Jim Jones, the former Ohio State athletic director whose tenure at the university spanned nearly four decades, died on Wednesday at his winter home in Bonita Springs, Florida. He was 83.
Hired as an assistant by football coach Woody Hayes from the university’s department of physical education in 1967, Jones would go on to serve as athletic director from 1987-94. He replaced Rick Bay, and among his first duties was to hire John Cooper as football coach to replace Earle Bruce.
In retirement, Jones maintained a suite in the press box at Ohio Stadium and left an impression upon those who would see him at games.
"He was a Buckeye," said Dan Wallenberg, Ohio State associate athletic director for communications. "He was always the AD. He was always thinking about what should have been done and always had an opinion on what was going on at the time. Just a great person with a wealth of experience and knowledge.
"He always knew who you were. He always made you feel like you were special to him and his family."
A native of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Jones graduated from Kent State University in 1958 with a degree in mathematics and after college worked as a high school administrator, teacher and coach.
Jones came to Ohio State in 1965 as a physical education instructor, then spent four years on Hayes’ staff, from 1967-70, working chiefly as an academic adviser.
In 1970 he was promoted to assistant director of athletics, where he was responsible for eligibility, compliance, team travel and the grant-in-aid program, and in 1977, Jones was elevated to associate AD and ran the day-to-day duties of the athletics department.
In November 1987, Jones became Ohio State's sixth director of athletics in the wake of Bay’s resignation following the firing of Bruce, who was let go after compiling a record of 81-26-1 in nine seasons as Hayes’ replacement.
During his tenure, Jones saw the beginning of the women’s soccer program, which played its first season in 1993.
Jones announced in February 1994 that he was taking early retirement, at age 57. At the time, Ohio State was in the midst of an NCAA investigation into the men’s basketball program for recruiting violations.
Sources told The Dispatch then that Jones’ departure was a move OSU was making to mitigate possible penalties. Jones, however, denied that was a motive.
"There is nothing deeper to this that I know of other than I’m accepting the buyout and I’m going to retire," he said then.
Andy Geiger was hired as Jones’ replacement in April 1994.
"Jim Jones had a significant and positive impact on my life," said Gene Smith, Ohio State’s current AD. "I will miss him greatly. He had a commitment to diversity and made a tremendous contribution to the growth of Ohio State athletics."
Jerry Emig, Ohio State’s associate athletic director for communications and sports information director for football, said Jones and his wife, Linda, clearly enjoyed being on hand for football games.
"He was always gracious, always seemed grateful to be up there and just looked like it was always such a wonderful time to be at an Ohio State football game," Emig said. "He and his wife were always smiling. He was just a real gentleman, a real kind individual."
Wallenberg said he used to play golf at Ohio State’s Gray Course as part of a foursome that also included Jones’ son, Bill, who was an associated athletic director at Ohio State when he passed away in 2012 at age 48.
"I was just lucky to be a part of that; hanging around the guys who have been around the department for so long was a real treat for me," Wallenberg said. "It wasn’t about the golf, it was about the stories. (Jim) didn’t care much about what his final score was, but he always had something to say about your score."
Jones’ time as athletic director also overlapped with the tenure of Dr. Richard Strauss, a former wrestling team physician who served the university from the mid-1970s into the late ’90s.
Strauss died by suicide in 2005 and in recent years has been at the center of a sexual misconduct investigation. Jones repeatedly refused comment about his knowledge of Strauss’s actions and his dealings with him.
In 2013 Jones was honored with the James J. Corbett Memorial Award, presented annually by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics to a collegiate administrator who "through the years has most typified (a) devotion to intercollegiate athletics and worked unceasingly for its betterment."
Jones was a past president of NACDA and the Division IA athletic directors. He served on many national committees at the Big Ten and national levels.
In 2018 Ohio State’s Varsity O organization created the Jim Jones Award to recognize OSU male letter-winners who, through their careers, contributed to the honor and fame of Ohio State University. The initial recipients of the award were Charles Csuri and Jameson Crane.
In addition to his wife, Linda, Jones is survived by his daughter Lynnae MaGinn, son-in-law Mark MaGinn and two granddaughters, Courtney and Taylor.
Funeral arrangements are pending.