Let’s get this straight. Chris Jones is the highest paid and arguably most powerful head coach in the Canadian Football League today. While other teams hold their spring mini-camps in chilly, wet weather at home, he rolls on down to historic Dodgertown in beautiful Vero Beach, Florida on the company dime. He wears not one, not two, not three, but four hats as the head coach, general manager, vice-president of football operations and de facto defensive co-ordinator for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. And he has the support of Roughrider management to do whatever he wants, even if it means dumping their fan favorite and star quarterback Darian Durant.
Roughrider Management Rule Violations Embarrassing Organization
Unwilling to Face the Music
Shy of his 50th birthday, it would seem Chris Jones has it all. So how does he repay Rider President/CEO Craig Reynolds for giving him one of the best jobs in football? A 5-and-13 season, last-place finish, no fewer than five fines totaling more than a hundred thousand dollars (that’s big money in the CFL) for repeated rule violations and a big fat no apology on a press release surely written by someone other than Jones himself. And he still gets to open the sparkling new $272-million-dollar Roughrider stadium funded mostly by taxpaying Rider fans?
Yet miraculously, when news came down on Friday that Jones’ latest rule break (for a total of six in the past nine months and counting) for tampering with Hamilton Tiger-Cats property Johnny Manziel, the coach didn’t see fit to offer an apology, an explanation or even so much as a conference call for fans or media. Instead he gave a “we look forward to moving on.” And this is the guy who supposedly preaches about accountability to his players.
Coach Owes Reporter an Apology
This is the same coach who threatened CFL beat writer Justin Dunk with a lawsuit for first reporting the team had broken league rules by working Manziel out back in February. And while we have yet to see any proof of said workout taking place, it’s clear the league investigated and determined that yes, the celebrity quarterback was contacted improperly through one of his representatives.
So who does the coach threaten to sue now? The Canadian Football League? Manziel’s publicist? Or maybe even Johnny Football himself? While no legal action appears likely, especially after Friday’s revelation, behavior from Rider management and in particular the coach would indicate that if he’s going to blame any-one, it won’t be himself. If he hasn’t gotten the message about how to follow the rules after screwing them up six times, who’s to say he’s going to figure it out now?
In Over His Head
The hiring/poaching of Chris Jones before last season was viewed as a major coup in Rider nation. A lackluster string of 22 losses in 27 games was starting to dampen the enthusiasm of a Rider fanbase still giddy over it’s greatest moment in the 100 plus year franchise history from capturing the 2013 Grey Cup on legendary Taylor Field. Jones was barely a week removed from leading the Edmonton Eskimos to their own Grey Cup and couldn’t wait to parlay his new championship ring into an epic promotion for more money and more responsibility. And that’s where the problem started.
While fans across the prairies high-fived each other over this all-star hire, some observers and talk show hosts quietly noticed this new sheriff would carry three titles while effectively running his own defense on top of that. This is unheard of in professional football unless your name is Bill Belichick. Some even dared to suggest the load could be a bit too heavy to handle for a guy who only had two years of experience as a head coach and none as a general manager. Those fears appear to be realized with what we see today.
Still Time to Fix This
Nobody should be naïve enough to predict this alarming behavior will change any time soon, but anyone who knows anything about sports knows that winning will make fans, media, and upper management forget about all about any warts the leader might have. The jury is still out on his handling (or mishandling) of the Darian Durant/quarterback situation, but Chris Jones’ other personnel moves have for the most part looked superb. However, another last-place finish might be all she wrote for this second coming of Don Matthews in Riderville.
But one has to think Chris Jones needs a winning season now, more badly than he’s ever needed one before.