Dan Jones has served as Handley’s head football coach for two years and head boys’ tennis coach since 2015. Jones started coaching with the football program in 1994. Jones earned Winchester Star Football Coach of the Year honors after leading the Judges to an 8-3 record and a Region 4C quarterfinal berth last season. Jones is a five-time Star Boys’ Tennis Coach of the Year. The 2019 team went 21-0 and won its second state title under Jones.
A 1989 Handley graduate, Jones was inducted into the Hunter Maddex Hall of Fame in 2014. In football, Jones played tight end, quarterback and strong safety. He also spent two years playing baseball as an outfielder/catcher, two years running track as a hurdler and two years playing basketball as a center.
Jones graduated from Clinch Valley College — now known as The University of Virginia’s College at Wise — in 1994 after attending Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., for one year. Jones played wide receiver at both schools, but he played quarterback in CVC’s inaugural football game in 1991.
Q. What are your favorite memories as an athlete?
Jones: In high school, we used to do a team meal. A bunch of guys would get together on Friday night when we played on Saturday. That was special. And just being able to help Handley make the playoffs meant a lot to me. (The Judges went 7-4 in 1987 and 8-3 in 1988, losing in the first round each time.) In college, the bus rides to and from our games were so long, but we had a great time on the bus. And I caught a pass to win a game with no time left on the clock against Thiel (the final score was 23-21) in our first year. It was a Hail Mary pass, I think 48 yards. [My teammates] tackled me and there was a big pile. It was a pretty exciting moment.
Q. When did you know you wanted to be a coach?
Jones: [Sherando baseball coach] Pepper Martin used to do Winchester Baseball. I was 16 years old, and he had some players helping out his kids in the summer. I think that’s when I realized I enjoyed helping kids. But the real time [I knew I wanted to be a coach] was when I was told I could no longer play football competitively. That’s when I knew my next move was to be a coach.
Q. Who are your biggest coaching influences?
Jones: [Former Handley head football coach] Ron Lindon was a big influence because every year we had different personnel, and he adjusted offensively. I learned that it’s not necessarily about the scheme, it’s the personnel. Rick Leonard was one of my teachers and also my position coach. I could talk to him about anything. He was there as a teacher, coach and mentor. And in college, [head] coach [Randy] Ramseyer taught me a lot about how you have to treat people fairly. He stressed responsibility and accountability. He tried to make us better people.
Q. What’s the best coaching advice you’ve received?
Jones: You treat kids fairly, not necessarily equally, but fairly. Coach Ramseyer taught me that, but also [former Handley head football coach] Tony Rayburn. [Rayburn] sacrificed a couple of wins to do the right thing [by benching players for discipline]. He treated everybody fairly. You can’t treat people equally, because everybody’s different. Everybody comes from different things, has different opportunities and different things that occur. But as long as you do things fairly, you’ll be successful.
Q. What have been your most difficult coaching moments?
Jones: When you see kids that work really hard and do everything they can and they still don’t get on the field, you just feel for them because at some point talent does take over. You want kids to work hard, but it’s not necessarily always going to work out the best for them as far as playing time.
In tennis, losing to E.C. Glass my first year, just seeing the heartbreak in the kids was one of the toughest moments, because there’s no way to make them feel any better. [In 2015, the eventual state champion Hilltoppers handed the Judges their only loss in a 17-1 season by a 5-4 score in the 4A North Region semifinals.)
Q. What have been your favorite coaching moments?
Jones: There was a kid in practice who I worked with back in ‘95 or ‘96. I can’t remember his name now. He had a hard time catching the ball, but he worked hard at it. So I just pulled him to the side and did some drills with him. During scout team, he caught a pass and you could just see how proud he was after he held on to it. The defense wasn’t mad that he caught the ball. They were all happy for him and all the players cheered for him. It’s great to see kids get that moment whether it’s in a practice or a game, have some success.
For tennis, it’s my first state championship. (In 2016, the Judges went 22-0 and defeated three-time defending state champ E.C. Glass 5-1 in the 4A West Region semis.) That was a special moment. After losing to E.C. Glass the year before, just to see the kids bounce back and get that state championship was great.