The Saskatchewan Roughriders took Chris Jones and a good portion of his coaching staff away from the Edmonton Eskimos mere days after he led the team to the 2015 Grey Cup win. He was the coach who was going to reverse the Riders’ flagging fortunes; this, the green and white faithful were certain, was going to turn things around.
Now they sit at 1-7, with a vicious 53-7 trouncing at the hands of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats ringing most loudly in their ears. Jones has done nothing whatsoever to slow the team’s continuing slide into oblivion.
The clock is already ticking on Jones. How much time is left until he’s done with Saskatchewan? Here are some of the major factors that will contribute to his eventual fate.
There’s Still Some Rope Left for Chris Jones
Few Other Options
One thing in Jones’ favour is that there aren’t many options around for CFL coaches. It’s not exactly a closed shop, but if you don’t already have some Canadian football coaching under your belt, you aren’t likely to come in and do any better than 1-7. As the other teams continue to gel, it’s only going to get harder to find a new and effective captain to take the helm on any team.
There’s competition, too. The Montreal Alouettes went with the Jim Popp solution – an unsatisfactory manager, to many fans, and a disaster of a head coach. Surely the Als would have picked up someone else if there had been anyone available.
Canadian university teams are often the breeding ground for new coaches, too, but with the CIS season not quite ready to get underway,
The Fans Demand More
Saskatchewan hasn’t had a terrible run in the twenty-teens; their Grey Cup win in 2013 is still fresh, and they have only had a losing record in one completed season (though 2016 does not bode well).
But the mood is definitely souring already this year, with the team showing no signs of finding answers to their precipitous slide. And the fans are already demanding better, with the trouncing in Hamilton making their dissatisfaction even sharper.
Next year the new stadium will open. Saskatchewan fans are no doubt already considering what a 1-7 start to the season will look like in 2017, in the newly-built stadium. They will need change before the opening kickoff. And attendance in 2016 has not yet started to flag, but if they remain this abysmal after Labour Day, the back office will need to make some moves.
The Team Isn’t That Bad
Even if they didn’t set up for a championship run in the off-season–the Riders lost more than they gained in the free agency sweepstakes–they are far from a losing team on paper. The only major question has been the health of Darien Durant. So far, he’s been in and out, but Mitchell Gale is a decent understudy – we’re certainly past the Tino Sunseri days.
And other key positions on the team are strong as well. Receiver Naaman Roosevelt has over 700 yards receiving already; linebacker Greg Jones is fifth in the league in tackles; and place kicker Tyler Crapigna is at 90% accuracy for field goals.
This roster isn’t especially stacked, but they’re definitely not no-hopers. A decent coach would be able to develop a scheme that played to their strengths and brought in a few wins. Jones just hasn’t done his job.
Sunk Costs for Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan not only bought Chris Jones away from Edmonton (and a cast of supporting players as well); they also invested some credibility as a team.
Because it made no sense, on the surface. Jones had won a Grey Cup with an extremely strong Eskimos team. He had a quarterback and a defence that he could put up against anyone else in the league. Staying in place in Edmonton would have been the easy route, and the obvious route.
For Saskatchewan to make him such an attractive offer was dodgy as well. It’s a small league; they knew the implications of poaching another team’s leader. And they went ahead and made the offer anyway.
Saskatchewan ponied up a wad of cash, and Jones took it. They burned plenty of goodwill in addition to a sizeable salary. Neither Saskatchewan nor Jones are likely going to sell their investment short. (And in Jones’ case, who would buy? In the CFL, his options are fairly limited at the moment.)
Is Chris Jones’ Time Up?
It may be painful for the prairie boys to hear, but no, Chris Jones is staying a while yet.
He may have been completely ineffective as a leader so far. He may not have made the best use of the tools at his disposal. But the fact is that money talked to get him on the Saskatchewan sidelines, and that money will continue to speak loudly for the rest of the season.
If Saskatchewan continues on this path and picks up only a couple more wins this year, then the clock will be ticking very loudly indeed. Don’t expect Jones to stay in charge this deep into 2017 with only one win on the season. But for this year, he’s safe.
Sorry, Riders fans, but you’re stuck with him. There’s always next year.