Central bids farewell to 'the best'

Dan Jones set to retire after 11 incredibly successful years as athletic director

Dan Jones never intended to become an athletic director. But when DeKalb High School administrators couldn't find an outside candidate to hire, they turned to their head football coach to take the job.

"I told them I would, but it would only be one year - and that was 18 years ago," Jones said.

He never intended to work at Hinsdale Central, either. But two AD friends he met for breakfast at a conference told him about an open position.

"They started talking to me about the Hinsdale Central job and convinced me it would be a good fit for me," Jones said. "I was at a point with my family where the boys were done with high school and the girls weren't in high school yet. If I was going to make a change, this would be the only high school I would go to and the only time I would make a change."

That was 11 years ago. Jones will spend his last day as Hinsdale Central's athletic director tomorrow, June 30. He said when he took the job he had no idea how successful athletic programs would be during his tenure.

"I knew that Hinsdale Central was a very successful athletic program, but I did not foresee us taking another step and really elevating the school and the program," Jones said. "I just happened to be here when that happened and feel very blessed. We had a lot of great athletes and awesome coaches that came through during my tenure. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time."

Others are quick to give him a little more credit.

"He is the best there is around," said Kelly Watson, Central's assistant AD, who has worked with Jones since he was hired. "He's proud to be part of the Red Devil community and just exemplifies what it means to be an athletic director. I can't believe he's leaving."

Watson said Jones has been a great mentor - he's been a great friend as well.

"I've just really learned a lot from him over the years about not just what it means to be a good AD or a good educator but also what it means to be a great parent, a great family person, a great spouse," she said. "He just kind of has shown me a lot about how to manage both aspects of your life."

Hinsdale Central Principal Bill Walsh also had high praise for Jones.

"As far as athletic directors go, Dan Jones is at the very top of the list," Walsh said. "He advocated for student-athletes, coaches, athletic programs and hosted every event we could possibly have. While our buildings and grounds team may have gone crazy with athletic setups, they knew it was for our kids."

Hosting the state swim and dive meet at FMC Natatorium in Westmont gives Central athletes some home field advantages, varsity boys and girls head coach Bob Barber said. Perhaps just as important, it invites the community to be part of the teams' success.

"To be able to walk that deck at any given time and have a parent from 10 years ago to a coworker say, 'Congratulations,' that was awesome," Barber said of the recent boys meet. "Those are priceless moments.

"I spent two decades trying to share the accomplishments of this team and now so many people are engaged and understand it more because Dan provided them an opportunity to be there. When Dan is willing to host the state meet, I felt like I got my community behind me."

While hosting events like state meets requires an enormous amount of planning, it also has its rewards. The biggest for Jones is watching Red Devils compete. That was especially fun during the 2014-15 school year, when Central broke the state record by winning seven athletic state championships and one for forensics.

"Traveling all over the state, watching our kids and our coaches compete and be so successful, it was just an awesome experience. I don't know if it will ever be broken," he said of the new record.

Those eight titles are among 33 state championships teams won under his tenure. Jones himself has received a host of awards, including being named the state athletic director of the year by the Illinois Coaches Association and then becoming a finalist for national athletic director of the year by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.

"Any time you're recognized by peers, it is very humbling and I'm very appreciative of that," he said. "Again, I think it really comes because of the coaches and the athletes and the community here that allowed me to get that recognition. It wasn't just me. It's a team. It's a huge team."

Despite all of Central's success, the wins are not what Jones said he'll remember most about his time here. He recalled a volleyball game against a school that had lost a teammate, and the Red Devils' decision to take the time to recognize that loss.

"That happened numerous times," he said. "It wasn't just the volleyball game, little things like that. The sport allowed us just to be compassionate and to recognize when we needed to help somebody else out."

And a team's record isn't what stands out when Jones sees his former football players at reunion weekends.

"The conversations we have aren't about the wins and the losses," he said. "They are about the times in the locker rooms that something happened. It's not about wins and losses. It's just about creating friendships and memories and carrying those on."

Jones had expected to create memories during retirement with his wife of 31 years, Julie. He lost her in December after a three-year battle with cancer.

"One thing I learned from her is to not count the days but to make the days count," he said. "We made plans and then had to come up with different plans."

Jones will to travel to Colorado this summer to visit his sons, Jake and Evan. (Daughter Sophie lives in Chicago and Lily, who just graduated from college, is still at home.) He will announce Central football games this fall and work other athletic events at the school during the year. He hasn't ruled out serving as an interim AD somewhere, either.

"If there's an opportunity that I can help a school district out or someone out, I'll do so."

Jones still remembers talking to his principal at DeKalb before he took that first AD job.

"I remember telling her that I'm really concerned. I really enjoyed the classroom and the relationships I had with students there and coaches. She told me I will probably find a way to continue those relationships but with more students on a bigger venue," he recalled. "I hope I did that. I tried to do that."

Jones has spent his final weeks on the job cleaning out his office and working with his replacement, Mike Jezioro, who starts July 1.

"I told him he's coming into the best job in the state of Illinois for an athletic director," Jones said. "The community support, the parents, the athletes, the coaches, the staff at the school are the best in the state.

"I've really, really enjoyed my time here and the support I've gotten."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean