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Forgotten Falcons: June Jones

Let's remember Atlanta's quarterback-turned-head coach.

June Jones Falcons

You probably know the name June Jones. If it’s because you’re a Falcons fan, you probably at least vaguely remember his tenure in Atlanta and his clashes with Jeff George. As just a football fan, you might know Jones as one of the chief proponents of the run n’ shoot offense in the NFL and in college.

Either way, you might not know that June Jones wasn’t just a Falcons head coach during one of the most pass-happy eras in team history, nor just the offensive coordinator for the hyper pass-happy Falcons from 1991-1993. He was also a Falcons quarterback, one who started five games over four seasons in Atlanta, making the team a prominent part of his history and Jones a prominent part of team’s history in turn.

Let’s talk June Jones.


Time in Atlanta: 1977-1981 as a player; 1991-1993 as offensive coordinator; 1994-1996 as head coach

Statistics: 17 games, 5 starts, 75/166 completions/attempts, 45.2% completion percentage, 923 yards, 5.6 yards per attempt, 3 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 30 sacks; 19-21 record as Falcons head coach

What he’s best known for:

You can’t talk about Jones’ career without talking about the run n’ shoot offense, which has come to define him. The run n’ shoot typically employs four receivers on the field at a time with a single back in the backfield, and features heavy motion to try to get receivers favorable coverage and reveal whether defenses are in man or zone. If you’re not super familiar with the offense, it might help to hear Jones describe it himself, as he did back in 2008 when he was first hired as the head coach at SMU.

Run n’ shoot having been defined, let’s start with the playing career. Jones would bounce around in college, spending time at Oregon, Hawaii (where he would later return and achieve great success as a coach), and finally Portland State.

At Portland State, he was coached by Mouse Davis, who helped popularize the run n’ shoot after picking up the tenets of the wonderfully named Glenn “Tiger” Ellison and his even more wonderfully named “lonesome polecat” formation and adjusting them. Jones threw for nearly 6,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in two seasons at Portland State, and was one of the first quarterbacks to have real success in the system. That would lead him to the Falcons in 1977 as an undrafted free agent.

In his rookie season, Jones was one of four quarterbacks to get into a game for a putrid offense that did one of the greatest defenses in NFL history exactly zero favors, and he threw one pass for -1 yard. The next year, though, Jones would be Steve Bartkowski’s backup and would wind up getting into seven games and starting three, completing 34 of 79 passes for 394 yards, 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions and going 1-2. He would pull down two additional starts in 1979 in relief of Bartkowski, going 38 for 83 for 505 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, while the Falcons went 0-2 in his starts. He didn’t play in the magical 1980 season but did throw three passes in 1981, which wrapped up his career as a quarterback in the NFL. He capped things off by spending 1982 in the Canadian Football League with the Toronto Argonauts.

JUNE JONES FALCONS

The second stage of his football career is the one Jones is better known for, and it’s probably how you know his name in the first place. He got a job as the quarterbacks coach at Hawaii immediately after his career wrapped up and began climbing the ranks from there, making his way to the quarterbacks coach position with the Oilers. In that role on Jerry Glanville’s staff, he worked with Warren Moon over a couple of quality seasons and also spent time with future Falcons Drew Hill and Mike Rozier before the team cut ties with him. Lions offensive coordinator Mouse Davis, who coached him in college, would make sure he landed the quarterbacks and wide receivers coach gig with the Lions, where he overlapped with Heisman winner and run n’ shoot success story Andre Ware, who unfortunately would not have the same success in the NFL.

His work at those two stops got him hired again by Glanville as the offensive coordinator for the Falcons after the team parted ways with Ray Sherman following a solid but unspectacular 1990 season. Unsurprisingly, Jones brought a focus on installing the run n’ shoot and bolstering the passing game, and in that first season things worked pretty beautifully. Chris Miller tossed a career-high 26 touchdowns, Billy Joe Tolliver of all people had some success when called upon, and Andre Rison and Michael Haynes combined for nearly 2,100 yards and 23 touchdowns in a wide open passing attack. Atlanta would defeat the hated Saints in the playoffs before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion, Washington, in the postseason.

The record was less impressive the next year, but again Jones’ passing offense hummed. Miller played in just 8 games, forcing Wade Wilson and Billy Joe Tolliver into multiple starts, but the trio combined for 33 touchdowns against just 15 interceptions, with Rison, Haynes, Mike Pritchard and Drew Hill each getting at least 600 yards in maybe the best collection of #1-#4 receivers Atlanta’s had at once. 1993 offered more of the same, as the offense took a smallish step back with Bobby Hebert at the helm and Hill’s production dropping off a bit, but certainly that side of the ball was better than the 28th-ranked defense that got Glanville fired.

It was at that point that the Falcons made a fateful decision, electing not to go outside the organization for their next head coach and elevating Jones to the position. Jones and Glanville would have a falling out over that—remember, Glanville hired Jones twice—but the team hoped that his offensive acumen would lift the team and new hire Jim Bates would help the defense. That sort of happened in 1994, where the Falcons improved by one win with Jeff George helming the offense and Terance Mathis, Ricky Sanders and Bert Emanuel doing fine work alongside Rison, but 1995 would prove to be the high water mark of Jones’ brief head coaching career.

That year things just clicked, as the team had a borderline top 10 offense and defensive coordinator Joe Haering helped get the defense inside the top 20 statistically. George would have his best season in Atlanta, the trio of Eric Metcalf, Emanuel and Mathis would each put up over 1,000 yards and the Falcons made the playoffs, even though they were bounced in the first round by the Packers.

The wheels came off in 1996. Jeff George struggled early on, he and Jones got into a public shouting match on the sidelines after the quarterback was benched for Bobby Hebert. While Jones would later become a George defender, he wasn’t in ‘96, as he suspended his quarterback for the rest of the season and the Falcons absolutely went into the toilet, finishing the year 3-13. The Falcons fired Jones after that.

That didn’t put a damper on his coaching career for very long, though, and Jones wound up as the quarterbacks coach and interim head coach for the Chargers in 1998. From there he would hop to Hawaii, the team he once quarterbacked, and settle in as the head coach there. The Rainbow Warriors were wildly successful with Jones and the run n’ shoot offense, putting together the best stretch in school history and posting winning seasons in 7 of his 9 years there. Jones would then spend seven years as the head coach at SMU, spend a stint as a high school offensive coordinator, coach the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL for two seasons, and eventually enjoyed a brief stint as a head coach in the XFL.

Jones has had a major impact on both the pro and college ranks as a coach, and his tenure as an offensive coordinator and head coach in Atlanta coincided with stellar years for terrific receivers like Michael Haynes, Bert Emanuel, and of course the great Andre Rison and Terance Mathis. For that work, his contributions to the 1991 and 1995 playoff teams, and those small handful of touchdowns he threw under center for Atlanta, he’s well worth remembering.