The Big Interview: Retirement not punishment for former Sheffield Wednesday and Doncaster Rovers skipper
'I've changed as a person since I've retired '“ my children have told me that many times over the last few months.'
Hanging up the boots has been good for Rob Jones.
The former Sheffield Wednesday and Doncaster Rovers captain has always been an intense individual. Driven, focused, serious.
It was an approach to the game that undoubtedly helped him succeed as a footballer in spite of only becoming a professional at the age of 23.
It also meant interviewing Jones the player was an, at times, intense experience. Thoughtful, honest and insightful, but always serious.
So even before he revealed his kids had noticed a change since he decided to call time on his playing career in the summer, the difference could be heard in his voice.
Still driven, still focused but much more relaxed.
“I’m in a really good place mentally and physically,” he said. “I’m in a really good environment.
“I’m definitely more relaxed, more chilled.
“I’m more fun to be around, apparently.
“I’m in a great place.”
Retired and happy is a situation in which Jones probably never expected to find himself.
He was a footballer who would run through brick walls for the cause, one who arguably enjoyed his best form well into his 30s.
Jones was a leader who dragged his teams through tough times and to success – particularly during his times at Hillsborough and the Keepmoat.
And he loved every minute.
But time eventually had to run out for the most dedicated of football men.
The song so often sung about him said ‘he’s indestructible’ but ultimately he was not.
Injuries brought the slow decline of his career at Rovers, where he became an instant club legend in his first brilliant season.
And injuries blighted his last shot at a playing career, at Hartlepool United where he made just 12 appearances in 14 months.
With his body telling him the game was finally up, Jones announced his retirement in the summer.
“Being truthful, it was in the back of my mind for a good while,” he said.
“The last three years didn’t go as well as I’d have liked with the cycle of injury, getting back fit, injury, getting back fit.
“I got the last injury last November and needed an operation on my knee.
“That was it really.
“That was the time I started asking how long I was going to carry on putting my body through it.
“It became not fun any more. It became strenuous mentally and physically.
“It was time to say thank you and move on to new things.
“I can still play football with the kids and run around with them.
“I think if I’d have continued on I would have gone one step too far, particularly with the way I played and the manner in which I played.”
The no prisoners style in which he approached a game of football resulted in Jones being fondly remembered almost everywhere he went.
He scored the opening goal in Hibernian’s 5-1 mauling of Kilmarnock in the 2007 Scottish League Cup final, ending the Hibees’ 16-year silverware drought. It was at Easter Road where the song labelling him indestructible was first sung.
He was the captain of his boyhood club Sheffield Wednesday as they won promotion from League One during the 2012/13.
And he was the skipper of the Doncaster Rovers side that won the League One title the following season, spending the last four months of the campaign both playing and as interim manager alongside Brian Flynn.
At that time it seemed as though Jones was destined for management. And it was no surprise when he was handed the reins at the Keepmoat on a caretaker basis following the sacking of Paul Dickov in September 2015.
The job on a full time basis seemed to be Jones’ to lose.
But he could not address the slide, Rovers sunk deeper into a relegation fight and he was overlooked, with Darren Ferguson appointed instead.
He says he is a better coach two years on - but would not go as far to say missing out on the job was the best thing that could have happened.
“I go through my life with a philosophy that everything happens for a reason,” he said. “That was no different.
“It was one of those things. It wasn’t my time, it wasn’t right for me and that was that.
“You put a full stop on that piece of paper and you move on.”
“I’ve had two more years coaching now,” he added.
“I’ve probably realised what I want and how I want to implement it.
“I think it was too early before. I still hadn’t put the full stop on the playing career.
“Now that I have I can totally focus on one thing and one thing only.”
Jones’ current role has taken him away from club football – and you get the impression that has helped him relax more.
He is a coach at the Leeds-based RIASA Soccer Academy which brings over American players for academic study and football coaching.
“It’s been a good step from playing into the coaching side,” Jones said. “It’s been quite seamless.
“I coach the lads every day and play short games against the likes of Doncaster and Sheffield Wednesday.
“It’s getting them out there to different environments and different experiences.
“It’s really good, really refreshing and the people I work for are terrific.
“No two days are the same and I’m really enjoying it at the moment.”
Not too long ago becoming a manager was Jones’ primary goal post playing career.
Now he is much more laissez faire about his future.
“Management is the pinnacle of every player who wants to coach but right now I’m just concentrating on what I’m doing with RIASA,” he said.
“I’m a different person to who I was two years ago regarding the coaching.
“It’s something which may or may not happen in the future.
“I’ve only been in here a few months. It’s still really exciting and as long as it continues to be that way then I’ll continue to do it.”
The future for Jones remains unclear but he is contented with his current lot in his football life.
Rather than bemoan the end of his playing career, he is happy to look back with fond memories.
“I’m absolutely delighted with the career that I’ve had,” he said.
“Signing professional forms at 23 and playing to 37/38 is incredible for me.
“Winning the things I’ve won, creating a name for myself as I have - it’s no regrets for me.
“Two or three years ago there might have been a few regrets the fact I would have stopped to become a manager.
“I continued playing for a while but now is the right time to say it’s been great but let the younger ones continue with that side of things and me turn my attention to the new passion that I have.
“It’s littered with happy memories.
“But there is also the sad memories where things didn’t go too well. Most of them were probably in conjunction with injuries.
“I’m one of those where the glass is always half full not half empty.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure to be in professional football with every club I’ve played for.
“It’s something you can’t replace. You try but you can’t replace that playing side of it. You come very close, being a coach and a manager.
“It’s been fantastic, it’s been the best ride of my whole life.
“But all good things must end.
“Thankfully it’s ended really well looking back but now I’ve moved on and it’s exciting again, doing what I’m doing.”
Still driven, still focused but much more relaxed. A retired Rob Jones is a happy Rob Jones.