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Vermeil confident Jones can make Lincoln a winner

Dick Vermeil knows a thing or two about transforming struggling football teams into winners.

The former NFL head coach did just that with the Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs. At each stop, Vermeil took over teams with losing records and led them to the playoffs in his third season at the helm.

One of Vermeil’s former players, Mike Jones, is trying to follow in his footsteps, as the former Rams linebacker is attempting to turn around the long-suffering Lincoln University football program.

At the Lincoln Blue Tiger Quarterback Club’s Casino Night last Wednesday on the Lincoln football field at Dwight T. Reed Stadium, Vermeil said Jones is just the guy to do it.

“I expect him to (turn around Lincoln’s football program),” Vermeil said. “He expects to. It takes events like this to help him.”

The importance of the Casino Night’s fundraising efforts can’t be understated. Lincoln, which currently doles out 21.5 full football scholarships, sits well behind the 36 full scholarships all the other teams in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association give out.

“This is very important, because we need to raise money,” Jones said. “Funding-wise, we have to raise the money we need to get fully funded. We’re not there yet, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Said Vermeil: “People that were beating him are already ahead and have more money. You’ve got to catch up. The way you catch up is, work hard, bring in real good people, work them hard, get the administration, school and community behind you and get some money to make it worthwhile for better players to come here.”

Vermeil’s attendance at the fundraiser goes a long way to making that happen.

“If I can help him like he helped me, you could never catch up,” Vermeil said, referring to Jones making the game-saving tackle in Super Bowl XXXIV, a game the Rams won 23-16 over the Tennessee Titans. “It’s a great time to be with him and his organization and help him do here what he helped me do in St. Louis.”

Lincoln has won just four games over the past four seasons. Jones, who will enter Year 3 as head man at Lincoln in the fall, holds a 2-20 record with the Blue Tigers.

So in Jones’ talks with Vermeil, the pupil is trying to learn from his former coach.

“He put together a great organization and we rallied behind him,” Jones said. “He was a great leader for us. A lot of stuff I implement here I got from him.”

Jones went on to list a few of those things, principles Vermeil reiterated.

“Community involvement,” Jones said. “Recruiting quality people. He is big on people. Make sure you have the right people in the right places and you’ll win doing that. Sometimes you might see a better player, but if you have good people doing what they’re supposed to, you’ll be able to do what you need to do.”

Vermeil passed along some advice he’s given Jones in the pasting about turning around struggling teams.

“First, to surround himself with good people,” he said. “If the guy doesn’t fit, forget about it, move on, get somebody else to take that spot.

“Second, work hard. Work very hard. Push them, push them until they’re mad at you. Most people can work harder than they think they can. Sometimes it takes people a while for people to realize that. Mike understands that.

“I hope maybe I was a good example for him too. He witnessed what we did. Hopefully some of that will carry over.”

Time will tell if Jones can turn Lincoln into a winner. Vermeil sure thinks he can.

“He’s dedicated to it,” Vermeil said. “He’s excited about it. He knows they’re better. He thinks they’re going to be pretty good this year, in contrast to the past. I think his enthusiasm, his sincerity and his knowledge will all rub off and they’ll be better.”

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