Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Brian Kelly Leaves Significant Impression On The Jones Family

January 7, 2020

We've seen glimpses of Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly over the years. Some good, some bad and some in-between.

For running back Tony Jones Jr. and his family, the last month has been an eye-opening experience as Kelly handled a tough situation with class. 

It started with a meeting in mid-December when Jones' NFL grade came back.

"When his grade came in, Coach Kelly personally walked his grade down to Tony instead of another coach," Tony Jones Sr. stated. "He personally walked it down to him.

"He gave him what his grade was and we had our meeting with him on December 13th. He basically encouraged Tony to come back, but he also said, Tony had to make the best decision for himself." 

Jones, who ran for 857 yards and six touchdowns in 2019, made his decision to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft on December 31st. 

It started with a conversation with running backs coach Lance Taylor, who advised Jones he would have to speak with Kelly.

The Jones family was a little worried about how the head coach would take the news, but those concerns quickly were put to rest. 

"When Tony came to tell him he was leaving and Coach Kelly was very receptive to what he said," explained Jones. "He was proud of Tony being able to make a decision for himself and whatever team gets him, will be extremely happy with all the things he can do on the field." 

The elder Jones has been involved with high school recruiting and the world of college football for years. 

Jones has seen the good, the bad and the ugly.

"You always hear about how some coaches don't give players the right grade that comes in or how the coaches look out for themselves," explained Jones. "It's been a great experience to see Coach Kelly was looking out for the best interest of Tony Jones Jr. instead of No. 6.

"Coach Kelly was very supportive. It's a tough decision for a 22-year-old to make and Kelly's response helped him feel more at ease after making the decision." 

Rick Kimball/ISD
Tony Jones Jr. and his parents

Players leaving school with a year of eligibility on the table take a risk as they don't get that year back. 

But the Jones family has become believers in Brian Kelly as there has been a level of trust built from the recruiting process to Jones leaving the program. 

"As parents, we were very happy with what Kelly said on the 13th," said Jones. "From the beginning to now, I grew to gain more respect for him. You hear these horror stories, but I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. 

"Coach Kelly gave Tony every opportunity he told him during the recruiting process. It's just one of those things where he had to wait his turn. 

"If you can get out of Notre Dame or any college averaging 5.5 yards per carry and never fumble, you gotta go." 

The mutual trust started when Jones was coming out of IMG Academy (Fla.) and was tested over the last year. 

"The conversation we had in December of Tony's junior year, Coach Kelly kept his word and is a man of his word," Jones said. "He handled it the right way when Tony came to him this December. 

"That makes you feel good talking about your experience and recommending it to anyone in Tony's position four or five years from now." 

Jones Sr. is aware of the reputation Kelly has with some and the last month only made him believe those people are wrong.

"I know Kelly gets pigeonholed into being a certain type of person, but the 31st, it just made my day to hear the response he gave Tony," Jones explained. "That makes you feel good to recommend Notre Dame to someone else if their kid is in the same situation."

Kelly's reaction to Jones declaring will be the final impression, but the Jones family is also grateful for the growth they've seen in their son over the last four years.

"I told BK I appreciated him taking a 17-year-old out of St. Petersburg (Fla.) and making him into a responsible 22-year-old, who was mature enough to make the decision he made," said Jones. 

"The decision Tony made is a reflection of Coach Kelly and his leadership.

"The kid got a Notre Dame degree in 3.5 years and made a decision for himself. Coach Kelly set him up with the ability to bet on himself after four years." 

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