The Zeke Jones hiring is the one that HAD to be made for Arizona State wrestling.
He is a link to past success, he is one of the most respected as one coach in the United States and he has the perfect temperament for a program in need of a personality boost.
The program has been cut once and brought back by generous donations. The person running the program has to be able to command a room – and not just the practice room – to help sell the program.
Jones, 47, will be all of that and more.
I remember in 2008 how passionate he was after the program was retained. He was in town and training the U.S. National Freestyle team at ASU’s Riches Wrestling Complex for the national trials for the 2008 Olympics.
“If ASU's program was still cut and we were here on campus working to represent our country on their campus, it just wouldn't be right,” he said at the time.
"Now that the news came down that Arizona wrestling community stepped forward, we came in here with a clear conscience and ready to train."
And so can the Sun Devils now that Jones is back in town in a different role.
The program had bottomed out despite the 2011 top 10 run when a once-in-lifetime homegrown product – Anthony Robles – had a nearly unstoppable style helped by a birth defect and Bubba Jenkins caught fire his senior year after transferring to ASU and handed Penn State’s David Taylor one of his three career defeats in the finals for an out-of-nowhere title run.
Other than that surprising run the program, which has produced more than 105 All-Americans and eight national champions, has dipped to just another team on the West Coast when it should be the dominating program.
Jones and the ASU athletic administrators said all of the right things in announcing the hiring on Wednesday, but really the message was “We’re back.”
The Sun Devils new leader finished as a national runner-up and was a part of the 1988 squad that won the national title.
The seventh head coach in Arizona State program history, Jones is also an Olympic silver medalist for the United States, the 1991 World Champion at 52kg, a four-time World-Cup Champion, and coached United States’ Olympians in the 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2012 Olympic Games.
As Olympic head coach, Jones’ athletes earned two gold medals and one bronze at the London Games in 2012. His athletes in the 2004 Athens Games, where he was the freestyle coach, earned a gold and two silvers.
In the four World Championships during Jones’ tenure, USA placed third in the 2011 World Championships, fifth in 2013, and seventh in 2009. He also led USA to five individual World Champion medals, including two-time World champion Jordan Burroughs.
So, yeah, Jones was the hire ASU had to have and thankfully it got done.
“It was always my goal to come back to college wrestling,” Jones said. “Six years ago, Rich Bender (USA Wrestling Executive Director) and I talked about serving our country and getting our freestyle program back on track. I wanted to take on that challenge. I feel we are at a better place than we were.
“Now, I am ready for a new challenge, helping elevate Arizona State’s program into one of the best in the country and position its wrestlers for success on all levels of competition.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.