Eleven days ago, as head coach Chris Jones was preparing his Edmonton Eskimos to win the 103rd Grey Cup in Winnipeg, I found myself having a one-on-one interview with him during a team luncheon.
I wanted to ask him about joining the Saskatchewan Roughriders as their head coach, general manager, vice-president of football operations and whatever other job he wanted to assume. According to every media outlet in Canada as of Sunday night, led by TSN’s Ryan Rishaug, Jones will be presented as Saskatchewan’s new boss on Monday.
After we talked about our mutual friend and mentor, Don Matthews, here’s a snippet of our conversation:
Me: “Now a Saskatchewan question. Your name keeps coming up; do you want to be a general manager as your career moves ahead?”
Jones: “If that’s where it takes me. Right now I’m just focusing on the Grey Cup and enjoying what we’re doing here coaching my football team. I grew up wanting to be a head football coach. Right now I’m getting that opportunity. A lot of people are pointing me in the direction of a GM opportunity. We’ll worry about all that when we get through this. We’ve got a good team and a great staff. If the opportunity presents itself down the road, we’ll have to think about it.”
That told me he was indeed interested in advancing his career with the Roughriders.
After the Eskimos won the Grey Cup, general manager Ed Hervey gave Riders president/CEO Craig Reynolds permission to speak with Jones about joining Saskatchewan. Career advancement, a challenge and a hefty contract that could be worth $700,000 annually was obviously too appealing to Jones.
A superb defensive co-ordinator who joined Matthews’ Montreal Alouettes in 2002, Jones jumped around the CFL when he got better offers. Along the way he also handled assistant general managers duties with the Toronto Argonauts and demonstrated a penchant for identifying talent, Jones finally got his first CFL head-coaching job with Edmonton in 2014. Although his team played well, Jones’ brusqueness didn’t endear himself to the rest of the league. He truly was, as I told him, “A chip of the old Don.” Jones smiled and said it was OK to call him that. Reporters who follow the Eskimos regularly say that Jones softened his image during his time in Edmonton, a trait that will serve him well in Saskatchewan.
Everyone who covers the CFL knows how rare it is nowadays to have a one-on-one chat with any of the league’s quarterbacks, coaches, general managers or star players. The league’s image of being accessible is being strangled by over-officious executives and p.r. directors.
Anyway, when the Eskimos’ meet-the-media luncheon was over, Jones had done several scrums with numerous reporters and was being quizzed by former play-by-play guy Bryan Hall, while a young reporter stood nearby with one question he wanted answered. When Hall finished his grilling (Bryan is legendary for his two-minute questions and his subjects’ 10-second responses) and the other reporter had asked his question, they both left.
Jones and I introduced ourselves (even though I had interviewed him earlier in his career) and had a nice, short conversation. During our chat he didn’t actually say he was coming to Saskatchewan, but it certainly started the whirlwind.