay County, which included his fourth regional championship in 2001, Jones retired from coaching for three years and returned to Harlan County as an administrator at Cawood High School.
Jones was named the first coach at Harlan County High School in the summer of 2008. After posting the first losing record of his career in 2009, Jones led the Bears through a gradual rise through the ranks of the 13th Region. The Bears won 19 games in 2010, then 20 in 2011 and 27 in 2012. Harlan County won its second district title in a 25-8 campaign in 2013 and advanced to the 13th Region Tournament finals before falling to Clay County.
“Even though we were not able to accomplish as much as I would have liked (at HCHS), our teams played hard, conducted themselves well and, hopefully, learned more than just basketball. The hardest thing for me as a coach was to tell a kid he would not be able to make the team. I want all the players to know they were special.”
Jones plans to watch the Black Bears from the bleachers next season, but he didn’t completely rule out a return to coaching at some point.
“Who knows, if the right situation were to come available,” he said.
He also feels he’s leaving the HCHS program in good shape.
“I think they have a good mixture of seniors and younger players coming back with a really good freshman class,” Jones said. “They just need to stay together and work to improve.”