“I’m gonna start off by saying, never would I have imagined this many people coming to see me. Are you serious?” Jonas Hayes said at his introductory press conference at the University Club Trophy in Center Parc Stadium.
Yes, coach, it’s really happening, and Georgia State Athletics couldn’t be happier to have you as the new head coach of Georgia State Basketball.
For Jonas Hayes, the journey to sitting at that podium, announcing his new position as head coach on ESPN, didn’t come easy. It all started 14 years ago when he graduated from the University of Georgia and had to decide on his future.
To use his newly acquired child and family development degree or continue his basketball career? He decided when his dad, James L. Hayes, sat him down, away from the outside noise, and said something that sticks with Coach Hayes to this day.
“Jonas, I need you to put yourself ten years down the road, and I want you to [decide] today that you think you’re gonna really live with.”
From that day forward, Jonas Hayes became known as Coach Hayes.
His journey began in 2005, in Atlanta, GA, at Morehouse College. The late-great Grady Brewer gave Hayes his first opportunity to be an assistant coach. He saw something in Hayes, and this decision changed Hayes’ life.
A year later, Hayes transitioned from Division II basketball to Division I as he became an assistant coach for the South Carolina State Bulldogs.
After spending a year coaching there, he took his talents to Belmont Abbey, where he spent the next five years. At this point, Hayes’ resume was stacked. In 2013, he joined Mark Fox’s staff at the University of Georgia.
He got his first chance to be a part of a high-major college basketball team. After spending five years in Athens with the Bulldogs, Fox was fired in 2018, leaving Hayes to begin his next adventure. He landed a position at Xavier University alongside head coach Travis Steele.
Steele made Hayes his first hire on his new coaching staff at Xavier.
Fast forward four years later, Coach Hayes was promoted as the interim head coach following the firing of Travis Steele. Hayes took over the position just in the nick of time as the team was going for the chance to win a championship in the NIT tournament.
Xavier went on to win the 2021-22 NIT tournament in Madison Square Garden.
The phone was ringing following the championship, and Hayes wasn’t declining.
During this long path to becoming a head coach, Hayes’s dad had begun to suffer from dementia. Before passing away, Hayes had a prayer: he hoped for his dad to live long enough to see him become a head coach.
During his introductory press conference, he spoke about his father and the synergy of him taking on this new position.
“My dad died on Monday, Apr. 4, 2016,” said Hayes. “I got a call from [my] Athletic Director Charlie Cobb on Monday, Apr. 4 2022. While my father is not here in the flesh, that’s confirmation for me that he’s here.”
Coach Hayes is taking over a program that’s already performing well. When asked whether he feels any pressure to perform well, he had one response.
“There’s not a lot of pressure,” said Hayes.
“I don’t want to put more pressure on myself. When you focus on these guys and focus on building relationships, the wins and losses will take care of itself. My focus will be on these guys and the student experience.”
After an NCAA tournament appearance, Georgia State Athletics look to be trending upwards. Next year, the team will be playing at the newly built Convocation Center on 455 Capitol Ave.