HUNTINGTON — Mark Jones’ apparently backhanded compliment of Mike D’Antoni has drawn the ire of West Virginia residents.
Mark Whicker, a sports writer with Southern California News Group, reported that the ESPN broadcaster and play-by-play man for NBA games recently said of D’Antoni, “Don’t let that West Virginia background fool you; he’s an exceptionally smart basketball coach.”
D’Antoni, the coach of the Houston Rockets and younger brother of Marshall University men’s basketball coach Danny D’Antoni, is from Mullens, West Virginia, and was a hall of fame basketball player at Marshall University. He has been a frequent guest of Jones on the air.
“Typical stereotype,” said Danny Harbert, former baseball coach at Huntington High. “Yet West Virginia has produced some of the greatest coaches of all time.”
Harbert mentioned both D’Antonis, Alabama football coach Nick Saban, former West Virginia and Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden, former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, former Marshall football coach Bobby Pruett, Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher, former USC and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach John McKay and former Syracuse football coach Ben Schwartzwalder, among others.
Harbert bristled at Jones’ comment, comparing it to stereotypical views of West Virginians.
“National championships combined are more than any other group of coaches from any other state yet West Virginia people are uneducated, don’t have teeth and don’t wear shoes,” Harbert said.
Chad Beam, of Charleston, added WVU men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins to the list.
“Don’t tell (Jones) Huggs is from West Virginia and the eighth-winningest coach,” Beam said.
Jones, who is from Canada, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Jones is no stranger to controversy. After a 2018 spat with the University of Washington after Jones ridiculed the Huskies’ football team’s schedule, ESPN promised the school he would broadcast no more of its games. In October, Jones drew consternation of Virginia Tech football fans after he was seen giving a high-five to broadcast partner Dusty Dvoracek after Miami (Florida) scored.
Jones has been vocal about racism in society, particularly in sports and the media covering them.
“For a guy that is very vocal about racism, he is nothing more than a despicable hypocrite to make an encompassing comment like he did,” said Randy Rollyson, a Barboursville native and Marshall graduate living in Clayton, North Carolina. “He should be held to the same stringent standard that he sets for others ... one that his loose and ignorant tongue does not adhere to.”
Kevin Vickers, of Huntington, called Jones’ comment disrespectful and called for him to answer for it. Frank Giardinia, a former Marshall sports play-by-play man and Belle, West Virginia, native, advised Vickers and other not to expect much.
“Do you think he’ll be asked to apologize for that?” Giardinia asked. “Me neither.”
Former Huntington St. Joe baseball coach Dave Jenkins said Jones cultivates controversy.
“He is looking for click bait,” Jenkins said. “If he did his homework, he’d realize that the best (NBA) general manager, Jerry West, and some of the best football coaches — Nick Saban, Lou Holtz — are from West Virginia.”
Rich Stevens, a former sports writer in Charleston and Wheeling, is a teacher in Fayette County, West Virginia. Stevens said, “I don’t really let this bother me.”
Larie Wilson, a Proctorville, Ohio, native living in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, took a humorous approach to zing Jones.
“Come on down to Lewisburg and I’ll show you my double-wide and still,” Wilson said, in mocking fashion.
Former Marshall football players Cory Dennison and Brian Dowler were less than pleased with Jones’ comment.
“I think it furthers Appalachian stereotypes of poor, uneducated and shoeless,” Dennison said.
Dowler was more succinct.
“Mark Jones is a clown,” he said.
Jake Keys, a Marshall graduate living in Greensboro, North Carolina, called Jones’ comment “weak and lazy.”
D’Antoni, who starred at Marshall from 1970 through 1973, was an academic All-American at Marshall and went on to a playing career in the ABA, NBA and in Italy. He has been head coach of the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers, as well as the Rockets.