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Dr. Saturday

June Jones was Arizona State’s new coach today, until he wasn’t

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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By a little after noon Mountain time Wednesday, it was pretty clear that SMU coach June Jones had agreed to accept the vacancy at Arizona State. The news was coming out of Arizona State camps. It was coming out of SMU. It was all over Twitter. Jones had reportedly called his staff in from recruiting to deliver the news. A local radio station reported a press conference was in the works. An SMU recruit tweeted he planned to follow Jones to Tempe. Major outlets had it. For a while, Wikipedia had it. So you know it was true: June Jones was set to be the head coach at Arizona State.

Then, about three hours later, he wasn't. And he wasn't going to be. If it was ever on, the deal was off. And according to Jones' agent, Leigh Steinberg, it was most definitely on:

Just had one of the most bizarre endings to a set of productive discussions to bring a client to a new situation. Everything was set, few tweaks left, and the principal decision maker yanks the deal [with] no real explanation.

The principle decision-maker in this case is ASU president Michael Crow, who reportedly "decided to end the discussion" with the deal nearly done. A major sticking point, according to the Arizona Republic, was Jones' $2.1 million buyout from SMU. It's worth speculating that a bigger factor was lukewarm-to-hostile reaction from boosters and fans when the word started to get out that the Sun Devils had hired a 58-year-old NFL refugee with the same journeyman/retread vibe as the guy they just fired, 61-year-old Dennis Erickson. Then again, ASU abruptly pulled the plug on talks with up-and-comer Kevin Sumlin last week, too, so maybe the about-face is some kind of secret negotiating tactic Crow read in one of those books with a cover featuring a wealthy guy in a suit holding his head in his palm.

The good news for Jones: SMU's president R. Gerald Turner welcomed him back with open arms and a public vote of confidence. The bad news: Apparently Jones just told his entire staff he was on his way out and his agent confirmed he basically had his bags packed. The Mustangs are thrilled with the direction of the team since Jones arrived from Hawaii in 2008 — and even more thrilled with the bottom line in the athletic department — but as of Wednesday night, they also have to be asking themselves: Does our coach really want to be here after a stale-looking effort in his fourth season? And next time, will we be so lucky?

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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