Saskatchewan Roughriders president/CEO Craig Reynolds just got embarrassingly out-played by Chris Jones, a well-known mercenary who used to be the CFL team’s vice-president of football operations, general manager, head coach and defensive coordinator.

As initially reported by @CFL_News on Twitter, Jones has joined the NFL’s Cleveland Browns as their “senior defensive specialist.”

Jones’ departure comes one week after the Roughriders announced he had signed a contract extension that included an NFL escape clause, in conjunction with presenting a 10-man coaching staff and the hiring of personnel guru Paul Jones (no relation). The re-hired coaches included offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo, who drew the ire of Rider fans last season for overseeing an inept, low-scoring attack.

Jones was reportedly the CFL’s highest-paid coach/GM with a salary in the $600,000-plus range; he recently expressed bitterness about an incoming cap on each team’s coaching/administrative staffs and salaries that likely forced him to accept a pay cut.

Now the Roughriders look totally foolish and unprepared without the man responsible for their on-field product, although long-time employee Jeremy O’Day will likely move into the VP/GM role

Despite Jones’ gaudy, made-up title with the Browns, it’s hardly career advancement for a man who has never been secretive about his interest in climbing the coaching ladder. The Roughriders should have been more specific in their contract, allowing Jones to escape only if he were becoming a head coach of an NFL team or U.S. college. They knew about Jones because three years earlier Reynolds lured a contractually-bound coach Jones away from the Edmonton Eskimos in the wake of their Grey Cup victory. Jones has been a coaching vagabond, bouncing between five franchises during his 17 seasons in the CFL, always with his eye on returning to the U.S.

Anyone looking for indicators: Jones was the first Roughriders head coach in decades who wasn’t expected to live year-round in Regina, so he stayed in a local hotel during football season and left his family home in Tennessee.

Jones seemed popular among his players, who spoke glowingly about his loyalty, but he’s not exactly a warm-and-fuzzy guy, so his departure is drawing mixed reviews throughout Riderville.

The Roughriders improved during Jones’ tenure, winning five, 10 and 12 games, posting back-to-back playoff appearances and playing host last season to the West semifinal. But despite building a strong defence with great players like end Willie Jefferson and quarterback-turned-cornerback Nick Marshall, the Roughriders haven’t advanced to the Grey Cup since winning in 2013.

The team’s biggest weakness is at quarterback, particularly after starter Zach Collaros and Brandon Bridge combined for only 11 touchdown passes last season. That prompted the Roughriders to claim they were devoting themselves to finding a bona fide starter next season, leading to speculation they would try to lure free-agent-to-be Mike Reilly away from Edmonton, where he had played for Jones.

The chance of getting Reilly now appears gone, just like Jones.

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Darrell Davis
Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.