After giving him a new deal, Riders shouldn’t let Chris Jones walk away

I’m not Craig Reynolds, nor do I want to be the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ president/CEO.

But if I were, I would have offered Chris Jones a contract that allows the CFL team’s on-field boss to opt early out of his pact only if he received a head coaching job with an NCAA Division I football program or an NFL team.

Head coach only. Not a defensive coordinator. Not a linebackers coach or any other position unless it includes being the head coach. Or a general manager, athletic director, something that’s unquestionably a step upwards from Jones’ current role as Saskatchewan’s vice-president of football operations, general manager, head coach and defensive coordinator.

Jones had one year remaining on his old contract before agreeing to a one-year extension.

Even with the salary reduction that likely comes with the new Riders contract — Jones admitted last year his massive coaching staff would be trimmed and those remaining, including himself, would be receiving a pay cut, likely in the 10 per cent range to abide by the CFL’s new administrative cap — he’s still getting paid in the $600,000-plus range.

NCAA Division I and NFL coordinators get paid about that much, although it’s admittedly in richer U.S. dollars. The Americans also provide pension plans, something the CFL (for crying out loud!) needs to establish for its coaches.

There’s also the argument that accepting a coordinator’s job would give someone a leg up on becoming a head coach in the future. And head coaches in the U.S. can get paid $8 million annually.

Tough luck! The Roughriders made a tremendous commitment to Jones, luring him away from the Edmonton Eskimos immediately after they won the 2015 Grey Cup with a long-term deal, hefty salary and virtually unfettered control of football operations.

It wasn’t the first time Jones broke a contract. He’s also broken some CFL roster rules along the way, but Jones has certainly improved the Roughriders, who have won five, 10 and 12 games in his three seasons in Saskatchewan. Hence the Roughriders want him committed to fortifying the team, picking a staff, finding a quarterback and continuing to develop stars like defensive end Willie Jefferson and quarterback-turned-cornerback Nick Marshall.

There are unsubstantiated reports that two NFL teams and a U.S. college have looked at Jones’ accomplishments with thoughts of hiring him. Such reports give him some negotiating leverage, but unless they’re offering him the top job Jones should be held to the terms of his Roughriders contract.

That wouldn’t make him happy. Maybe it would put the Roughriders in a bad light among the coaching fraternity. But the CFL is a respectable league with lots of coaching candidates looking for jobs; it doesn’t have to kowtow by allowing its leaders to become subservient co-ordinators in the NFL.

Eleven years ago, Kent Austin won a Grey Cup as Saskatchewan’s head coach and was immediately lured away to become an offensive coordinator at his alma mater, Ole Miss. Then-GM Eric Tillman, another Ole Miss alumnus and Austin’s close friend, let his coach walk out on his contract.

While Austin meandered through myriad college coaching jobs before returning to the CFL with another franchise, the Roughriders needed six years, three coaches and a couple of general managers before they won another Grey Cup. They would have been smarter to have held onto Austin.

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