By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
Editor’s note: This is the second of three profiles on the wives of LSU’s head coaches, featuring Kelli Jones, from the latest issue of Tiger Rag Extra, which you can find on newsstands across Baton Rouge now. Parts one on Kathy Miles can be read by clicking here.
As soon as her husband walked in the room, Kelli Jones knew the news was good.
Her spouse, Johnny, was a candidate for the job of his dreams. The ex-LSU assistant had been away for more than a decade, including 11 seasons at the University of North Texas as head coach, and he’d interviewed once before for the head coaching gig at his alma mater, only to be passed up for another coach.
This time, however, Jones’ patience paid off.
“He came out of the back and put his arms high in the air like he had just knocked out Ali or somebody,” she remembers with a laugh. “He was so excited. I was so happy for him and proud of him in that moment…He’d had the opportunity to interview or take other jobs, but it had to be the right fit. I knew this was it.”
Four years later, the fit still applies. Coming back to LSU wasn’t just a homecoming for Johnny, who played under Dale Brown from 1980 to 1984, before coaching under him from 1985 to 1997. It was as much a welcome return for Kelli, who was born and raised in Baton Rouge, graduating from Scotlandville Magnet and Southern University.
“We had been in Denton for 11 years, and the North Texas community was great to us,” she says. “We loved living there, but I always knew if this job ever came open and he had a chance to become the head coach, he would not turn it down.”
Johnny and Kelli met in Baton Rouge, introduced by John Hamilton, now Johnny’s agent. Their first date was at Rick’s Jazz Club on College Drive. But when they married, Brown retired, and Jones took a job at Memphis. Kelli, who’d become accustomed to the coaching schedule during their dating, soon learned the demands it puts on a marriage, particularly when children are introduced into the equation.
“My kids are only 19 months apart,” she recalls. “It was especially hard when the kids were little and he was always recruiting…We never lived where we had family, so I was basically a single mom for several months out of the year due to his schedule.”
What makes it easier, Kelli says, is Johnny himself. Kelli worked in the education system while Johnny coached at North Texas, earning her Master’s in Special Education from UNT. Between a full-time job and raising two children, the time demands for Johnny made life a challenge for Kelli, but one simplified by her husband’s dedication to family – a dedication that continues today.
“I have to stress Johnny does his very best – and I stress, very best – to make everything he can for our kids,” Kelli says. “My daughter plays volleyball, my son plays basketball. He does his very best to be at any event they’re participating in. A lot of times he’s pulled in a lot of different directions trying to make sure he can meet his family obligations and meet his obligations with LSU.”
Just as much of a challenge can be the backlash that comes in defeat. While Jones’ first three years were mostly successful, seeing upticks in wins each season, the 2015-16 campaign saw LSU miss the NCAA Tournament, and Johnny often bore the brunt of fan criticism. That’s something that Kelli took harder than even her husband, whose focus and ability to tune out outside noise she considers worth imitating.
“When things don’t necessarily go as planned with a game, and you hear all of the negative comments, he’s taught me that that comes with the territory, and you’ve got to just roll with it, more or less,” she says. “It’s still hard to hear all of the negative things that can be said.”
Today, Kelli spends her time as a realtor with Keller Williams. It’s the first time since they’ve been married she’s worked outside of the school system, but when the couple returned to Baton Rouge in 2012, she wanted to pursue a career she was passionate about and that provided flexibility for her children, who, at the time, still relied on mom for transportation.[su_pullquote align=”right” class=”wide”]
“I’ve always loved looking at houses,” she says. “Johnny used to tease me: ‘You might as well get paid for it.’” – Kelli Jones
“I’ve always loved looking at houses,” she says. “Johnny used to tease me: ‘You might as well get paid for it.’ It’s something I’ve always been interested in. I do miss education. I miss it a lot, actually. I think about going back all the time. But the thing about real estate – I enjoy doing it, I enjoy guiding people, especially first-time home owners, when they get that key to the house for the first time and it’s something they own, it’s great to see.”
Kelli relies on her educational background to help teach buyers the ins and outs of the market and home-buying process. More importantly, she believes in her product. A decade and change away from her hometown was more than enough to reinforce her love for it.
“I love Baton Rouge,” she says. “I was born and raised here. Both of my parents are from Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge is home. It’s been great. U-High has been a great school for my kids. It feels great to be home.”
[su_list]The Kelli Jones File
- Spouse: Johnny Jones
- Children: Jillian, John
- Hometown: Baton Rouge, La.
- You Might Not Know: Realtor for Keller-Williams in Baton Rouge and surrounding area