Coming from a tennis-loving family, Mac Jones earned the nickname “John McEnroe” from his former college coach Nick Saban. However, the name had nothing to do with Jones’ tennis background, but because of the emotions the young gunslinger showed on the football field.
In a recent episode of Hey Coach & The Nick Saban Show, Saban recalled one moment during Jones’ college career that he considered a “turning point” in the quarterback’s career and development.
“We had one day where we had to go in the indoor [practice facility],” Saban explained. “Sometimes, I sit up in the … weight coaches’ second-floor office and look out the window. I was looking out the window, and I can only see half the field. Mac was on the other side of the field. I could see Mac, but I couldn’t see the defense, and I couldn’t see the receivers. I could only see Mac.
“So every time he would throw the ball, I would just look at Mac, and I could tell whether it was complete or incomplete based on his body language. And I told the film guy, ‘Film this.’ [I] showed it to [Jones] and said, ‘This is how you’re affecting everybody else. I can’t even see whether you threw the ball complete or incomplete, and I can tell whether it was complete or incomplete by how you’re acting.’
“I think that might have been the turning point for him. Sometimes, doing those little individual things where you show somebody something like that is really, really beneficial to them. It’s not a negative thing or anything. It’s just, ‘Hey, look. See this? This is not a good thing.’”
The fiery emotion Jones displayed and sometimes still shows now in the NFL — including in Thursday’s win against the Atlanta Falcons — was what drew the comparisons to former tennis player John McEnroe. The Crimson Tide coach felt that attitude held Jones back in the beginning of his Alabama days, before he led them to a National Championship in his senior season.
“That was probably Mac’s biggest hurdle to overcome as a player,” Saban added. “Being able to control his emotions. Especially to play the quarterback position. To not get so upset or frustrated when he threw a bad ball or made a bad read or whatever. And he did kind of have a tennis player’s mentality. It was: Do you understand how you’re affecting everybody else?
“This is not an individual sport. You’re the leader of the team, and you’re kicking and fussing and acting like you messed up, and everyone else sees that. And that’s not a good thing for your position. You have to be the commander in chief. You have to be in control of what’s happening.”
While appearing on WEEI’s Merloni & Fauria Monday afternoon, Jones discussed the comments made by his former coach.
“It was more like early on, just when I was younger on the scout team and stuff, I just remember [Saban] telling me he could tell how a play went based on my body language,” Jones said. “We would have practice and he wouldn’t even be able to see maybe like what field I was on, but he would just see my body. He would be like, ‘Alright, that was a bad throw’ based on your body language. I think it was all about that and how it effects my teammates and I am still working in that area.
“I am very competitive and super passionate about football. And a lot of people on our team at Alabama were and a lot of the people here are, so I think there’s a way to do it and run off positively on people.”
Despite Jones’ temper and showing frustration with himself at times throughout his rookie season, his leadership and work ethic has often been praised by fellow teammates and coaches - some even joking that he is too serious from time to time. Teaming up with Saban’s good friend Bill Belichick has also been beneficial to the rookie, as the 7-4 New England Patriots now sit atop the AFC East entering Week 12.
“I think he’s a really good fit for where he is,” Saban said.
Jones and the Patriots welcome the Tennessee Titans to Foxboro on Sunday, with the AFC’s No. 1 seed potentially on the line.