Casey Jones didn’t expect to get nervous.
That doesn’t happen to him very often — if ever. This shouldn’t have been any different.
Except it was.
When Jones took the podium Tuesday afternoon at the George “Vamp” Belton Sports Complex as Wossman’s new boy’s basketball coach, it was a homecoming 28 years in the making. And let it be said nobody pulls out all the bells and whistles for a homecoming like Wossman High School.
“I told coach Belton after I pulled in the parking lot it hit me and I did get nervous,” Jones said. “Earlier on in my coaching career I thought about coming back here but as time went on I didn’t think I’d get the opportunity. This place gave me so much as a teenager and I’m excited to be back.”
Jones’ entrance was more rock star than basketball coach. The prodigal son made his way into the gym through a smoke-filled purple and gold tunnel, flanked by Wossman principal Sam Moore and athletic director Dean Smith.
Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo was also in attendance, along with Belton, Mike Vining — Jones’ coach at ULM — Monroe City Schools superintendent Brent Vidrine and Monroe City School Board president Rodney McFarland.
But for a man who places family over everything, the most important faces to Jones were the ones sitting in the front row of the crowd; His wife Keshea, their two sons and his mother — a longtime Wossman employee.
Jones’ daughter was finishing finals at Louisiana Tech and couldn’t attend.
Despite the urging of the Wossman alumni, Jones wouldn’t have left Ouachita for his alma mater without the right support on the home front.
“Many of my former classmates called me wanting to know if this was a possibility and I spoke with Mr. Moore a couple times but I was in a great situation at Ouachita,” Jones said. “Once my wife and my kids told me to do what I think is best, the road became clear to me and I decided it was time to come back.”
Jones was the only candidate Moore considered for the job after parting ways with former coach Ronnie Wilson.
“I only interviewed one person for the position and that’s Casey Jones,” Moore said. “A lot of people said this couldn’t be done, but whenever you have the opportunity to land what I call a ‘big fish’ you have to do everything possible to make it happen.”
Jones leaned on Belton and his uncle, former Carroll coach Jimmy Jones, throughout the process. Belton — the gym’s namesake and Jones’ high school coach — didn’t reached out with an ultimatum, but as a sounding board for his former point guard.
“I never did say you need to take this job but I wanted him to know we’d love to have him back,” Belton said. “We’ve been down at Wossman and this is the shot in the arm we need. This is a power basketball program over here and we need to get it back to where it was.”
While he plans to adapt his system to the personnel on hand, the trademarks of a Jones-coached team — up tempo offense and aggressive man-to-man defense — are certain to follow him to Wossman.
Jones also had a message for Carroll and Richwood, Wossman’s historic rivals and new running mates in District 2-3A.
They better watch out for the ‘Cats.
“You’re going to see us be tenacious and get after it. I have high expectations for myself, my staff and our players,” Jones said.
“There’s plenty of work to be done but it’s great to be home.”
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CASEY JONES: WOSSMAN BOY’S BASKETBALL COACH
Ouachita Parish High School – 2001-2010, 2011-2015
386-99 (79%) record
2009 Class 5A state championship
2006 Class 4A runner-up
2013 Class 5A runner-up
11 district championships
2006 LSWA Class 4A Coach of the Year
Longview (Texas) High School – 2010-2011
20-10 (66%) record