State of the Hogs: Harry Jones was one of Arkansas' greatest running back

By: Clay Henry
Published: Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Harry Jones poses with a copy of the Nov. 8, 1965, edition of Sports Illustrated.
( Clay Henry )
Harry Jones poses with a copy of the Nov. 8, 1965, edition of Sports Illustrated.

Run Harry run, run you son of a gun, give that ball to Harry Jones.

The Rivermen sang that to celebrate the hero status of Jones, the wingback who nearly took Arkansas to a second straight national title in 1965. It was Jones who adorned the cover of Sports Illustrated after the victory over No. 1 Texas that season.

That's my memory of Jones, along with War Memorial Stadium public address announcer Bud Pyron dubbing my hero "Light Horse Harry" during the 1965 TCU game in Little Rock.

Jones died Sunday of a heart attack after struggling the last few years from dementia, no doubt the result of all of the pounding he took as a running back with the Razorbacks and Philadelphia Eagles. He was 71.

Without a doubt, Jones was one of my early heroes. I ran the house singing that little ditty recorded by The Rivermen. We had it on the record player, a 45 that eventually wore out from too much play. What I knew about Jones was more than just a song. I thought of Jones as the biggest, fastest Arkansas football player of all-time. He will always be that to me.

What I later learned was that Jones was one of the nicest guys ever. Jones was among the early hires at Hawgs Illustrated, selling advertising for the company in 1993 soon after I became publisher. He was so nice that he later admitted, “I can't ask anyone for their money. I just don't have it in me. I'm too nice to do this.”

The part about him being too nice might have been true. My early thoughts that Jones was the biggest, fastest Razorback ever might not have been true, but I'm sticking with it.

Clyde Scott was probably faster, but was before my time and I didn't know any better. There have probably been faster since. Some will say Darren McFadden was faster for a big guy, along with several others.

But you'd be hard pressed to find many as big as Jones on any Arkansas team who could run much faster. He was timed at 9.6 in the 100-yard dash during his days on the UA campus. For a 6-foot-2, 205-pound back, that was amazing stuff, then and now.

Arkansas coach Frank Broyles thought Jones would be a Winged-T quarterback when he arrived from Enid, Okla., in 1963. He was the top quarterback on the freshman team and was battling Fred Marshall and Jon Brittenum for the starting job. He would get another chance in the spring 1965, but ultimately wound up at wingback.

But back to his first crack at quarterback, there was a twist to that spring 1964. Broyles had switched to the Slot-I formation, with more of an emphasis on passing. Jones was the best of the three as a runner, but probably third best as a passer.

Johnny Majors, who had arrived that spring to coach the secondary for Broyles, recalled that situation in a phone interview this week as he heaped praise on Jones, one of his all-time favorites.

“I could tell that Frank was leaning to either Marshall or Brittenum at quarterback,” Majors said. “So I went to Frank. Could I have Harry to play the safety man position? Kenny Hatfield had played there the year before and I thought he could offer the quickness I wanted at halfback. We had Billy Gray, another quick one, for the other halfback. I needed Harry to finish that backfield at safety.”

Broyles did not allow it right away.

“I think Frank saw Harry as his dream quarterback, a sure all-American because of that great ability as a runner,” Majors said. “He really wanted to keep Harry at quarterback. But Harry just couldn't pass it well enough for the Slot-I. He was a Winged-T quarterback, probably a true dream quarterback there. It just wasn't working for him in the Slot-I.

“We were able to get Harry for some practices late in spring. And we worked him there again in August. When the job went to Fred Marshall, I got Harry.”

There was more convincing to do. Linebackers coach Wilson Matthews wasn't so sure Jones fit with the veterans on the '64 defense, the heart and soul of the run to an 11-0 national title.

Rarely did true sophomores play at Arkansas, although Jones and tackle Loyd Phillips were exceptions to the rule that year. And, both were stars.

As far as Jones stepping in at safety, Majors said, “That wasn't something Wilson Matthews wanted. He didn't think Harry was tough enough. I don't want to second guess anything Wilson said, because toughness was something he preached and was right about.

“I wanted toughness, too. I was a hard-nosed coach, too. I thought Harry was plenty tough enough and quick, along with smart. He was very intelligent.”

There was a quick mesh in the secondary. That secondary intercepted 15 passes that season, two by Jones.

“The two Harry got – against TCU and Rice – were both returned for touchdowns,” Majors said. “Then, we also got scores on punt returns from Kenny Hatfield. That defense, with an offense that didn't turn the ball over, was a really good combination.

“Frank had the right philosophy. I heard him talk at so many clinics through the years. If you don't turn the ball over, the other team is going to have a tough time scoring. And, if they don't score, they can't beat you very often. That's what we did in '64.”

Indeed, the Hogs led the country with an astounding plus-14 turnover ratio. They only committed 14, including just six lost fumbles. They led college football in takeaways with 28.

The secondary made few mistakes. Jones allowed the top two candidates at safety, Gray and Hatfield, to move to halfback. Hatfield made all-America and Gray was all-SWC.

“What I saw in practice,” Majors said, “was that we could have great quickness and ability at halfback, with Kenny moving there from safety. We would have Billy at the other halfback. And we'd have Charlie Daniels at the monster back, the other safety, the way they are called now.

“And it worked out just that way. Harry could run down anything at safety and was a sure tackler. He was the biggest, fastest player on the field. No one could outrun him and he was athletic."

Arkansas recorded five consecutive shutouts to end the regular season and beat Nebraska 10-7 in the Cotton Bowl.

“That turned out to be a very good secondary," Majors said. "Of course, we were good in all areas of defense, but we were very athletic in the secondary with those players and Harry, with his speed, was a big part of that as the safety man.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Mackenzie was the man who found Jones at Enid, Okla. But, a freak accident at home kept him from going on the road to recruit. Mackenzie turned Jones' recruiting over to first-year assistant coach Barry Switzer.

“Mackenzie was recruiting Enid and there were five really good ones there,” Switzer said. “But Jim had the accident where he ran over his foot with a power mower. He lost several toes. He just couldn't go on the road and so Coach Broyles gave me Oklahoma.

“Harry was the quarterback at Enid, but he wasn't a thrower. He was an athlete playing out of position. He was as fast as anyone we were recruiting and you just had to project him at a position.

“Mackenzie set things up over the phone, but sent me. What I remember about all of those Enid guys – and there were some good ones – is that Harry had the best career of any of them and was the 19th pick overall in the draft.

“What you could see with Harry at the high school and college level, he was always the best athlete on the field. Now he wasn't a thrower, but he was bigger and faster than anyone.”

The Philadelphia Eagles took Jones in the first round and tried him at halfback, wide receiver and defensive end. He couldn't stay healthy, with several knee injuries ending his career in August of his fifth season. Immediately, Majors - then the head coach across the state at Pittsburgh - called.

“I wanted him to be my running backs coach and we had some great ones,” Majors said. “I knew his personality was perfect for coaching that group. For four years, he coached some great players and we won the (national) championship in 1976.”

Among the great ones was Tony Dorsett, the Heisman Trophy winner. Dorsett gave Jones his helmet from that '76 season.

“Harry Jones was a great one, both coaching and as one of my players at Arkansas,” Majors said. “I don't think anyone could have done a better job coaching Dorsett. Harry helped coach Tony to the Heisman Trophy.

“My first staff at Pitt included Harry, Jimmy Johnson as defensive line coach, Larry Lacewell as linebackers coach and Jackie Sherrill as B-team coach. All of those have some ties back to the state of Arkansas and were fine coaches.”

As far as coaching, Majors said Jones was a perfect fit on the Pitt staff.

“First, our players loved Harry,” Majors said. “He was clever and had great wit. His sense of humor with the players was great for morale.

“We had a very tough section of pre-practice, our agility sessions. They were drills designed to toughen up our players. There were up-downs, running drills, agility and things to push players to their limits. We'd do that for 30 minutes and our players hated it.

“When we got to the end, I'd tell Harry and he'd blow his whistle. Now no one looked any better than Harry Jones. He had that great tapered body. He'd start strutting like a drum major and run through our players blowing his whistle. They knew that the tough part of practice was over and they'd be cheering for Harry and with him like crazy. It was a fun part of every practice and Harry made it that way.

“What I can tell you about Harry, there was never a person that was more loved, just a gentle, wonderful person. He was a great player, a great coach and I was very fortunate to be his coach at Arkansas and to have him as part of my staff at Pitt.”

There is no arguing the truth on any of that. And I'm probably going to argue that Harry Jones was the biggest, fastest Arkansas football player, too.

Sorry about that Darren McFadden. I just like Light Horse Harry too much.


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