Life remembered: ‘Coach Cool Breeze Jones’ known for his calm demeanor

Mykhail Chambers normally keeps a calm disposition, but after clearing 6 feet, 8 inches to win the 2008 IHSA Class AA state title in the high jump as a senior for Urbana, he exploded with emotion.

When he looked over at Harbert Jones standing behind the fence at O’Brien Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University, the man nicknamed “Coach Cool Breeze” was predictably calm, standing still with a smile on his face and sunglasses over his eyes. Chambers, though, didn’t mistake his coach’s laid back vibe for disinterest.

“We talked about it afterwards and he said, ‘I knew it all along, I knew it was going to happen,’” said Chambers, who went on to jump for Georgia Tech. “He was kind of just like Yoda over there on the sidelines, just very calm and reserved. He gave me a handshake and a hug, and we posed for some pictures afterward. It was completely what you expected.”

Jones, who passed away last Thursday at 73, cared about his athletes. Chambers had the hardware to prove it — beyond his state championship medal.

Jones, an art teacher, made Chambers a meticulous sculpture made of paper mache and clay of Chambers jumping over the bar in a Georgia Tech uniform for a birthday gift.

A year later, Jones retired after 17 years of coaching at Urbana before becoming a head coach at Rantoul and eventually an assistant at St. Thomas More. He was still enthusiastic up until his final days.

“I just talked to him the other day. We were talking about summer track,” St. Thomas More coach Dave Behm said. “He was just a wise man. Great to coach with ... He was very observant with his athletes about what they were doing and corrected them in a way that they got involved and they learned about the sport itself and becoming better.”

Jones served in the Air Force for 26 years, finishing with 14 at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul. While he kept up his military condition — Chambers remembers him reeling off 30 pullups and making it look easy — his coaching style was never militaristic. Rather than yell at athletes who misbehaved, he would calmly ask them to leave.

“He never was a screamer or a yeller at the kids,” said Mitch Wilson, Rantoul’s boys’ track and field coach who ran for Jones during the summer club season and also coached with him. “He was very even-keeled and calm and just explained things.”

Chambers remembers Jones soaking up new information along with him, offering new ideas to transform him into a state championship high jumper. He introduced him to plyometrics, used elastic bands to improve his explosiveness and borrowed the basketball team’s Vertimax, a machine that improves vertical leap.

But he didn’t only care about his star athletes.

“If someone needed a ride to practice one day, he would offer to drive the athlete himself or he would arrange for a carpool,” Chambers said. “He would set up study sessions. He would talk to athletes that were strong in some academics and those that weren’t to see if they could pair up. He did just a lot of things to make sure everyone could have the best overall experience.”

He never let his emotions, though, get in the way of his level head. One year in summer track, Chambers was initially denied a trip to the national championships in the triple jump based on a scoring error. Chambers said it was one of the few times he truly exploded in anger.

Jones was equally mad. But he kept calm and went up to the press box to vouch for his athlete.

“I remember him going up to the press box,” “I was looking up at him in the press box and I expected to see him going off because he was just as mad as I was. But it just looked like he was talking very professionally. He came back and said, ‘They’re going to let you go through’ ... He made sure that my hard work and effort were noticed.”

sports@rantoulpress.com

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