Shawn Jones leads Tiger wrestling 'back into monster it was'
Second in a six-part series on 2020 Athletic Hall of Fame Inductees
Shawn Jones was in his seventh year as the head wrestling coach at Sapulpa High School in the spring of 2005. That year, the Chieftains qualified a school-record nine wrestlers for the state tournament.
Then, came a phone call.
“I can’t up and leave these kids,” Jones recalled telling then-Broken Arrow assistant wrestling coach Mike Jones (no relation), who was tasked with asking the Sapulpa coach to consider interviewing for the vacant Broken Arrow head wrestling job.
Shawn Jones spoke with Bill Harlow, a Sapulpa assistant coach and eventual National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee, about the invitation to interview.
“When you doing it?” questioned Harlow, who spent 16 years in Broken Arrow as a teacher and administrator before moving to Alaska. When he returned to Oklahoma, Harlow coached at Sapulpa.
“I told him, ‘I’m not going to.’” Jones said. “Then he gave me great advice. ‘You should never, ever turn down an interview.’”
A few weeks later, Jones took the slow elevator ride up to the BA Memorial Stadium press box where he was greeted by a committee of “32 people waiting to interview me.” Jones exaggerated. The number was a fourth that.
“How many people do you need in an interview?” Jones asked rhetorically. “But it was good. It worked out.”
Indeed, it did.
After 14-seasons as the Tigers head wrestling coach Jones stepped down to accept a job in the surgical supply industry. His 148-30 record made him the winningest dual match coach in BA history. Nine of Broken Arrow’s 20 state wrestling titles (five state tournament, four dual state) were won by Jones-coached teams. He produced 37 individual state championships among 24 different athletes. Eight of his teams ended the season ranked (Intermat Wrestle) in the top 50 nationally.
“I was already at a place that I loved and then I told them ‘we’re going to come here and try to turn this thing back into the monster it was,’” Jones words were prophetic. “We knew this place had the potential to become what it has become now. It’s a lot of fun to win.”
Jones’ first title was Dual State in 2008. That also was the year of his greatest learning experience as a coach.
He tells it this way.
“That 2008 season almost chokes me up. We won Dual State and we were a shoe-in to win the State Championship. Saturday afternoon of regionals we had the qualifiers that we thought we could take to the state tournament and win. I brought the kids into the old wrestling room. I took a breath. Those kids saw us take that breath. The release of ‘oh, we’ve accomplished something.’ We went three for 11 in finals. The next week we went to the state tournament, and it continued. Probably, in the history of my 14 years here, we had the worst tournament you could have and we still finished one point out from winning state championship.
“It was ‘a never been there and done that.’ We didn’t know how to finish it. We didn’t make the mistake again.
“We just blew it and it was my fault. From that point forward, we were always hunting.”
Jones won his first Team State Tournament title in 2010. The Tigers won both the dual and team crowns in 2011. They repeated that feat in 2019 – Jones’ final year as the BA head coach.
“Me, knowing that I was leaving, those last two were nice,” he said. “Nice in the fact that there was the burden of everyone knowing we are supposed to win those.”
Not only did they win the team tournament in ’19, they did the unprecedented in the state’s largest class. The Tigers went into Saturday’s matches with the team-title mathematically secure. The final margin was 62 points, a 158-96 victory over Mustang. In 2010, the Tigers battled back from an 8-point deficit on the final day to win Jones’ first team tournament championship, 103-94, over second-place Union.
“Ten was a battle. You can look back. and they’re all nice, but those (2010 & 2019) are kind of the special ones.”
It wasn’t until nearly a year after he announced his resignation, that Jones began to miss his old profession. He admitted to actually missing the classroom and “forming bonds with those kids” more than he missed the wrestling room.
“My wife asked me a couple of times if I was depressed,” Jones said. “I wasn’t depressed. It was just weird. The month of February has been so important to my family going back to my dad (a longtime Oklahoma high school wrestling coach). That is where our sense of value came from. I got over it pretty quickly. Especially after we won it.”
It was Jones’ youngest brother, Rod, who coached the Tigers to the dual and team state titles in 2020 as a first-year head coach. Rod has been part of the BA wrestling staff since Shawn became the head coach. Biff, the middle brother, is the BA head junior high coach, and joined the Tigers a few years after Shawn took over the Tiger program.
Wrestling’s firm grip still has the brothers tightly bound. Shawn Jones new career, however, as allowed him more time to spend with his family of four girls, wife Lori and soccer-playing daughters; Sophie, Ella and Livi.
“Another part of the decision (to resign) was I’m not going to miss anything else,” Jones said. “You’re like, ‘where does time go?’ Whether they want me there or not, I’m going to be very present in their little lives.”
Even more than he was for so many Tiger wrestlers during his 14-year run that led to a BA Athletic Hall of Fame induction.
The BA Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is scheduled for halftime of the Sept. 4 Tiger football home-opener against the Union Redskins.