To be clear, Chris Jones’ career is still miles away from being compared to the once all-time winningest coach in CFL history. Two winning seasons and one Grey Cup championship does not a hall of famer make.
But beyond that, the similarities between Don Matthews and Jones, the Saskatchewan Roughriders current head coach / defensive co-ordinator / GM / VP of football operations, are indeed striking.
Chris Jones Is the New Don Matthews
Both defensive-minded, it was ‘The Don’ who coined the phrase “If you’re not living on the edge than you’re taking up too much space!”. Matthews was very successful in his aggressive, high-stakes gambles through his defensive play-calling.
Warren Moon and his offensive stars still get almost all the credit for the dynasty years of the Edmonton Eskimos five straight Grey Cups from 1978-1982, but anyone around the league from those days will testify the evil empire doesn’t become the evil empire without Don Matthews and his dominant defense. Just like those involved in the Alouettes 2002, Stampeders 2008, and Argos 2012 championships laud the contributions of Jones’ work from the defensive side of the ball in securing those Grey Cup rings.
So we know that style of risk-taking works with on-field coaching. But how does that stack up with personnel decisions off the field?
Both Coaches Aim for NFL
Chris Jones is rolling the dice with a high-stakes gamble of his own: trading his away his franchise quarterback for a sack of footballs and a bag of kicking tees (well actually he got two Canadian college draft picks but let’s get serious here, the gear would have a better chance of sticking around long-term than the picks will). All so he could take a swing at being the guy who fixes Vince Young.
But the payoffs could be plentiful. He could even get noticed by the NFL if he pulls this off. There might not be another executive in football with the moxie to take a risk like that.
Passing up a proven, star quarterback in a brand new CFL stadium? Why you would have think back some 26 years when this crazy coach of the Toronto Argonauts named Don Matthews threw the keys to his Argo office on the table (he had hall of famer Matt Dunigan in his prime at quarterback at the time) to take a job with Orlando of the (gulp) World League of American Football? It was a head-scratcher at the time which drew conclusions that the only way it could possibly make sense would be to help Matthews land a job in the NFL. Sound familiar? It should.
Always Eyeing Next Stop
Perhaps it is no coincidence that Chris Jones was brought in to the CFL in 2002 as defensive line coach under the tutelage of new head coach at the time (you guessed it) Don Matthews. They’ve both been head coaches in Edmonton and they’ve both infuriated the fan bases there one way or another.
Matthews left the team in the middle of training camp one year over what was called “a thyroid problem” which somehow magically recovered in record time before he joined the Alouettes months later. Jones on the other hand wasn’t secretive about anything and came up with his own exit strategy from Edmonton, bolting for Regina some eight days after capturing the 2015 Grey Cup with his ‘for another week or so’ beloved Eskimos.
Who could blame him? It was a major promotion and a new salary of more than seven hundred grand! Not that the fans who had stuck with the Eskimos for all those down years who were finally getting a chance to celebrate mattered. This was business. This was something, … the Don would do!
Matthews won his first Grey Cup at age 39, Jones at 35. The Don first won as a head coach when he was 46. It took Jones until he was 48.
Matthews illustrious career produced coaching stops in six CFL cities, some of them twice, and he even had three tours of duty with the Argos. Jones is already working with his fifth CFL team though has yet to pile on nearly the miles his one-time boss who brought him to Canada once did.
Neither Coach Media-Friendly
Jones appeared to be annoyed when reporters asked about his repeated roster rule violations or about Darian Durant. Don Matthews appeared to be annoyed when reporters asked him about… pretty much anything.
Matthews rode a Harley, and Jones apparently rides a motorbike too.
The point is, they both exude an enormous confidence, if not cockiness, in what they do. As kindred spirits who live, eat, sleep, breathe and think football 24/7, they have both needed that level of conviction in their own smarts to survive and thrive in a dog-eat-dog business. Their coaching moves have been brilliant. Their personnel moves have been mixed at best.
Matthews’ experiment of trying the world league to catch the NFL’s attention failed miserably as he was back in Canada (Saskatchewan of all places) within months. He later tried another experiment which might’ve caught the NFL’s attention when he signed ex-Dallas Cowboys star quarterback Quincy Carter to try out for his Montreal Alouettes in 2006. That too ended in failure when the Don cut Carter on day three of training camp. The results never panned out in either case.
Rider fans, Chris Jones and Vince Young can only hope this roll of the dice doesn’t turn up snake-eyes the way it did so many times for Don Matthews.