Updates with new version at 5:45 p.m.:
Will Jones finally got the call.
The interim head basketball coach at N.C. A&T since December, Jones was at home when the phone rang and the interim tag disappeared.
“It’s been a long process, but it was well worth it,” Jones said. “I knew that if I was just patient, good things would happen.”
Jones took over the Aggies basketball program around Christmas when former head coach Jay Joyner was suspended. The reason for the suspension has never been disclosed.
Jones took over in the days preceding a trip to play Illinois, a trip that ended up being the beginning of a wild ride for the coach and his players. A&T would go 14-5 under Jones, winning 12 of 16 MEAC games in the process. He would be named conference coach of the year.
It seemed a foregone conclusion that he would formally be named head coach, but the process took a while longer than anyone thought.
Details of the contract have yet to be released. Joyner had a four-year contract at $125,000 a year.
“You go through the process watching the hiring and firing of college basketball coaches, and looking at people doing press conferences and wondering if I would get the opportunity to do it,” Jones said. “So it’s a relief, but there’s work to do.”
He said the coming days and weeks will continue as they have through the long wait.
“Nothing changes,” he said. “We’re halfway though the summer now and everybody’s looking to get back to campus.”
Jones said he and his staff have been in touch with the players throughout the long offseason, trying to communicate with them personally as events swirl around them. His own status was never important.
“We’ve been meeting virtually and talking about what’s going on in our world,” Jones said. “With the virus and what’s happening socially, we’re continuing to educate them and keeping them informed on what the NCAA tells us we can do.”
The team will gather for the first time on July 5. And a lot will be on the minds of the coaching staff and the entire program. A&T will play one more year in the MEAC and then move to the Big South, where Jones plans to upgrade the program in every way.
“The last time we touched a basketball, we were going into the second round of the MEAC Tournament thinking we could win it,” he said.
The goal in 2020-21 will be just that. But beyond, Jones has bigger ideas.
“My goal is we’re going to be a mid-major,” he said. “A mid-major plus. We’re going after really good high school players, and going to the Big South gives us that opportunity. We want to get good high school kids and transfers. We’ll have more Kam Langleys and Fred Clevelands and Tyrone Lyons, guys who will be with us for four years.”
And as has been the case recently, A&T will meld the freshmen with older and more mature players from outside the program, a must to compete in the MEAC.
“We’re going to recruit like a Sun Belt-level program,” Jones said.
The long wait through the pandemic and the country’s reaction to the killing of George Floyd to racial injustice has made the wait even more painful, but Jones said he’s just been trying to stay positive, be there for his players and to be ready to hit the ground running when the time came.
The time has come for Will Jones.
The interim tag is finally gone.
It's Will Jones' job.
A&T has removed the interim tag and announced Jones today as the men's basketball coach, replacing Jay Joyner.
A news conference at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Corbett Sports Center entrance will introduce Jones. The event will be invitation-only.
"I am delighted to see Coach Jones get this opportunity," athletics director Earl Hilton said in a news release. "Will did a wonderful job last season of keeping our men's basketball team focused on success on the court and in the classroom, so we know he is committed to creating a championship culture while also making sure our student-athletes graduate and are prepared to be positive contributors to society."
The university announced Joyner’s resignation Tuesday “effective immediately.”
Joyner, the 2018 MEAC coach of the year, was suspended indefinitely in late December. Since then, no one at the university would discuss Joyner nor a reason for his suspension other than to call it “an ongoing personnel matter.”