Richard “Itch” Jones, Champaign, IL, a Herrin native and acclaimed college baseball coach who is among the 20 winningest coaches in NCAA Baseball Division 1, receives the HerrinFesta Italiana 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award.Jones broke his leg while in third grade at Lincoln School, and the cast he had to wear caused severe itching. To get a measure of relief, he stuck a flyswatter handle between the cast and his leg. His cousin, Albert Saliba, nicknamed him “Itchy.” The nickname stuck, though in later years it was shortened to “Itch.” He graduated from Herrin High School in l956 and Southern Illinois University in 1960. He was named MVP for baseball his freshman year and lettered in baseball all four years and basketball one year at SIU. He holds a master’s degree in physical education in l965 from SIU. He played one-year in the Baltimore Orioles minor-league system.
He began his career at Jacksonville High School coaching basketball and led the 1964 JHS team to the Sweet Sixteen in the Illinois High School Basketball Tournament. Jones became head baseball coach at MacMurray College in 1966.
He then returned to his alma mater as an assistant under Joe Lutz in 1968, becoming head coach in 1970. In 21 years, he led the Salukis in a baseball dynasty to 10 NCAA Tournaments and three College World Series. His best team was the 1971 unit, which came within one game of winning the national title. His record of 738-345-5 is still the best in school history.
In 1991, Jones moved to The University of Illinois as head coach. In l5 years his record was 474-373-1 including two Big Ten regular season titles. In l998 it was the first Illini Big Ten Conference title in 35 years. He received a Big Ten Tournament title in 2000 and two NCAA Tournament appearances. He retired after the 2005 season.
He has membership in eight Hall of Fames, Herrin High School, Jacksonville High School, MacMurray College, Illinois High School Association in Basketball and Baseball, American Baseball Coaches Association and Missouri Valley Conference. His awards include 4x Missouri Valley Coach of the Year, 2x Big Ten Coach of the Year and 2x National Coach of the Year (l971-1977).
The $4 million renovation of Abe Martin Field at SIU honored Jones when it re-opened for the 2014 season and was dedicated “Richard “Itchy Jones Stadium” after head coach, Itch Jones. A l982 inductee into the SIU Hall of Fame, Jones Jersey #1 will be retired April 25, 2020 at a special program at SIU. He will be inducted into the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame in March, 2020.A favorite son of Herrin, Jones credits the tremendous success of HHS basketball and football in the mid-l950’s and early 60’s to coaches Lee Cabutti, Earl Lee and Bob Hutchison, with first time South Seven Conference wins in football in l955 and basketball in l956, and an IHSA State Basketball Championship in l957. He remembers with pride his basketball jersey #40 was retired at the end of his senior year. He says, “I received a quality education from excellent teachers first grade through high school. I am thankful for that.” Jones is the son of the late Jinx “Jiggs” and Rosine Jones. He has one brother R. A. “Cowboy” Jones, a 50-plus year jockey who has raced in the United States and Canada. He and his wife Sue have two children and a daughter-in- law, Susan Jones, Gore, OK and Michael and Carol Jones, Louisville, KY and two grandchildren.
(He will be honored at the Mayor’s HerrinFesta Honoree Banquet, Tuesday, May 19 at the Herrin Civic Center and during the Festival week May 18-25.)