A big chunk of Ernest Jones’s job description when he signed on to be Notre Dame’s director of player development and engagement last February was boosting the team’s community service activities.
Jones helped to create the “Irish Around the Bend” program that makes it easier for Notre Dame’s football players to get involved is service events that suit their tastes. He set up a similar program while working with Brian Kelly in a similar role in 2009 at Cincinnati. He continued to do the same when he served as an associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at Buffalo for two years prior to coming to South Bend.
Community service is viewed by most as an act of charity or goodwill. Jones approaches it like a competitive game.
“When I came in I looked at what they had done the previous two years. I said, well, we’re going to knock that out real quick,” he said. “That’s what we’ve done. We’re doing it. Our community service arm is live.”
During the offseason he helps to organize two or three events per week at schools, hospitals and other venues in South Bend. He sat down with Blue & Gold Illustrated recently to discuss the community service part of his job.
BGI: How did ‘Irish Around the Bend’ get started?
Jones: “Being around Coach Kelly, he wants his players and his coaches to be what we call ‘other-centered.’ We have to care about the well being of other people more than we do about our own selves. I understand that. I’ve been apart of that with him. That’s what our Irish Around the Bend arm is all about.”
BGI: So rather than just a public relations ploy, the coaching staff believes that organizing community service helps the team get better on the field?
Jones: “Absolutely, really we believe that. …It’s important for us to give back. For those student athletes, if they start giving back it will change their hearts. It will change their minds. That’s really what it’s all about. We need them to see it a different way. We need them to go out and give back to some of these young people, and it will make them play better for us.”
BGI: How many players get involved with the community service the team does?
Jones: “On the regular, I’d probably say at least 75 percent of the team. There are very few that don’t. It’s a competition. Well, I won’t say a competition, but we give out a nice award at our banquet. That’s not why they do it, but we have so many people that are involved in it, we have to track it.
BGI:You ran similar programs while you were coaching at Buffalo and elsewhere. Why is being involved in the community important for you personally?
Jones: “Because I grew up in Flint, [Mich.]. I didn’t’ have a dad in the home. I had a little sister and a little brother. I had to mature very quickly. It was always important to me to give back, man, to help others. I grew up rough. I grew up in a bad neighborhood, and my mom gave me an opportunity to go to a nice school. But I just had a heart for it. As a player I was always a part of the community service.”
BGI: When did you first start doing it as a coach?
Jones: “When I got into coaching. I’ll never forget when Brian Kelly interviewed me for the first time [at Central Michigan in 2005]. I asked him, ‘This is who I am, is it OK if I can do this for you? I won’t let it hinder my job.’ I was going to be his secondary coach. It won’t have any effect on me coaching the secondary. I’ll do it on my own, and it won’t affect anything. He said sure, and it kind of ran from there.”