An amalgam of motivational decor and Oklahoma State football memorabilia greets Richetti Jones when he steps into his office each day.
Phrases including “Faith can move mountains” and “Work hard, be kind, stay humble” surround him, as well as sports magazine covers featuring former Cowboy standouts Dez Bryant, Zac Robinson and Mason Rudolph. An OSU helmet sits next to Jones’ coffee maker, which provides him with his daily boost of energy when he grabs his bright yellow smiley face mug from the tray.
A diffuser with essential oils adds to the calming atmosphere, and leadership books share the space with a Cowboy football program from October 2011, when Jones had an active role as a senior defensive end.
Jones’ office is an intersection of football and life coaching, a convergence of positivity and nostalgia, and it reflects the reasons he loves his new job in Stillwater.
“Every day I come to work, it is as if I'm in paradise,” Jones said. “Because I get to be around football again, I'm in my alma mater, some of my old coaches are still here and I get to do what I love to do, which is to pour into the youth and give young men the things that I didn't have and what I wish I would've had. Every day for me is a day in paradise because I get to do something positive.”
Since late July, Jones has worked for the Cowboy football program as the director of player development. He replaced Joel Tudman, the longtime director and team pastor who left OSU to focus on ministry. Jones goes to football practice, meets with coach Mike Gundy and builds connections with team members, but the sport itself is one small component of Jones’ job.
His role is essential because he provides support away from the field, acting as an adviser and confidant to guys who are facing adversity or trying to figure out their plans after college. Jones reminds student-athletes that they will no longer be able to turn to their coaches every day after they leave OSU, but they can continue to let those coaches’ messages guide them.
“That is what I care about, preparing these guys to be outstanding people, citizens, fathers, husbands, of the world one day,” Jones said.
Jones had been ready for this opportunity for a while. Before returning to his alma mater, he founded a mentorship program, sharing uplifting messages with high school teams, and he said he kept his ears open about potential jobs at OSU. This summer, when the Cowboys were seeking a director of player development, Jones realized his time had arrived.
“Once it popped up, I'm like, ‘Aha! I'm your man,’” Jones said.
Now, Jones relishes the opportunity to use his mentorship experience at the university where he grew as an athlete and a person.
On a typical workday, he arrives at Boone Pickens Stadium and checks on the football players who are training or undergoing treatment. Then he touches base with Gundy and Rob Glass, the assistant athletic director for speed, strength and conditioning, before heading to the Academic Enhancement Center in Gallagher-Iba Arena.
There, Jones monitors student-athletes’ grades and finds out how their classes are going. Later in the day, he provides support for the Cowboys at football practice, following the direction of “the man, the myth, the legend,” as Jones called him – Rod Johnson, director of football operations.
Jones’ days revolve around interactions with people, and he thrives in groups; but time to work alone is important, too. Between his academic center visit and the start of practice, Jones often retreats to his office, poring over books, meditating, journaling and sometimes even recording impromptu speeches to figure out what messages he should relay to the team.
“These guys are always looking to me to have the right thing to say, to have the words,” Jones said. “And if I'm not studying and I'm not working hard, how can I do that?”
Jones strives to set an example of the positive, healthy mindset he wants the Cowboys to have. As he works, drawing inspiration from sources ranging from Kobe Bryant’s book “The Mamba Mentality” to faith-based podcasts, Jones also gains motivation from his “bestest buddy in the world.” He’s the kid who appears in a framed black-and-white photo in his office – his son, Yasir Richetti Jones.
Jones has built the life after football that he wants to help the Cowboys prepare for, and through it all, he has retained the humor and magnetic personality that defined him during his playing career. In high school, Jones’ class named him “most popular,” according to his Cowboy football bio, and he emerged as a fan favorite and vocal leader while he competed at OSU.
Along the way, Jones faced challenges. He was a four-star recruit, but he broke his hip during his senior year at Dallas Lincoln High School and had to redshirt during his freshman season at OSU. Now, Jones can draw upon his struggles to help student-athletes in similar situations.
“We hate for injuries to happen,” Jones said. “But when guys get injured or guys are having a rough day at practice, I'm the guy that comes and we have that conversation, and we get it together.”
Not quite two months into the job, Jones continues to learn about the Cowboys’ array of personalities and backgrounds. He takes time to talk to them individually and asks coaches questions so he can gain insight into how he can best support each student-athlete.
Linebacker Devin Harper and safety Tanner McCalister said Jones is a good asset for the program.
“He can relate to the players, so we've had conversations,” McCalister said. “I remember before the (Missouri State) game, he was kind of telling me … ‘It's just football,’ because everybody gets nerves. I was nervous myself, so he was just telling me, ‘It's just football, you've been playing this game your whole life, just go out there and have fun.’”
It’s been 10 years since Jones played that game in a Cowboy uniform, so of course, the program has evolved since then. Jones said his first day on the job involved a blend of reunions and introductions.
College football as a whole has shifted, too. The rule allowing football players to compete in four games during their redshirt seasons wasn’t in effect when Jones was at OSU. Jones had been ready for heartfelt conversations with the redshirted guys, but Gundy had to remind him they wouldn’t have to sit out all year.
“He’s followed the program closely, but he’s obviously not in college,” Gundy said. “...(Jones) said, ‘Before we decide who we’re going to redshirt, can I talk with them about keeping morale up?’ And I said, ‘We don’t do that anymore, Richetti. We haven’t done that in like four years.’”
Although Jones had to scrap his plan, he said he is glad redshirted players can compete.
“I'm sitting here already in big brother, father mode (for redshirted players), let me hold your hand, let me come pat you on the back,” Jones said. “...I’m like, ‘What? Where have I been?’”
Another new factor since Jones’ playing career is the NCAA’s NIL ruling, which allows student-athletes to earn money from their names, images and likenesses. Jones said he thinks it’s great as long as student-athletes follow the regulations, and it would have been beneficial for him as a college student.
“I'm a guy that comes from a lower socioeconomic background, so when I was in school, I didn't have the parents that had money and that could help me when I needed help financially,” Jones said. “...I like to look at the positive and the upside of it, so I like it and I hope guys can maximize it and make money from it and, if need be, help their families with it.”
Jones is adapting to plenty of changes, but in many ways, the Cowboy football program has remained the same, he said.
Boone Pickens Stadium is still the place he knew well. As a teacher instead of a student, Jones is home again.
“I feel I probably have the best job at OSU,” Jones said. “It's one of those deals where I'm always giving. I'm always in the profession of helping and giving.”