When the thing you need to do to please the players is the same thing you need to do to please the fans, you shouldn’t wait long to do it.
So, eight days after the CFL season ends, June Jones is no longer the interim head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He is the head coach, no superfluous adjective.
The fans clearly wanted Jones back and the players, especially on offence, loved him from the day he inherited the loudest whistle.
And, most importantly, Jones’s bosses Kent Austin and Scott Mitchell, like what he’s done, the atmosphere he’s created, the hope he’s provided the franchise, and the impetus he’s given to prospective free agents to return to Hamilton. So he’s back.
For whatever reason, and it wasn’t just one, the day that June Jones went from Kent Austin’s assistant to Austin’s replacement as head coach, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats became the football team they saw in the mirror but not on the field.
In a result-based business you can’t argue with numbers, you can only add modifiers.
The Ticats had been oh-for-eight and they went 6-4 under Jones and could even have had a win or two more with a little better luck and a little better grasp of CFL nuances.
Yes, they were proceeding with urgency, as if they were in the playoffs, while some of their opponents weren’t and yes they solidified things on the back end of their defence that they hadn’t prior to Labour Day. But those in themselves don’t explain such a dramatic turnaround, or the sense of relaxation which permeated the clubhouse.
Outside of wins and losses, coaching is essentially a non-quantifiable profession. The same recipe doesn’t always produce the same dish. A coach often doesn’t do anything different in a 10-8 playoff year than he does in the season they finish 6-12, but it sure looks dissimilar. It’s no longer working, or the personnel doesn’t buy in like they once did or, as we felt about Austin’s offence, the other guys are on to what you are trying.
Jones’ return doesn’t necessarily mean that every free agent the Ticats want will arrive here, or that some players who complained they wouldn’t return if Austin is still involved, which he is, will actually return. But CFL history teaches us that a couple of thousand bucks in either direction makes more difference to a player than who’s signing the contracts. History also teaches us that most memories are short.
Jones will make a big difference to offensive players because they feel his configurations put them in a position to succeed, as a team and individually. And score often.
Austin’s did too in the earlier years, but not in the past many months, and it became clear it was taking players too long to digest the system, which is partly why the 2013-17 teams generally started poorly every season. Go 0-4, or 1-4, enough times and 0-8 is absolutely inevitable.
Jones had to keep it uncomplicated because he arrived mid-season, and that was one of the beauties of the Ticats in the second half. They thrived on that relative simplicity. We’ll see what happens when the playbook thickens, but he’ll also have his first training camp and April Optional Team Activity period (which they should use for system development, not just talent evaluation) to work with.
It’s clear that despite being a pass-first guy Jones likes to establish the very real threat of a run. That makes the offensive linemen giddy, and the opposition nervous.
He decided, correctly as it turned out, that Jeremiah Masoli is the better quarterback to sell that threat to opponents than Zach Collaros is. So it’s hard to imagine that Jones agreed to return without some semi-assurance that Masoli would too.
Formally sorting out the Masoli-Collaros hierarchy is the next step and understand this about the Tiger-Cats since Mitchell became the CEO: They like to do things in a certain, defendable, order especially in hirings and signings. Austin was ratified by Mitchell earlier, now Austin hires hiscoach, and the coach decides upon the quarterback.
Masoli, who needs a raise if he’s to start, and Collaros, the highest-paid player in the league, cannot co-exist as quarterbacks here. The salary cap weighs against it.
So, we assume, the market is now open to Collaros bidders. He has a heavy ($200,000) bonus due in February and that would likely lower the trading price for a team who takes him before the bonus is due, and raise it for those who’d prefer to wait.
The 2017 season was a terrible one on several fronts for the Tiger-Cats, but they ended it with optimism and have already re-upped the main cause of that optimism. Now they have to make the same correct decisions on a number of key players…which won’t be as obvious as it was picking the coach.
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