“I may have made my point,” he said Friday, “but I won’t do that again. It hurt too much.”
A lot of coaches believe that the best way to deal with a poor performance is to pretend it never happened. Burn the tape. Put it behind you. Jones isn’t like that.
“It’s funny when I watch the Redskins after a loss they all say the same thing: ‘We’re going to put this behind us and move on.’ Well no, I don’t feel that way. Yes, we absolutely have to move on. But I don’t want anyone to forget. I want them to remember how it felt and to be aware of what they have to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again. You can’t learn from mistakes if you pretend they never happened.”
At Virginia, Jones went to five NCAA tournaments in eight years and reached the Elite Eight in 1995. But he’s found a sense of peace and comfort at AU that wasn’t there when he coached under the white-hot spotlight of the ACC.
He has often said that no moment in his career meant more than the afternoon five years ago when he and his players cut down the nets at Bender Arena after beating Colgate to win the Patriot League title to put AU in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. He wept for joy that afternoon and it is a memory he quietly cherishes.
AU did bounce back after the Holy Cross debacle, beating Navy easily on Wednesday. But in keeping with the frustrating nature of this season, they followed it up with a disappointing 13-point loss at Army on Saturday. So Jones knows this season isn’t likely to end as 2008 or 2009 did — with NCAA tournament appearances. But he keeps pushing his players, believing if they can keep getting better, winning three conference tournament games in March is never out of the question.
“That’s the carrot,” he said. “I don’t have to say it or pull a [Mike] Shanahan and say the [regular] season’s over. They know. That’s the beauty of college basketball.”
Which is why Jones could walk onto the bus for the ride to West Point on Friday afternoon with spring in his step — that, and the fact that he’s lost 43 pounds since the fall. “Diet and losing,” he said, laughing. “Perfect combination.”
The in-trip entertainment was “Friday Night Lights,” the TV series. Jeff Jones was looking forward to the ride — on the bus and on the court.
For more by John Feinstein, visit www.washingtonpost.com.