Chris Jones left the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Tuesday for a coaching opportunity with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. The report, first made by @CFL_News, caused a massive stir in league circles and on social media.
Sources say #Riders Head Coach Chris Jones has interviewed today with the Cleveland Browns & they are hiring him in a defensive capacity. Details to come. Jones had an NFL out clause in his #CFL contract.
Expect Jeremy O'Day to take over as GM. pic.twitter.com/7OXXCqWUyb
— CFL News (@CFL_News) January 15, 2019
While there is still a lot to unpack about Jones’ departure for the NFL, the largest question now facing the Riders is who will become the team’s next head coach.
The CFL’s new salary cap will play a huge role in determining how the Riders are staffed next season. Saskatchewan used to be able to hire and fire at will; paying out the contracts of coaches you’ve dismissed is easy when you’re the league’s wealthiest team.
This season is different. There is a cap on coaching salaries, meaning that anyone the Riders fire ahead of the 2019 season will count against their spending limit for the season. This makes it virtually impossible for an incoming coach to assemble their own staff, lessening the appeal of the job.
Still, a head coaching job is a head coaching job. The opportunity to become a head coach in professional football doesn’t come around often and, in the end, someone will be happy to take the gig.
Here’s a list outlining who that person might be.
Currently serving as the Riders’ special teams coordinator, Dickenson is the most logical candidate to become the club’s next head coach.
Dickenson has 16 years of CFL coaching experience and has spent the past three as a member of Chris Jones’ staff. He knows the organization’s existing personnel people, assistant coaches, and players.
Dickenson had an interview scheduled with B.C. during the Lions’ recent head coaching search, though Calgary defensive coordinator DeVone Claybrooks was eventually hired.
Given that it’s too late to let a new head coach hire his own staff, familiarity might be Dickenson’s greatest asset.
The Riders desperately need a boost on the offensive side of the football and LaPolice is arguably the best available candidate to make that happen.
LaPolice served as the offensive coordinator in Saskatchewan for two seasons (2008-2009) before leaving to become the head coach of the Blue Bombers in 2010. He held that title for two-and-a-half years (2010-2012) and is currently serving as Winnipeg’s offensive coordinator (2016-present).
LaPolice has been credited for designing a quarterback-friendly offence that prioritizes ball control and balance between the air and ground attacks. He could be the perfect candidate to help spark Saskatchewan’s lethargic offence.
Elizondo has served as the offensive coordinator for the Ottawa Redblacks since 2016, helping lead the team to one Grey Cup victory in two appearances.
Featuring many of the same assets as LaPolice — though no head coaching experience — Elizondo may be able to provide something that Winnipeg’s offensive coordinator can’t: a starting quarterback.
Unlike Matt Nichols and Chris Streveler, Trevor Harris is a pending free agent as of February 12. Harris would be the perfect player to lead a Roughrider offence that produced just 11 passing touchdowns in 2018 (by contrast, Harris threw six touchdown passes in the East Semi-Final alone).
There’s no guarantee that Harris would follow Elizondo to Saskatchewan, but the Riders were hoping to use Chris Jones’ influence to lure Mike Reilly to Regina. Using Elizondo for a similar purpose (albeit with a different player) makes sense.
Recently fired by the Toronto Argonauts, Trestman is in need of work for the third time in five years.
While the 13-23 record he posted as the Argos’ head coach was disappointing, there’s no arguing with Trestman’s ability to win Grey Cups. Capturing two titles with Montreal (2009 and 2010) and one with Toronto (2017), Trestman has won a championship in both of his CFL stops.
Saskatchewan isn’t a long way from Trestman’s hometown of Minneapolis and there may not be many more head coaching opportunities for the 63-year-old. If the Riders can find a veteran quarterback to start for the club in 2019, Trestman would be a solid hire.
Jackson may only have six years of coaching experience, but the former quarterback has quickly risen through the CFL’s coaching ranks.
Serving as the offensive coordinator in B.C. this past season, Jackson spent the previous four years working with Chris Jones and offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo in Edmonton (2014-2015) and Saskatchewan (2016-2017).
Jackson served as the club’s quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator during his tenure in Saskatchewan. The passing game is what tanked following his departure for B.C., meaning Jackson would likely be a welcome re-addition in Regina.
The Riders have hired a young coach with just one year of CFL coordinator experience before — hello, Corey Chamblin — so it’s not impossible to think it could happen again.
A candidate who can serve as both the club’s head coach and defensive coordinator (as Chris Jones did) would be attractive to the Riders. Benevides, a man with 18 years of CFL coaching experience, could fill both roles.
Coming off a three-year stint with Edmonton where he served primarily as the team’s defensive coordinator, Benevides is both capable and available. It also helps that Benevides is well-liked and respected around the league.
The problem is that Benevides has been a head coach before (B.C., 2012-2014) and knows the importance of autonomy. Having the freedom to hire your own staff is paramount to success as a head coach and he won’t get that opportunity in Riderville.