Gary Jones was in good company before arriving in New York as a free agent in 1995. A free safety who spent five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was coached by two Hall of Famers – Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher.
"If you're working corporate and you've got a proven boss, the track record is good, then you become a better worker. It's just kind of how it works." Jones said. "But, yeah, with Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll, that kind of speaks for itself.
"One thing that they do is, they hold you accountable and that automatically makes you better. It either makes you or breaks you. And if you're willing to get better, that kind of coaching turns your volume up a little bit."
Narrowing his options down to the Jets and the Carolina Panthers, Jones, who played college football for Texas A&M, liked what he heard while visiting with the Green & White, and felt more comfortable that the team had an established foundation.
"I really liked the interview that I had with Coach (Rich) Kotite and the defensive coordinator, Coach (Jim) Vechiarella. And Pete Giunta, who was the defensive back coach. I really had a nice visit with those guys. And I already knew a couple of guys who were from A&M, Aaron Glenn and Ray Mickens," Jones said.
"I just thought the opportunity was better with the Jets, they had a great defense. They had Mo Lewis there and Marvin Jones, Bobby Houston. They had a real good linebacking corps. And so I liked what they had better than Carolina because Carolina was just getting started (as an expansion team). I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a part of a beginning franchise. It was just a better fit at the time."
Unfortunately for Jones and the Jets, that wasn't one of the better times in team history. They were 3-13 in 1995, and it got worse the following year when they won only one game.
"Anytime you're losing like that, it's just a revolving door on many levels. Guys are there one day and gone the next. And if you're not used to that, then, yeah, anytime you're losing it's always tough to stomach," said Jones, who collected two interceptions during his first season with New York. Including one which he returned 49 yards for a touchdown against the Rams.
"And believe it or not, we had a pretty good defense. Guys flew around, and then Hugh Douglas came in and played well. And playing with Victor Green and Todd Scott, Lonnie Young, those guys, we had fun on defense. We wish we would have won more games and maybe make bigger plays to help the offense out, help the team out, but we had a little success on defense which helped."
With the Jets for two seasons, starting 23 of 26 games, and in the NFL for seven, the hard-hitting Jones had six interceptions and 206 combined tackles. What makes him most proud of his career?
"I kind of patterned myself after (Hall of Fame safety and former Jet) Ronnie Lott," Jones said. "I grew up watching him and just loved the way he played. He was feared and he was respected and didn't play dirty. And it's kind of ironic because I ended up moving into his spot after he became a free agent (following the 1994 season and ultimately retired because of injuries).
"But just having that type of mentality and having respect of the receivers and running backs or whoever that I got the chance to hit. And really, once you get done playing is when people kind of recognize you a little bit more through some of the highlights. Just kind of developing that type of reputation, not being a dirty player, but just being a guy that's a hard-hitter. Plays hard. Runs to the ball. That's what I always prided myself after."
Following his playing days, Jones returned to his native Texas and began his high school teaching and coaching days.
"I had taught school for about 13, 14 years and coached football and track. I did that for the most part where I was from. A couple of years, I taught and didn't coach," Jones said. "My certifications are in special education. And I have a math certification.
"And when I first started out coaching, I was a defensive coordinator at a private school. Then after that, I coached defensive backs for the most part."
Almost four years ago, Jones went to work for Rise Recovery Specialists in New Braunfels, Texas where he supported a team of substance abuse professionals guide clients through detoxification.
And now taking care of family obligations and making his home in East Texas, Jones hasn't ruled out perhaps coaching again in the future.