Jones, a starter who became the first freshman in Notre Dame history to catch touchdown passes in his frst two games with the Irish, was supposed to be on the other side of the field today when Notre Dame (1-2) plays No. 16 Stanford (3-0) at Notre Dame Stadium.
He committed to Harbaugh and the Cardinal in April of 2009. It was a significant recruiting coup for Harbaugh -- Jones was a five-star prospect who chose Stanford over Notre Dame and Georgia.
And it was an eye-opener in recruiting circles. TJ's father, Andre Jones, was a former Notre Dame lineman/linebacker who played on the the Irish's 1988 national championship team. Stanford was making progress under Harbaugh (4-8 in 2007, 5-7 in 2008), but still hadn't had a winning season since 2001, when Tyrone Willingham parlayed a 9-3 season into the Notre Dame job. Oh, the irony.
But wait, there's more.
But Jones kept his options open, took official visits to other schools and finally was swayed by the ''fellowship'' at Notre Dame. It must have been something besides football, because Jones changed his commitment from Stanford to Notre Dame after watching the Irish lose to USC 34-27 in South Bend last October.
But that was the easy part. The hard part was calling Harbaugh and telling him he had changed his mind.
''It was difficult, just for the simple fact that I gave them my word and I'm not one to take back my word like that,'' Jones said. ''So having to renege was definitely very hard to do. All the coaches on the staff and all the [players] are great guys. I had a strong bond with that team. So saying I wasn't coming was very difficult.''
Harbaugh took the bad news like a man -- a really unhappy one.
''They were upset. All the coaches are upset when they lose a recruit. They just told me to do what was best for me and that they'll be there for me.''
Coaches generally have long memories, especially in situations like these. But Jones said he is looking forward to greeting his once-future coaches on the field after the game, ''giving them a handshake and a hug, just like old times.''
''It's going to be tough [playing Stanford], but at the same time it'll be a good experience,'' Jones said, ''because I'll be playing against a bunch of guys I know.''
The saga didn't end there. After Jones committed to Charlie Weis, Notre Dame beat Boston College and Washington State, but lost its last four games last season. In yet another ironic twist, Harbaugh and Stanford sealed Weis' fate with a 45-38 victory over Notre Dame on Nov. 28. It was Stanford's first victory over Notre Dame since 2001, when Willingham's Cardinal won 17-13 in Palo Alto to assure the Irish of a losing season that all but sealed the fate of Bob Davie.
Jones admitted Weis' firing left him a little chagrined. ''But I know I committed to Notre Dame for other reasons than just football,'' he said. ''After meeing with coach [Brian]] Kelly [yet another 'official' visit] I knew he was the right coach for me and i could play for him even though I didn't commit to him.''
And even though Stanford and Harbaugh are flying high and Notre Dame is still getting its feet on the ground under Kelly, he isn't looking back. ''I love his style of offense, his style of coaching, his character,'' Jones said. ''I love playing for him. He's a great coach.''