|Organization:||University of Illinois|
Richard "Itch" Jones retired from the University of Illinois as one of the most decorated coaches in NCAA history. As of 2015, Jones ranked 20th on the NCAA Div. I wins list with a 1,240-752-6 record and ranked 26th among all coaches. His 39th and final season was one of his more memorable ones, as Illinois, just a year removed from a ninth place league finish, led the conference race wire-to-wire en route to the program's 28th Big Ten Championship. Jones was rewarded with his second Big Ten Coach of the Year award following the remarkable turnaround, which saw the Illini jump out of the gates with a 7-0 Big Ten record on their way to a 20-12 mark.
Jones had his finest season as Illinois' head coach in 1998, leading his squad to a 42-21 record and the first regular season Big Ten Championship for Illinois in 35 years. The Illini subsequently were selected to the NCAA Tournament, where in the South I Regional at Gainesville, Fla., the fifth-seeded Illini fell to top-seeded Florida in the title game in extra innings, falling two outs short of qualifying for the school's first-ever appearance in the College World Series.
On April 8, 1998, Jones became only the 18th coach in NCAA Div. I Baseball history to win 1,000 games in his career when Illinois defeated Western Illinois, 18-2. But the accolades did not stop there. Following the 1998 season that saw Illinois win 40 games for the first time since 1990 and advance further in the national tournament than ever before, Jones was honored as both the Big Ten and ABCA Mideast Region Coach of the Year.
After a 1999 season that saw Illinois advance to the Big Ten Tournament for the fourth-straight year, Illinois did something in 2000 that had not yet been accomplished by an Itch Jones-coached squad: win the Big Ten Tournament.
Jones has sent 40 Illinois players into professional baseball, adding to the more than 110 players and coaches sent to the professional baseball or coaching ranks in his 39 years of coaching. Overall, Jones has produced 22 major league players.
Prior to joining Illinois in 1991, Jones created a baseball dynasty in 21 years as head coach at his alma mater, Southern Illinois University. Jones propelled the Salukis into the national spotlight, leading SIU to a 738-345-5 (.681) record, including 10 NCAA Tournament appearances and three trips to the NCAA College World Series. In 1971, his second year at SIU, Jones led the Salukis to within one game of the national championship, finishing second at the CWS. In 1974 and 1977, Jones brought SIU to the CWS once again, placing third both times. In 1990, Jones' 21st and final season at SIU was somewhat of a storybook ending. He not only led the Salukis to an incredible 49-14 record and sixth Missouri Valley Conference Championship in 14 seasons, but his team also advanced to the NCAA Regionals as the second seed. SIU came within one game of advancing to yet another CWS berth.
For his hard work and dedication, Jones was named 1990 NCAA Division I Diamond Baseball Coach of the Year. He has been selected national coach of the year two times, earning Adirondack National Coach of the Year honors in 1971 and The Sporting News Coach of the Year Award in 1978.
Overall, Jones has racked up 12 NCAA tournament appearances, compiling an impressive 33-26 (.559) record.
Jones received his bachelor's degree in physical education from Southern Illinois in 1961, where he was a three-time All-Conference second baseman for the Salukies. After a professional playing career in the Baltimore Orioles minor league system, Jones returned to SIU and earned a master's degree in physical education in 1965, while also coaching basketball for Jacksonville High School during that same time. He started his collegiate baseball head coaching career at MacMurray College in 1966 before returning to his alma mater for the 1968-69 season as an assistant coach and quickly becoming the head coach in 1970.
"Itch Jones is a Hall of Fame coach and is still considered one of the premier teachers of baseball in the nation," said Illinois Director of Athletics Ron Guenther. "He has always been a team player and I'm thankful for the contribution he's made to the University of Illinois baseball program. I wish him well in his well-deserved retirement." Jones is a member of seven different Halls of Fame, including: the American Baseball Coaches Association, Southern Illinois University, MacMurray College, Illinois High School Association Baseball, Illinois High School Association Basketball, Jacksonville High School and Herrin High School Athletic Halls of Fame.