Jermaine Jones made headlines for what he did on the soccer field, as well as what he said off of it. And now, the hard-tackling, no-filter former US men’s national team star is putting the same determination he showcased over a near-20-year playing career toward trying to make an impact as a coach.
But there’s no chest pumping on this journey, no statements of greatness. He doesn't proclaim to be the second coming of The Special One.
No, Jermaine Jones the aspiring coach is humble, willing to work his way up, wanting to earn opportunities rather than have them gifted because of his playing resume.
The German-American's plea? Judge me on my ideas, not on my actions and words of the past.
“If you don’t want to give this Jermaine Jones a chance like you give it to everybody, then it’s an unfair game. But I don’t go so far to think about that,” Jones told MLSsoccer.com during a recent conversation. “I’m just thinking if maybe there’s a door or three doors in front of me and I have to open them, then I will do everything to see a chance to get them open. That’s how I am.”
As proof of his intent, the 39-year-old points toward the plethora of licenses he’s obtained to this point: US Soccer B, UEFA A and UEFA B. He's also been accepted for the UEFA Pro License this year.
“I have almost every license you need to coach at the highest level,” Jones said. “That means I was sitting down, I worked hard. If you go through the coaching license you know what it means, you’re going back to school, you have to learn. It’s not that they give you something because you’re Jermaine Jones or somebody. I did all that stuff and I’m just excited because now I have the school stuff done and now it’s just going on the field and learning and seeing the different side of coaching.”
He's not expecting the journey to the top to be easy. While he reached the pinnacle of his sport as a player, Jones said he now “starts from zero” in his burgeoning coaching career. Basking in his sideline anonymity as a flip-flop-wearing soccer dad in southern California, where he’s called home since his playing days with the LA Galaxy, Jones’ first coaching experience was with youth heavyweights Real So Cal.
Jones recently interviewed for an assistant coaching position with a USL team, sources close to Jones tell MLSsoccer.com. And it was just announced that he's taken up the post of assistant coach at National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) club New Amsterdam FC.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jones carries aspirations of becoming an MLS head coach.
He’s marveled at the growth of a league he played in during the closing stages of a career that saw him play in the UEFA Champions League with Schalke 04 and become one of the faces of the USMNT at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“I said it from day one when I came back to America, I just want to be part of this because the game will grow in the United States and be the No. 1 sport soon and I believe in that,” said Jones, who was born in Germany to an American father and German mother, though spent time as a child in Chicago and Mississippi. “When you see what MLS is building in 25 years, you have to say that’s amazing and it’s just the beginning.
“To have a chance to coach here would be amazing. There’s no doubt about that.”
Jones is acutely aware of the lack of Black head coaches, both in MLS and in top leagues around the world. The issue has been highlighted by the Black Players for Change since the organization formed in the wake of the murder of George Floyd a year ago, with MLS announcing steps to increase Black representation in coaching and across the sport in October 2020.
“The main focus should not be on your skin color,” Jones said. “The main focus should be about how good or how bad you are. In soccer, if you’re not good, you’ll get fired, if you’re good, you stay. That’s how it has to be. Everyone has equal rights, an equal chance to come in and be a coach or a general manager or whatever.
“I always say to people, don’t give me a job because I’m dark-skinned and you want a chance to look good. No, I just want to get the same chance as everybody. If I’m good, good, I keep my job. If I’m not, fire me. That’s how it is.”
One advantage Jones has going for him is a contact list few can rival, and he’s used it to prepare for this next phase of his career. He’s spoken with Jurgen Klopp, who he’s known since he was 18 upon starting his professional career with Eintracht Frankfurt, to pick the Liverpool manager's brain.
The same is true of Jurgen Klinsmann, Joachim Löw and Ralf Rangnick. Jones was set to spend a few weeks with Julian Nagelsmann at RB Leipzig to watch his training sessions, but the pandemic halted those plans. And Jones said he also happily pulls from all the coaches he’s had over the years, including now-Revs boss Bruce Arena and former Schalke manager Felix Magath, who were both criticized at different times by Jones.
“It would be the worst to say, 'I played Champions League so I know everything.' No, because especially in the coaching game it’s a completely different thing,” Jones said.
That Jones has opted to take this path may surprise many. With a willingness to speak his mind and almost unmatched connections in the sport, broadcasting or player agent would seem like logical choices after a stellar playing career. Those options, however, don't appeal as much.
“I want to be on the field. I always love to train in the rain and be out there when it’s cold and all that. That’s me. If I look in the mirror and I ask myself what I want to do, then that’s coaching,” he said. “With all respect to being an agent or being on a broadcast, I think I have to be on the field, my personality, my knowledge of the game, it’s in coaching for sure.”
As for that reputation he forged during his playing career, the self-proclaimed bad boy? Jones said he was playing a role. Reflecting on that approach, Jones makes reference to Austin FC co-owner and minster of culture Mathew McConaughey.
“If you watch a movie and see Matthew McConaughey plays a killer, you think that in real life he’s a killer? No, that’s his acting. And it’s the same for me,” Jones said. “If you see me coming out in front of 100,000 at Azteca, I’m the one who comes out and gives a smile to the fans because I know they will think I’m crazy and they will hate me for this. But now I have the attention from all of them so every time I touch the ball, they whistle against me, but they maybe don’t whistle against Clint [Dempsey]. That’s why I was one of the best [USMNT] players at the World Cup because I knew my role.
“People have to understand the Jermaine Jones you see on TV or something, that’s not me in real life. That’s a person who wants to win and that’s a person who is acting in front of a crowd.”