Tulane, Georgia Tech have rivalry reaching back 98 years _lowres

Advocate file photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Rick Jones spent 21 years as Tulane's baseball coach before stepping down last season.

There will be no shortage of familiarity for Rick Jones when he walks into Turchin Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The most successful coach in Tulane history spent 22 seasons atop the program and sent it to unprecedented heights before retiring because of stress-related health concerns following the 2014 season.

Now he’ll back in a Tulane dugout, looking into the one used to call home.

Jones will represent the alumni team which faces off against the current edition of the Green Wave — under new coach David Pierce — at 1 p.m. Saturday.

“I’m not going to be pacing up and down the dugout like I used to,” Jones said. “I’m really just excited to catch up with all of these guys from both the alumni team and the current team, because it’s a pretty unique opportunity for me to come back and be involved, and a lot of coaches don’t get that chance once they’re no longer with a school.

“I’m very appreciative of David Pierce reaching out to me and asking me to come in for this, because it’s something I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of — and Tulane baseball and the people who are a part of it will always mean so much to me.”

Jones lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, with his wife, Gina Jones, and said he’s in excellent health, pinpointing the stress that came with the job as the reason for his retirement-inducing heart issues. Jones said he became “addicted to winning,” and when the Green Wave failed to reach the NCAA tournament since 2008, including a few near-misses, the anxiety overwhelmed him, resulting in sleepless nights, skyrocketing blood pressure and frequent panic attacks.

“It started when I felt like I was letting down the fans, honestly,” Jones said. “It all just rolled onto itself, and I couldn’t control it. But six weeks after I stepped down, I felt completely healthy.”

He’s returned to the Uptown campus on a few occasions since his departure, accepting an invitation from former Tulane president Scott Cowen to watch the first football game at Yulman Stadium. He was also there to welcome former star Micah Owings into the Tulane Hall of Fame during homecoming in November.

They were opportunities he said he would’ve never passed up.

“First and foremost, I’m a Tulane fan,” Jones said. “When you work at a place as long as I worked at Tulane, I make sure to keep up with everything. I don’t miss a basketball or football game when they’re on television. I’m a fan now. And I was fortunate enough to be a part of special run where we had some incredible players and great guys, and I was really embraced by the Tulane community, and I can’t ever forget that.

“It’s a special place, and I’m looking forward to talking to some of the people who were so loyal to us and loyal to me. After going back to those football games on campus, we were greeted so warmly and it was just fun to be around.”

Pierce said he understands the connection his predecessor has with the university and that Jones’ success is what drew him to accept the job after reaching three consecutive NCAA tournaments with Sam Houston State. Tulane ace pitcher Corey Merrill and starting shortstop Stephen Alemais each said they’re excited to see Jones in the visitor’s dugout and are pleased he was invited to attend the weekend’s festivities.

“Coach Jones has always been big on tradition, and it’s great that coach Pierce is too,” Merrill said. “It’s so good for him to come back here and see everyone and get him back in the baseball swing of things.”

Although Jones says he dearly misses New Orleans, returning to his home state has allowed him and his wife to reconnect with family and live a more relaxed lifestyle on the banks of the Atlantic Ocean. He insists this isn’t the end of his career; just the start of a new chapter.

“There have been days where I have a little more time on my hands than I’m used to,” Jones said. “But I’ve been in contact with people from professional baseball, and I think I’ll end up doing something there, but nothing is etched in stone. I’d like to stay in the game. I’m certainly not going to sit around idle, and I’m 100-percent healthy and ready to go.

“I almost wish I had a hobby (laughing). I drove by a driving range the other day and actually put my blinker on, but then just thought, ‘Not yet.’ So I’m not quite ready for that. But I don’t think anything will quite match the fun I had at Tulane and in New Orleans.”