Is Chris Jones going to be fired?
It’s a question I hear quite often, from fans, the media, friends (yes, I have some), bloggers, Tweeters (who accuse me of hating Jones), my cohorts on the Green Zone radio show and the editor of 3DownNation.com, which explains why I’m writing this column.
If the Saskatchewan Roughriders falter, will the community-owned franchise dump the man it hired 18 months ago to be its head coach, vice-president of football operations, general manager and defensive co-ordinator? It’s a fair question and it has myriad responses that will become apparent as the Riders progress past their season-opener Thursday in Montreal.
Here’s my answer: “Why the heck are you asking me?”
I’m the guy who two years ago wrote a column for 3DownNation.com anointing Corey Chamblin as “Mr. Invincible” because the Roughriders would not fire him even if the team went 0-18.
Well, midway through the 2015 season, in Chamblin’s fourth season as Saskatchewan’s head coach and only 1 1/2 years after leading the team to a Grey Cup victory, the team was 0-9 when everyone — including me — decided his stubborn inability to accept advice from anyone else showed he should be fired.
Riders president Craig Reynolds canned Chamblin and — surprisingly! — general manager Brendan Taman, each of whom had 2 1/2 years remaining on contracts that paid them about $300,000 annually.
With those contracts still on the books, Reynolds wooed Jones away from the Edmonton Eskimos, mere days after winning the 2015 Grey Cup, and reportedly gave him $700,000 annually to run the football portion of the franchise. It seemed like a coup.
Jones has since surrounded himself with so many coaches and administrators it’s hard to remember he’s in charge. But there’s no doubt he made the decisions that led to a record-setting player turnover during a 5-13 campaign in 2016 and continued unabated into this season, led by severing ties with veteran quarterback Darian Durant.
That incessant roster juggling, the belief that Jones and right-hand man John Murphy can always find better players, seems to be the reason the Roughriders haven’t jelled into a competitive squad.
Up until last year, Jones had made the playoffs in every one of his previous 14 CFL seasons, working with four different franchises. In every other place, he had a boss, a head coach or a general manager who rode shotgun on his decisions. With all the power he’s been given in Saskatchewan, he now answers to nobody except the scoreboard. And it’s the scoreboard that will determine Jones’ future.
He has put in place a hodge-podge of new, cast-off, proven and unproven talent for 2017, led by journeyman quarterback Kevin Glenn, while the franchise evidently awaits the free-agent acquisition next season of promising pivot James Franklin, who Jones admires from their days together in Edmonton.
If the Roughriders don’t improve, Jones will be fired. If they get through this season with a better record than 2016 and show enough potential that Franklin’s acquisition will make them a contender, Jones — who I don’t hate, by the way, I just disagree with some of his tactics — will be employed for the final year of his contract in 2018.
And then the question will surface again.