On a mundane Monday evening two weeks ago, Mike Jones was doing paperwork in his office at DeMatha High School when Morgan Wootten knocked on his door.

Jones, one of Wootten's assistant basketball coaches, recalled the legendary coach asking, "Are we alone? I've got something important to tell you."

Jones thought he had heard footsteps in the hallway, so the two walked across campus to Wootten's more secluded office. There, Wootten let Jones in on the news.

"That's when Morgan told me," Jones said. "He just had a meeting with [DeMatha Principal] Dan McMahon and he was retiring."

Wootten needed to say no more -- Jones instantly knew the most coveted high school coaching position in the country was his, at least for a season. McMahon had already tapped Jones to succeed Wootten when the time came.

Two days later, on Nov. 6, Jones officially was named interim coach at Wootten's retirement news conference. Last Friday, the former DeMatha standout presided over his first practice as head coach.

"I always knew that after I was done playing, I wanted to be a coach," Jones said. "I didn't come here thinking someday I would replace Morgan. But I'm happy everyone believed in me enough to give me this opportunity. . . . I wouldn't have accepted the job if I didn't think I was ready."

Replacing Wootten, of course, is an unenviable task in many ways. Wootten coached for 46 seasons at the Hyattsville private school, winning more games (1,274) than any other boys' or men's coach and is enshrined in the national basketball Hall of Fame.

The new DeMatha coach is a 29-year-old who speaks in a deep, confident voice, but has no previous head coaching experience at the varsity level -- save for directing the Stags' summer league squads.

But those who know Jones say he will succeed -- mostly because he always has. Before helping the 1990-91 Stags go 30-0, capture the Catholic league championship, the City Title game and finish No. 1 in The Washington Post's rankings as a senior, Jones led his freshman and junior varsity teams to undefeated records as well.

"The biggest thing about Mike is he is a winner," said Wootten, who delayed his retirement announcement until days before the season in the hopes of passing the job to Jones. "He never lost a game as a starter at DeMatha. That says a lot about a person, in my opinion."

McMahon, who helped coach Jones as a freshman and was his world literature teacher, said it was Jones's "natural ability" to connect with young people that convinced him that he was the right man for the job.

Jones feels his age and playing record gives him instant credibility with his players.

"I've gone through exactly what my players are going through," Jones said. "I wore the same jersey. I had the same teachers. And they know that if they don't listen to me in practice that I will dunk on them."

At DeMatha, Jones is remembered for his role in the Stags' victory over Dunbar in the 1991 City Title game, one of DeMatha's greatest comebacks.

Jones had 16 points and 13 rebounds in the game, which featured a DeMatha comeback from a 16-point halftime deficit. With the Stags trailing by one in the final seconds, Jones was called for an aggressive foul. Dunbar failed to convert at the free throw line, and DeMatha's Duane Simpkins passed the ball to Vaughn Jones, who sank the winning shot with 13 seconds left.

"The funny thing is I didn't even commit the foul," Jones said last week. "I didn't even touch him. But I'm glad the ref called it."

Jones earned a basketball scholarship to Old Dominion, where he played four years and graduated with a degree in human services and counseling. He helped the Monarchs reach two NCAA tournaments and averaged 17 points as a senior.

"Mike Jones is one of my all-time favorites," said Dayton Coach Oliver Purnell, who was Jones's coach at Old Dominion. "He was a little hard-headed and stubborn when he first got to college, but we soon realized that his hard-headedness was a product of his intense competitive spirit."

Said Spingarn Coach Keith Jackson, who roomed briefly with Jones when the two were teammates at Old Dominion: "He was one of the hardest-working guys on our team. Those qualities are going to translate well to coaching."

After graduating college, Jones's pursuit of a career as a professional basketball player took him all over the globe, from Finland to Hong Kong, and Portugal to the Dominican Republic. Jones also played in the CBA and the IBA and competed in the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat training camps. ("I've played at least one game in 11 countries," Jones said.) When Jones's professional career came to a sudden end after he suffered a severe ankle injury in 1998, he received a phone call from then-DeMatha principal John Moylan. The school was seeking a counselor, and there was also an opening for an assistant basketball coach.

"At that point in my life, I realized it was time to move on," Jones said. "Coming back here and working under Morgan just made sense."

Jones quickly ascended the coaching ladder at DeMatha, moving from assistant freshman coach to Wootten's right-hand man and recruiter in two years.

Now, Jones is calling the shots -- and auditioning for the job on a permanent basis. In the spring, school officials will form a search committee and interview candidates, which will include Jones, before naming a coach.

Some local coaches have expressed their doubts that DeMatha's program can maintain its position atop the area basketball scene without Wootten. And Jones himself admitted that recruiting won't be as easy without the lure of playing for a legend. But he does not sound too concerned.

"I can't say how many wins we will have this year or guarantee another championship," Jones said. "But one thing I am sure of is the kids are going to work hard on the court and in the classroom, and they will carry themselves with respect and dignity. That is what is most important to me and to DeMatha."

"I've gone through exactly what my players are going through," said Stags Coach Mike Jones, who played for Morgan Wootten.DeMatha's Jones, talking with recruit Austin Freeman, helped the Stags to three undefeated seasons as a player. "The biggest thing about Mike is he is a winner," Wootten said.