The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are a good football team. They were a bad football team not that long ago, but they aren’t anymore. After a terrible 0-8 start, the Ticats have run off five wins in their last eight games and while the playoffs are out of reach, no one can deny that the Ticats have turned things around in dramatic fashion in the latter half of the 2017 season. A lot of the positives around this team can be traced back to June Jones being named head coach.
Which brings up an interesting question: should June Jones get consideration as the CFL’s coach of the year?
There is a case to be made for and against Jones being named a coach of the year finalist, so let’s look at both sides.
The case for Jones is simple: the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have been the best team in the East Division since he took over as head coach. Hamilton’s 5-3 record since Labour Day is better than the Argos (4-3), Redblacks (3-3) and Alouettes (0-6) individual records. It can be argued that the Ticats are, right now, the best team in the East Division and the records bare that out.
Other numbers also show the Ticats are one of the league’s best since Labour Day, namely in the categories of average points for and against. The Ticats are third in average points for and fourth in average points against since Jones took over, with the team scoring 30 or more points three times and allowing 30 or more just once. In the first half of the season, the Ticats never scored more than 28 in any game prior to Labour Day and allowed 30 or more points in all eight games before Jones took over. To say that June Jones has transformed this team is an understatement.
The newer format for selecting coach of the year candidates also helps Jones’ case.
The CFL changed its coach of the year selection process to mirror that of the player awards, with one coach representing the East and one representing the West. Jones’ competition amongst his Eastern counterparts is hardly what you would call a murderers’ row.
We won’t discuss the Montreal Alouettes because, well, you know. Rick Campbell’s Ottawa Redblacks haven’t exactly lit the world on fire either. They won’t finish above .500 again this year and they have been in a nearly constant state of mediocrity since their fantastic 2015 season, where they finished 12-6 and Campbell rightly was named the league’s top coach.
That leaves us with Marc Trestman, who is the only other Eastern coach worthy of consideration. There is going to be a lot of pull to get Trestman the nod, and with good reason. The Argos have turned things around in a hurry after a terrible 5-13 season a year ago. Trestman has them currently in first in the East, heading towards hosting the East Final and possibly getting the Boatmen back to the Grey Cup for the first time since 2012. Many will want to give Trestman (and new GM Jim Popp) the lion’s share of the credit for reversing the Argos’ fortunes, but I am not sure they deserve it.
The main reason for Toronto’s sudden turnaround has been the health of Ricky Ray. The Argos may have finished the year losing seven of their last eight, but they were right in the thick of the East Division race before Ray was lost for the season after Labour Day. The Argos were 4-6 at the time Ray went down, and it was only after that injury that the team truly tanked.
The Argos’ fortunes have always been tied to Ray, and with Ray healthy it should be no surprise that Toronto is once again in the thick of the Grey Cup race. So while Trestman deserves some praise for getting Toronto back on top, I don’t think the rebuild job he has done has been as big as last year’s record would lead you to believe.
So with the Als having no contender worth mentioning, Campbell not being a true contender and Trestman’s bona fides being not as good as some might think, Jones seems to be the front runner to represent the East as coach of the year.
But that doesn’t mean Jones’ case is open and shut, because his résumé, while good, does have holes.
The first one being that the Ticats will miss the playoffs. As good as the Jones-led team has been, they still lost three games (all of them at home) and will miss the post season in part because of it. It is really hard to build a case for a coach being one of the league’s best when his team will be watching the championship tournament instead of participating in it.
Secondly, and maybe most importantly, comes the tricky question of Jones only being the coach for half a season. It is coach of the year, not coach of the half year after all. There is no doubt going to be some push back to any talk of Jones being a finalist for, let alone winning, the award given that he will only coach 10 games this year. I think you can only judge him based on he job he has done, not on the circumstances that led to him getting the job later in the season, but I can understand why some would think it unfair to reward him for only doing about half the job of the other coaches.
So it is not an open-and-shut case for June Jones being named a finalist for coach of the year, but I think the pros outweigh the cons and Jones will join either Dave Dickenson or, more likely, Chris Jones as a finalist to be named the CFL’s top head coach in 2017.