MARK Jones may have the look of a retired boxer and a hard-man reputation, but good friend and former teammate David Lowe says you “can’t judge a book by its cover”.
The Toronto boy’s appointment on Friday as the Jets’ first home-grown head coach continues an off-field career that began when he retired from the National Soccer League at just 28.
The 50-year-old has twice been an assistant coach at the Jets, including in the 2008 championship-winning campaign under Gary van Egmond, and held the same position with Perth Glory, Malaysian club Sabah FC and the Chinese Super League’s Chongqing Lifan under now Jets chief executive Lawrie McKinna.
He has earned his Pro licence, is a certified Asian Football Confederation elite conditioning instructor and is one of only 12 accredited FIFA fitness instructors.
Former Newcastle Breakers and Marconi teammate Lowe remembers Jones as a combative midfielder and defender in the NSL in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But he expects Jones to command the players’ respect with his football nous as much as his no-nonsense demeanour.
“There’s an authority about him,” the former Socceroo said. “A lot of people mistake the way he played because he was aggressive and the fact he came from Toronto and he was a bit rough and tumble, but he is a very intelligent, intellectual guy. He did well in the HSC back in the day.
“There wouldn’t be many, if any, that have better credentials in terms of licences and that sort of thing, so he’s right up there. He had the Toronto upbringing, which brings certain qualities with it, but I don’t think you can judge a book by its cover.”
Lowe said being a Newcastle local was no guarantee of success but had its advantages.
“You’ve got a certain pride in your local area, pride in your performance in that area, and, if you’ve grown up there, you can’t bullshit people, for want of a better term. They know what you’re about. I don’t think it does you any harm.
“Like a lot of people, I’m probably sick of people automatically thinking that people that come from the outside have better knowledge, have better experience, better qualifications. We’re probably due one.”
Jones will inherit a younger, smaller, more mobile side than the Jets have produced in the past few seasons.
“I think it will suit the type of football he’ll want to play,” Lowe said.
“If you look back to the championship-winning team that he and Gary were in charge of, it was hardly the biggest team. It was more about mobility and keeping the ball. They played out a lot through Stu Musialik. It was about mobility and rotations, but you couldn’t say they were an overly physical side.
“It was more about being mobile, being able to keep the ball, retain possession, pass – all the things that we look for in the modern-day player.
“The modern player wants to be educated, they want to be stimulated, and they’ll get all that, and they’ll get information. He’s got good knowledge, he’s very convincing in what he believes in.
“And if there’s any arguments and someone wants to take him to the gym, he’ll out-benchpress any of them.
“There’s a strong physicality to it as well . . . he won’t cop any crap.”
Jones was appointed head coach of the NSW Institute of Sport women’s program in 2000 and joined the Jets in 2006. Former owner Con Constantine promised he would inherit the head coaching role from van Egmond, but Jones missed out to Branko Culina then was released in 2010 after Nathan Tinkler took over.
He returned to the club in February last year after Tinkler sacked coaching staff members Clayton Zane, Neil Young and Andrew Packer. But the arrival of a new coaching team in Scott Miller and Jean-Paul de Marigny left Jones with a modified job description and he left in September.
Van Egmond said Jones – who looked “more ferocious than his bite, but by the same token you wouldn’t want to get him upset” – would have administrators around him with knowledge of the game.
“The benefit he has is having Lawrie as a CEO who is also experienced as a well credentialled coach, now with Joel Griffiths as the operations manager in there,” he said. “He’s got some really good people around him to support him, which is terrific.”