Mac Jones' mentor has always been impressed by the Crimson Tide quarterback

Jacob Unruh
The Oklahoman
Alabama's Mac Jones draws raves from his longtime quarterback guru, Joe Dickinson, for his talent and commitment.

Sitting inside a Tuscaloosa, Alabama, lunch spot 11 months ago, Joe Dickinson broke everything down for his latest protégé, Mac Jones. 

Alabama’s quarterback had plenty of receiving weapons — DeVonta Smith, John Metchie and Jaylen Waddle among others — who could make his life easier. 

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The Crimson Tide had a strong running back in Najee Harris.

Then Dickinson — a renowned quarterbacks coach and former Oklahoma offensive coordinator — said something intriguing for a February afternoon. If Jones wasn’t careful, Dickinson said, he could fool around and win the Heisman Trophy. 

Jones, in his bashful and humble manner, laughed it off. Surely, it was a joke. But it wasn’t. 

“I know what kind of level you can play at and I know your accuracy level,” Dickinson told Jones. 

Turns out, Dickinson’s message wasn’t far off. 

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Jones didn’t win the Heisman — his teammate Smith did, becoming the first receiver to win college football’s most prestigious award since 1991 — but he did finish third, just behind Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and ahead of record-setting Florida QB Kyle Trask. 

Jones, however, did win two other quarterback awards in 2020, the Davey O’Brien and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm. 

Now Jones will lead No. 1 Alabama into the College Football Playoff national championship game against Ohio State on Monday night in Miami Gardens, Florida. 

Dickinson had a huge hand in Jones’ development. 

“We talk almost every day on the phone,” Jones told the Tuscaloosa News last week. “We’re texting and he’s just a guy that he can always help me out if I need something with my mechanics or anything with the scheme that we’re doing, just because he’s been around football for a long time. And he’s seen a lot of good players and a lot of good coaching.” 

Dickinson — known as “Coach D” by Jones — first met Jones at a camp in Jacksonville, Florida. Then 11, Jones impressed former Oklahoma State quarterback Daxx Garman enough that Garman called over Dickinson. 

At that point, Dickinson was working with college-aged quarterbacks. But something was different about Jones. 

He had a tennis build. Jones’ father, Gordon, was a pro tennis player who once played in a Wimbledon qualifier. Mac was pretty good at tennis himself. But he was an even better quarterback. 

“I knew he always had the capability,” Dickinson said. “He’s a really talented kid.” 

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Dickinson and Jones started working more and more together as Jones developed into a strong quarterback at The Bolles School in Jacksonville. 

Jones, however, was running the wing-T offense, so there wasn’t much passing involved. Jones even had to wait to become the starter until his junior year of high school.

But Dickinson loved that. Jones paid his dues. He didn’t transfer. He led Bolles to a state regional final as a junior and the Class 4A title as a senior. 

“I knew he had staying power, he had a commitment-level power,” Dickinson said. “I’d watch him play and he’d play really good against the high-powered schools in Jacksonville. 

“You could see he could play at a high level in high-level games.” 

When Jones arrived at Alabama, he again had to bide his time. He got his chance last season when Tua Tagovailoa suffered an injury, leading Alabama in the final three games, shining for all but two bad throws — pick-sixes — in a loss to rival Auburn. 

“That’s all everybody wanted to remember,” Dickinson said. “It’s like playing at Oklahoma, right? You can be really good, but if you mess up against Texas you’re a ‘Texas loser,’ right?” 

Jones wanted only to move forward this offseason and win the starting job. 

So, he called Dickinson in February with a request. Jones had focused on schemes and not necessarily technique with Alabama’s coaching staff. He wanted a refresher on deep-ball techniques from Dickinson. 

“Just getting kind of that third-party outside source I can have as like a family member-type person,” Jones said, “and Coach D has been really cool.” 

Dickinson — who has limited his travel after a devastating auto crash 3½ years ago — left his home in Oklahoma and headed to Alabama in February. They spent a few days working on Jones’ mechanics as he threw to the Crimson Tide’s talented receivers. 

Dickinson knew immediately a special season was possible. He has watched every game this season, seeing Jones complete 275 of 357 passes (77%) for 4,036 yards, 36 touchdowns and only four interceptions. 

Dickinson grudgingly accepts that his mentoring played a “minimal part” in Jones’ development. 

“You gotta count your successes as you go in this business,” he said. “I knew he could do it. Now he’s done it. Now everybody’s expecting big things all the time. I tell him he’s created his own expectation level that’s very high.”