Keeping up with the Joneses
(Dave Eggen/NBAE/Getty Images)
The most indispensable tool in the home basketball office of Brad Jones is a Web camera. Jones doesn’t use it to spy on opponents or scout new talent. The new coach of the Austin Toros uses it to communicate with the head women’s basketball coach at Southeastern Louisiana, Lori Jones.
Brad and Lori share more than the same last name. They share one of the more unusual family arrangements in sports. For much of the year, Brad and Lori live hundreds of miles apart while coaching two teams in two states. They also parent three active children, age 13, 8 and 3, which means getting them to school, football practice, basketball games, cross country meets and other events. Talk about a full-court press.
"It’s definitely different," Brad says. "When we tell people what we do, we get that look. I know people think we’re crazy but we’re happy."
Enter the Web cam. Most couples stay in touch with phone calls, text messages and e-mails. Brad and Lori skype. If they can’t be with one another, at least they can see one another. "If we didn’t have a Web cam, I wouldn’t be able to do it," Brad says. "It really, really helps."
It helps that Brad just moved several hundred miles closer to Lori. He spent the past three years as coach of the Utah Flash, the Developmental League team of the NBA Jazz. From Austin, Brad will be a mere 470 miles from Lori in Hammond, La.
Basketball will bring them together in December. On the first, Brad’s Toros play in Austin and Lori’s team will drive in to watch, then head up to Waco for a contest against Baylor. Husband and wife can hardly wait. "I think I’m the happiest guy in the D-League," Brad says.
Brad and Lori met years ago – where else? – on the basketball court. He was coaching the men’s team at Lambuth University in Jackson, Tenn. She was coaching the women’s team. He had an office upstairs, she had one downstairs. They shared a gym, struck up a friendship and fell in love.
Gifted and ambitious, they knew their careers would diverge. So they made an agreement: Whoever got a great offer first would accept and the other would follow. In 2001, Lori left the NAIA program for Division I Southeastern Louisiana in Hammond, La. Brad joined her with 4-year-old Justin and 4-month-old Isabella. He did not become a stay-at-home dad.
The Jazz asked Brad to become a regional scout for Utah in New Orleans, a one-hour drive from Hammond. Perfect. At the news conference, Brad appeared next to Jazz coach Jerry Sloan – an uncle by marriage – and began a job that prepared him for his current assignment. "I got to know the Spurs and their offense very, very well," Brad says.
After scouting the 2007 playoff series between the Spurs and the Suns, Brad became head coach of the Utah Flash and family life got real interesting. Lori not only coached, recruited and studied video. She cooked, cleaned, washed clothes, helped with homework and took the kids to their team practices and games
"It’s been challenging, "Lori says.
On the upside, the long-distance arrangement has sharpened her time management skills. And Brad’s absence has forced her to pay more attention to her children. Before Brad left for Utah, Lori says, she felt consumed with winning and building a program. When he moved, Lori had to make changes. "I think I became a better mother," she says.
On the downside, the sometimes crazy pace of life can cause her to forget an important scheduling detail or two. Then there’s the longing for Brad. He feels the absence, too. "The hard part is at the end of the day," he says. "You are expecting to have your three kids there and your wife there and they’re not. Missing kid’s events is tough. But you just make it work."
The best time is the off-season. That’s when Brad spends uninterrupted time with Lori and the children. "They love the summers," Brad says, "when dad’s home."
Justin, Isabella and Jackson won’t have to wait until then to see dad. They’ll visit him over Thanksgiving. After Brad returns from a Nov. 19 game against Maine, he’ll scoop them up and head for Austin until Lori arrives with her team on Dec. 1. And after Thanksgiving?
"I know she’ll be seven hours away," Brad says, "but it seems like down the road compared to when I was in Utah."
Brad and Lori sound genuinely excited. They know their living arrangement is unconventional but they understand the coaching business like nobody else.
"This forces you to communicate with your spouse and be organized," Brad says. "In a weird way, it’s been a huge positive for our relationship. It’s brought us closer together. I’ll do this for as long as it works. And right now it’s working."