Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Chris Jones generated interest from NFL teams which ultimately led to a job.
Jones was a graduate coach at the University of Alabama in 1997 when new Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens was a quarterback for the Crimson Tide. Kitchens has hired Jones to join the Browns staff for a defensive position.
In the insular world of pro football where relationships are everything – general managers and coaches almost always prefer to hire and work with people they know – Jones’ NFL connections were the key for this opportunity.
Jones has many acquaintances around the NFL, the other two most notable being Mike Smith and Bruce Arians, both of whom have head coaching experience on their resumes. Arians was just hired as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach on a four-year deal with a team option for a fifth. Jones and Arians have kept in contact since their NCAA coaching days.
Smith was the Bucs’ defensive coordinator last season. In 1995 and 1996, Smith oversaw the special teams and coordinated the defence at Tennessee Tech University where Jones was a graduate assistant.
From there, Jones moved to Alabama as a graduate assistant in 1997 where Arians was the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator. It was the last college job Arians held before rising to the NFL.
NFL teams were doing reference checks on the Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach this off-season, including talking to colleagues from around the CFL. The fact that franchises were gathering information on Jones meant he was on the NFL coaching radar. And the new extension with the Riders had an out clause — just like every other coach in the CFL — to leave for a job south of the border.
Jones has a Grey Cup championship on his head coaching resume — 2015 with the Edmonton Eskimos — and improved the Riders’ win total to from five to 10 and 12 victories since 2016. The 51-year-old is the league’s reigning coach of the year and has a 53-37 win-loss record as a CFL head coach.
Marc Trestman parlayed an ultra-successful tenure with the Montreal Alouettes into a head coaching job with the Chicago Bears in 2013. The difference is that Trestman had plenty of NFL experience and relationships prior to coaching in the CFL.
Looking to the CFL for coaches — Scott Milanovich and Marcus Brady are two notable and recent examples — is yet another display of respect NFL teams have for the CFL and are an indication of the league’s increasing openness to less traditional coaching hires.
Arians landing a head coach position with the Bucs potentially boosted Jones’ NFL prospects due to the long-standing relationship.
But it was another offensive guru in Kitchens who has given Jones his first NFL coaching role.