Rod Jones, a member of the 1984 Orange Bowl team who held the Washington career record for catches by a tight end, and more recently was the Huskies’ academic coordinator, died Saturday at 54 by suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
His daughter, Jamie, told the Seattle Times that her father had recently been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. His family believes he had symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He also had a history of alcohol abuse. The family began making arrangements with the staff at Boston University’s CTE Center to donate Jones’ brain for research.
“He’s been dealing with depression for years,” said daughter Jamie. “I can’t pinpoint exactly when, but he started to notice some memory loss. He just couldn’t remember things.”
She said her father took his life with a single gunshot to the head Friday, and taken to Harborview Medical Center. He was surrounded by family members and former UW teammates when doctors declared him dead Saturday. Jones is survived by his wife, Carla, daughter, Jamie, and son, Rod Jr.
Jones, a native of Richmond, CA., who spent two pro seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and played four games with the 1989 Seahawks, completed his degree in 2000 in ethnic studies and became part of the UW staff assigned to helping current and former players from the football and men’s soccer teams get their degrees.
“We are heartbroken by the tragic passing of Rod Jones,” director of athletics Jennifer Cohen said in a media release. “Rod has been an integral part of the Husky family dating back to his playing days at the UW and now through his service of our student-athletes as a member of our academic support staff. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt condolences go out to Rod’s family as they mourn this devastating loss.”
Jones was part of the Don James-coached team that went 11-1 — he caught 11 passes for 61 yards in his sophomore season — and finished second in the national polls after upsetting the Oklahoma Sooners 28-17 in Miami’s Orange Bowl. The 1984 team was inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame in 2016.
Jones, a co-captain, was the second-leading receiver (34 catches, 328 yards) on the 1986 8-3-1 team that went to the Sun Bowl.
In a 2010 Seattle Times story, Jones talked about the dashed dreams he had about pro football, and why he turned to academic counseling to help keep young players from falling into the same trap.
“You have all this freedom, nobody watching over you, you are promised success,” Jones said. “The coaches tell you are a great player. There are articles and interviews. Everything is pointed toward a huge contract. You are talking thousands, millions of dollars on the line. And that can be rough for a guy who is 18, 19 years old not to focus on that and people telling you how great you are.
“When you miss out on the million-dollar contract and the endorsements and there is no more football, you kind of go into a funk. I was almost in a depression for like five or six years of, what do I do now?”
Tipped by former Huskies quarterback great Warren Moon about the UW’s post-eligibility program, Jones, who played only two years of high school ball before coming to Washington in 1983, returned to school to finish his final four quarters.
“It’s overwhelming the help you get now,” Jones said of the UW’s academic services.”We didn’t have this back then.”
“The University of Washington football family lost one of its own Saturday,” said coach Chris Petersen. “Rod was a committed Husky and we are deeply saddened by his tragic passing. He will be missed sorely by our student-athletes, our coaches and staff, and the impact he left on our program will never be forgotten.”
A service is planned for Saturday at the Don James Center at Husky Stadium.