Jones still at Hawaii, meets with SMU

DALLAS, TX -- June Jones spent Sunday night trying to decide whether to accept an offer to coach SMU or return to Hawaii, where the governor is among those trying to keep him.

"It's been a wild day," agent Leigh Steinberg said. "I haven't seen anything like this before. It's emotionally wrenching for June."

Jones was in Dallas meeting with SMU officials and the search committee that has been working since late October to hire a replacement to Phil Bennett. Meanwhile, the folks on the island were doing all they could to get him to say no and continue leading a program he has guided to national prominence.

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle called to see what she could do, and the president who oversees the entire University of Hawaii system called with an updated contract proposal. It's the second in three days, but the first made by the school's overall leader.

The higher-ups aren't the only ones doing their best to lure Jones back.

"Yesterday when he was in Hawaii, June was visited by dozens of alums and fans, urging him to stay," Steinberg said. "He's received dozens of phone calls and e-mails telling him what he's meant to not only the school but the whole state, with personal stories that were poignant, heart-warming. ... It's a pretty interesting story from that standpoint. The whole state is energized to keep June."

Steinberg said Jones was planning on making a decision Sunday night.

"These programs need to know," he said. "It's time."

The paradise setting of Honolulu and a program coming off a BCS bowl would seem like no match for a school like SMU, where losing has been entrenched since receiving the NCAA's only death penalty in the late 1980s.

Yet Jones is always up for a challenge, as evidenced by his initial move to Hawaii, which was coming off a winless season and he was coming off 12 years in the NFL.

SMU likely can provide a higher salary and -- perhaps more importantly to Jones -- a bigger budget and better facilities. He'd also have a more fertile recruiting base, albeit with the tradeoff of having more competition.

"June's issues with Hawaii have not been primarily economic in terms of his contract," Steinberg said. "They've been more structural in terms of what it takes to run a winning football program."

Jones started at Hawaii in 1999, taking the 0-11 club he inherited to nine wins his first season, the largest turnaround in NCAA history. With a record-setting passing attack in place, the Warriors became a perennial contender in the Western Athletic Conference. They went 12-0 this season before losing to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

Jones, who turns 55 next month, has gone 75-41 at Hawaii, including 4-2 in bowls. His teams finished first in the WAC twice and second two other times.

SMU -- the once-proud program of Doak Walker, Don Meredith and Eric Dickerson -- went 1-11 this season, 0-8 in Conference USA.

Bennett was the fourth coach to lead SMU since it came off the death penalty in 1989. The Mustangs are 58-153-3 in that span, with only one winning season.

The on-field struggles have been compounded by the long, slow hunt for Bennett's replacement.

The search has taken about 10 weeks, with SMU going from the first major college with a vacancy to the only one left without a coach. The school received permission to speak with Jones on Dec. 24.

Jones and Steinberg had lunch at the home of billionaire booster Gerald Ford, then met with the search committee, which made the formal offer. He had dinner Sunday night with a group of alumni.

"The people at SMU couldn't be nicer," Steinberg said.