Jake Stone sits down with The Hullabaloo
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The Tulane Hullabaloo: How did you get involved with the football team?
Jake Stone: I started as an undergraduate assistant at the beginning of my freshman year as a student worker-type role with the old coaching staff. I got a foot in the door, I knew I wanted to coach and had an internship before I got to college so I started off as a student worker and worked with the team all four years of undergrad. I got the job before I moved into my freshman year dorm.
Hull: How did that happen?
Stone: I knew I wanted to do it by the end of my senior year in high school and I had gotten touch with the director of football operations, Doug Lichtenberger, at the time and emailed him throughout the summer. I knew I was coming to Tulane and unfortunately knew I wasn’t good enough to play, but [I] got in touch with him about helping out in the office and he said we got a student worker role available so I came in and little by little, each year I got a more responsibility and football related stuff. Then the old coaching staff got fired at the end of last year and then Coach Fritz came on and I was finishing up the second semester of my senior year and knew I wanted to get a job in coaching and worked really hard, proved myself and Coach Fritz offered me a graduate assistant role with recruiting, so that’s how I got to where I am today.
Hull: What were your roles as a student worker?
Stone: I started off my freshman year was a whole lot of office work, sending mail to kids, mail mailers about camps, handwritten notes which I still do today and typical office work like organizing, copying, filing and then I started helping out the graduate assistants. In football you’re allowed four coach graduate assistants, two for the offense and two for the defense. I started helping them out with down and distance breakdowns and kind of stock standard when they evaluate opponents game film, you’re looking at the down and distance, and little things that were easy for me to do. I did that and then I started helping out my sophomore year and junior year, as an outgoing personality, with campus tours when prospective players would come to campus since I was pretty familiar with it. Then I got a little bit into recruiting evaluations, watching prospects but really that was me learning about how they evaluated prospects.
Starting into my senior year I was still doing all that stuff and ended up doing a little more with the offense in terms of helping with their film breakdowns and then I actually helped out a bunch with special teams, scouting our opponents. That was something [because] they built a trust relationship with me. I also check breakfast at 6 a.m. every morning and help coordinate team meals during fall practice. There was a lot of monotonous work, some people might think, but what I appreciated was that I got to see it from all phases: from an operations standpoint, recruiting standpoint, offense, defense, special teams so it let me get my experience learning about a lot of different stuff. That’s kind of what I did and also a bunch of other things.
Hull: What are you studying as a graduate student?
Stone: My master’s degree of masters of liberal arts. I graduated undergrad with business management, so it’s a complete 180. I like it though.
Hull: What’s a day in the life for you?
Stone: I wake up every day around 5:30, I like to get to the facility an hour before meetings, so I get here around 6 a.m. I help prep for position meetings, what have you, but it’s more me eating breakfast and watching ESPN. I help prep, get ready for meetings – meetings start at seven. I try and sit on the corner meetings to see how coach Hampton runs it and learn about the defense, 7 to around 8:15. Then we’re on the field 8:30 for practice. I help the offense, I read the plays to signalers on the offense.
We practice 8:30-10:30 and then depending on the day, some days we may have recruits visiting so right after practice I have to hurry up, shower and start showing them around the facility, showing them around campus. It depends on how many recruits we have in, if they’re big-time guys, or if they aren’t so big-time guys. I’ll show them around campus, and then get lunch. After lunch I’m either charting catches, which is basically if they caught or dropped a punt or kickoff. I do that data entry, there’s misc. recruiting tasks I have to handle between then and 3:00, which is our daily staff meeting. Staff meeting goes from 3-4 usually and recaps practice, recruiting, health report, academic, that type of stuff.
Then 4-5 I’m just getting everything together after staff meeting. Masters of Liberal arts, one of the reasons we take the program is because it offers all night classes and is more geared toward professionals. The NCAA stipulates that if you are a coaching specific graduate assistant I believe there is no minimum hour requirement, you just have to be enrolled in graduate studies. I am not a coaching graduate assistant, I’m a recruiting graduate assistant and I have a minimum of nine credit hours I need to take every semester so this semester I am in three different classes Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night.
At 5:00 I leave to go to the LBC to get dinner and be there at 6. Then I’m in class 6-8:30, surprisingly enough it’s less hectic than my first semester senior year because what I love is that I’m in one place at one time whereas I was running around a lot first semester senior year. I coached middle school football in addition to working over 40 hours a week for football team, I was in 15 credit hours in the business school finishing up that and I would be at breakfast at 6:00, I would actually get to the office before breakfast senior year. Coaching football isn’t something that you can go a day without, you have to need it every single day to be able to do it because it is long hours but you have to be a certain kind of crazy to do it and I am.
Hull: Do you want to continue to be in football and ultimately be a head coach?
Stone: Yes, ma’am, that’s the end goal. What I try to do is take the most value out of every stage, so especially right now I think the best part about this is I have the opportunity to be the least knowledgeable person in the room. When I’m in a position meeting or I’m in a coaches meeting, it’s okay for me to ask a bunch of questions and I think that’s the best part about it. I can learn as much as I can and get a free education, especially from Tulane, holy cow, that’s awesome.
I want to enjoy every stage of it and coach football the rest of my life. I’d probably never retire or else I’d go nuts but I see now the beauty of being a position coach, the beauty of being an analyst, and I think that there would be certain parts of each job taking ownership of what you do and coaching, mentoring, teaching and I think that’s something incredibly rewarding. Especially with this group of young men here at Tulane, I think that they are a special group of players. I definitely want to continue this as long as I live.
Hull: Where did this love of football come from?
Stone: It’s a long story but I guess we’ve got some time. When I was 13, in 7th grade, I was the worst soccer player you could ever imagine. We had an A team, a B team and a C team. The C team had a varsity and a junior varsity. I was the junior varsity backup goalie, that’s how bad I was at soccer. I was talking to my parents about trying to play football next season in eighth grade and my dad wasn’t having it. I was way too skinny, I was 5’11-6’0, 150 lbs soaking wet with my book bag full. My dad wasn’t having any of it but the tragedy it. My dad passed away before football started in 8th grade. I was 13, August 11th, 2007.
What happened after was, a lot of a young kid losing his father and I was very close to my dad. The funeral was held two days after on August 13th, the same day that football practice started. In the Jewish tradition you observe Shiva, and all the family members are in the house at all times throughout the day. Cabin fever I guess and being so emotionally distraught not knowing what to think, a lot of it was over my head because I was so young. My mom, bless her soul, was smart enough to realize that and told me on the first day observing Shiva, she said ‘go ride your bike and go up to football practice’. I rode my bike with my best friend at the time, we both went to football practice.
That sort of served as a release of all the pressure and hardship throughout that time. I wasn’t a good football player, it wasn’t like I was much better at football than I was at soccer but the physical nature of it, the fact that you were allowed to hit people and I certainly wanted to hit people at that time and the camaraderie, the teammate nature of the sport gave me a lot of things, the structure as the years went on. I continued playing football and pushed myself through a lot of hardship. There is a lot to be said about football, and I gained a lot of male role models that I would’ve lacked otherwise, which is incredibly important when you don’t have a dad. For many reasons, one or another, we find that there are a significant number of college athletes, football players in specific, that lack the proper role models in their lives. That’s why a lot of people want to get into coaching. Football always meant a whole lot to me for many reasons, from a structural support system to many other things.
When I was a senior, I really badly wanted to play college ball but I guess it was a stroke of good luck to know I wasn’t good enough to play Division I. I looked at D3 schools and had some interest but it wasn’t the right fit for me. My mom always impressed upon me the importance of going to a school that you wanted to go to and Tulane was it. It was about that time where I was weighing my options, I got into Tulane and definitely wanted to go there, and I guess I was smart enough to realize I wasn’t good enough to walk on. Maybe I could’ve tried, I’m sure that they would’ve had me and laughed at me for four years but what I did instead was my mindset hanged and I wasn’t ready to give up a life with football, I wasn’t ready to live that way.
My mindset has been from that point forward has been that I’m going to coach a high level of competitive football. There’s a chip on my shoulder, sure, but a high level of competitive football and be a mentor to these young men who don’t have fathers and there’s a lot of them who don’t, like I said for one reason or another. That’s the important part, to be a great role model because my dad was a great one and I had a lot of great football coaches who were excellent role models and I think that’s the most important thing especially with the majority of the guys that play division I college football, there isn’t a whole lot of opportunity outside of playing football. In the neighborhoods and the situations that they grow up in, there’s not a lot of opportunity handed to them. I was very fortunate that my parents provided a heck of a lot of opportunities for me and so my belief is that my greater purpose in life overall, ahead of winning football games is to provide a bunch of young men who do not have a lot of opportunities and set them up so they can create opportunities for themselves. That’s kind of why I’m doing it and that’s the whole story behind it.
My big thing is that you have to have a passion in life and you better love what you do cause you’re going to do it for a long time and I’d rather be a guy who works ridiculously long but loves it than work ridiculously short hours but hates it. You might as well have a purpose.
Hull: Where are you originally from?
Stone: Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio.
Hull: How was the adjustment from Ohio to New Orleans when you first moved down here?
Stone: I embraced it, wide armed. I actually first came down because I had always been infatuated with the deep south. I was always a fan of blues music, my mom always said you were born a white Jewish boy in Cleveland, Ohio [and] meant to die an old black man in Mississippi. I was always infatuated with the deep south; when I was 14 I was doing a bunch of service trips to Honduras, and this was after my dad had passed away and money was getting a little tight and it was getting expensive for me to keep going but my mom didn’t want discourage me from volunteering and doing good. She said it was getting expensive and began looking into local options, domestic trips. She had a connection to people in DeLisle Mississippi, which is about an hour away from New Orleans, right outside of Gulfport. It was just after Hurricane Katrina, maybe a year of two after, and I flew down there on a prop plane and flew down to Biloxi/Gulfport airport and was there for a week. That was my first time in the deep south, truly the middle of nowhere. If you search the city on google, it doesn’t come up.
I stayed with two Baptist ministers in their home and I loved every second of it. They took me down to New Orleans for my first time and I fell in love with the city. I think it was the architecture, New Orleans is easy on the eyes. I fell in love with the city. I’m a huge music fan, I played the guitar growing up – blues, jazz, rock and roll, hip hop all of that. So that really drew me to it and I came back from a leadership conference in ninth grade and then I found out about Tulane when I was a junior. Great academic school, mom was enticed by the high Jewish population of the student body and it was my favorite city. I applied, I visited campus, I’d never visited campus before and campus was easy on the eyes. I said this is where I want to go and we were fortunate enough I got in and all thanks to my mom who took on the financial burden, not without the help of financial aid and scholarships, and made it a possibility and never said no because I was doing what I wanted to do, doing what I love and it wasn’t going to get me locked up in jail which is the second thing that she taught me. The first thing she taught me was never catch with your face, the second one stuck. That’s how I got down to New Orleans and that’s how I got here and it’s an amazing city.
Hull: How do you feel about the Tennessee Williams quote?
Stone: Everywhere else is pretty good then
Hull: Do you miss Cleveland? Do you want to go back?
Stone: Absolutely, I want to go back. I’m going back to Spring Break. People go all around the country, one of my friends is going to Cuba for Spring Break and one is going to Key West and I go home, every spring break. Every opportunity that I can. I love that city but I don’t miss the snow. I do want to go back, that city doesn’t have as much culture as New Orleans but has the laid back type feel. New Orleans is a big country town and Cleveland is as well and there’s a lot of heart and loyalty, especially from there and if you’re not I wouldn’t expect you to understand. The goal when I was leaving high school was one day I’ll be the head coach of the Browns and be the first head coach to win a Super bowl but yeah, I absolutely want to go back there when it’s all said and done.
Hull: Do you have any siblings?
Stone: I’ve got an older brother who still lives in Cleveland. My mom is actually a rabbi and married a salesman, which is why I’m perfect for college football because my mom’s a teacher and my dad’s a salesman. A coach is a teacher and a recruiter is a salesman. My brother lives back home and we were born on opposite sides of the gene pool. I was born my dad’s side, my brother my mom’s side, so he’s more into the religious school teaching. He’s a religious school teacher, a youth group advisor and is a thespian and an incredible singer as well so he does a bunch of musicals in his spare time, I don’t know where he finds that time but he’s an incredible singer and musician. He also works just a job at the Deli to make a little bit more money because unfortunately, I don’t agree with it but the teaching jobs don’t pay as much money as they should. He’s two years older than me, we’ve always been close and shared a room growing up for better or worse.
I have a small family and my cousins lived down the road from me but that was it for immediate family, my aunt and uncle and my grandma lived back in Brooklyn, where my mom grew up, and then down to Delray Beach and then she recently moved back up to Cleveland because of health and all that. That was really my family, small, not a big extended family or anything. My family isn’t dramatic, it is always laid back at family dinners which I guess is nice. My uncle passed away coming up on two years in May and he was kind of the jokester of the family. He played professional football for the Houston oilers then a year for the Brown , and played for the University of Houston and actually had an influence on my love of football. He became a role model for me after my dad passed away so that’s part of where I got it form. We had a tight knit family and I certainly liked it.
Hull: What do you look for when you’re recruiting players?
Stone: There’s a whole process that we do as a staff and that’s not just me. What I do is understand the environment first. We’re at Tulane University and looking for good football players, talent is important but it makes no sense to get interested in a guy who can’t make it here academically. We can offer as many people scholarships but if they are going to flunk out of school the first year we are out of a scholarship so it’s a waste of our time and their time. You have to look at the academic side of things. Do[n’t] necessarily think every football player needs a 32 on the ACT but in my opinion is when you get to college you have to be able to work hard so what I look for is a high GPA, and a ‘capable ACT score’ is a good phrase for it in that you can’t have 15s and 16s but let’s say you have a kid from Mississippi who got a 22 and has a 3.8 GPA well he may go to a public school that is not as well funded as certain private schools a lot of Tulane students come from or have the ACT prep course that I had so that’s my consideration for academics but you have to get people who can make it here.
I’m not able to directly interact with the student athlete until they come to campus but when I get them on campus for a tour, I want to see if they are asking good questions, are they truly interested in Tulane because half the battle is are they interested. There are some kids who really value the academic side of things and that’s where we can have a fighting chance but for kids that don’t who want to play big time D1 football, we offer that but I’m not going to take a kid who’s not interested in academics. So, academics are incredibly important, especially here, and then I look for talented football players. I look for guys who are fast, who are big, who are physical depending on the position and explosive players who are wide receivers or running backs or incredibly athletic defensive backs and physical linemen and all that. You want good football players and that’s the bottom line.
At the end of the day, that’s one thing I’ve learned is whether you like it or not you can be fired for not winning enough games. I saw that with the old staff and I loved the old staff and were great people but they didn’t win enough games and got fired. They don’t even hold any resent toward it, it’s part of the commonly accepted fact of the business, which is why I was fortunate.
When I look at players I look at those two things and the quality of person that he is because there are a lot of kids who come from bad situations. One thing I have found I have is I come from a certain situation in life which is this is what I know, this is how I grew up which is incredibly different form I’d say 95 percent of the guys I look at that are legitimate prospects and they check off those two criteria, then the last criteria I look at is personal characteristics. Is he a good person, does he seek to be a good teammate, is he committed to being the best he can be on a daily basis and that has a lot of different ways of showing itself I’ve found especially for those who came up differently than I did and you know, for a guy where I had a whole bunch of opportunity and I wanted to be the best that I could be, it might come off as, I don’t know how to phrase it but people show their desire to be great differently. I want to see that desire, I don’t want to see a guy who’s more wrapped up in the concept of him being awesome or more concerned with how many offers he got or tweeting about how awesome he is. I kind of look at that stuff.
It’s a whole equation, there’s no perfect science to it but I’m also still learning, I don’t know all that much about it. I know a little but that’s the advantage to being the least knowledge guy in the room, it means you get to ask the most questions.
Hull: I’ve never looked at it that way, it’s really cool.
Stone: Always have a silver lining, always. That’s the way you have to look at things. I learned that when my dad passed away. Everything no matter how bad it is, and there’s something to be said for appreciating the gravity of a tragic situation, mourning, hanging your head, you have to sometimes depending on the severity. But also, if you hang on to that and keep moping you’re getting nowhere and holding yourself back so there’s got be some positives drawn. Where I found the silver lining in my father’s passing away is I was able to look for, it pushed me to look for other role models at a young age where I’m at the point now where I don’t want to ever stop looking for role models even as I get older. One thing that adults do is they stop looking for role models and people to look up to. They say that’s me and will change a little but only when they are driven to change. With my father passing away I was forced to look for role models at a young age and wasn’t so attached to my dad where I pushed myself to find role models and I think that’s a benefit. That’s the silver lining. You always have to find the good because there’s some good. It can be the good of not getting a job but learning from the interview. There’s always a silver lining.
Hull: Is it more difficult for a football team to establish a close relationship due to size as compared to say a basketball team where there is around 15 players?
Stone: That’s an interesting question. I would say no. I’d say that there is a different set of challenges because there’s a different dynamic. What I’m thinking about is Irving Mower has a 10-80-10 principle. What that means is 10 percent of your team on average are elite. That means they work hard, are excellent teammates, great off the field, leaders in going the extra mile, that’s the top 10 percent. 80 percent are middle dwellers, they aren’t bad kids but they aren’t overachievers. They will do enough to get by and be a part of the team. They don’t want to be an outlier, either good or bad, they want to be in the pack. Then there’s the bottom 10 percent and is actually going to take up 2/3 the amount of time you have as a coach because you have to spend a lot of time maintaining those players. They show up late, sleep in, aren’t great in class, they don’t finish through a drill. You spend your energy making sure they do things right and you talk to them all you want but really it’s inside of them.
I think that all teams combat that and I think for a football team with the amount of people, I think that there could be more because it’s such an individual environment in basketball whereas more individually focused, with football if you successfully create a culture of team necessity, I think the biggest way you get more people from the 80 into the top 10 is creating salesmen out of the top 10. Those top 10 guys are pulling those 80 percenters up and those 80 percenters are trying to pull the bottom 10 percent up. I think it actually takes more time and energy because it’s so individual in basketball, it can be done a little bit quicker in football but that’s pure speculation since the last time I was around a basketball team I was taking stats for my high school team. As much claim as I’d like to lay for the [Cleveland Cavilers] NBA Championship I didn’t have anything besides yelling at the TV. In my opinion, I’d argue it is probably an advantage with the numbers. When you have more players you have more coaches. We have a coaching and support staff of 20 people not to include our equipment staff, athletic trainers, academic support staff, media, everything. We really have a bunch of people.
Hull: Do you always travel with the team?
Stone: Yes, ma’am
Hull: When you leave Tulane what do you hope you are remembered for within the department?
Stone: Well, I don’t plan on leaving Tulane. After my 20 years as a successful head coach after Coach Fritz retires, I plan on accepting the presidency of Tulane. I think at the end of the day, I’d rather people remember me as that really nice guy and had no idea what I did simply because if people know what you do you’re either not doing a great job because they are always asking whose job was that and going that was Jake’s job or you are selling yourself a little too much. Whereas if nobody knows what you do but you’re really nice and they like you, well hey, you’re probably doing a good job and treating people the right way. I just want people to remember me as that guy that always walks around campus with a smile, that’s all I care about. That’s what I want to be my legacy.