Top 10 CFL feuds: Tyrone Jones vs Cal Murphy

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

On Monday, I unveiled my latest project for 3DownNation, a list of the top 10 feuds in CFL history. Over the next two weeks, I’ll countdown the nastiest fights and most contentious disagreements in the history of the league.

Check out our previous posts below:

The Best of the Rest

Number 10: Adam Rita vs Jeff Reinebold

Number nine: Dieter Brock vs the City of Winnipeg

Number eight: Tyrone Jones vs Cal Murphy

The CFL is full of colourful and antagonistic personalities. When two of them find themselves working in close proximity, it can be a lot of fun for all those involved. When they find themselves in opposition, the fireworks can be spectacular.

Tyrone Jones is remembered as a Hall of Fame linebacker, one of the finest to ever play the position, but also a Hall of Fame level trash talker who was deservedly nicknamed “The Mouth That Roared.” His first head coach and later general manager Cal Murphy was an equally feisty character, never one to avoid a war of words or shy away from letting his opinion be known.

The production that Jones had under Murphy during their first few years together simply speaks for itself, but like so many great partnerships money would cause a rift.

Murphy was notoriously frugal and ran an extremely tight ship, but it’s important to note that this feud came at a time when the league was in dire financial straits and the Bombers were a million dollars in the red. Murphy came across as the bad guy because he was tight with the chequebook, but frankly he had little choice.

If you had particularly good foresight, you might have predicted this feud in 1988. Jones was seeking a new contract at the time and Murphy lowballed him as he tried to cut costs, so Jones took a crack at the NFL. He would be back with the Bombers the next season with a pay raise, but you could tell it wouldn’t satisfy for long.

That came to a head in 1991, when Jones grew tired of his $70,000 plus incentives contract and demanded to be paid like the top-tier linebacker he had proven to be on the field.

“When I was a young kid in my second and third year they told me to wait my turn,” said Jones. “Hell, I’ve passed my turn.”

He had brought the issue up with Murphy the year previous and was promised a conversation that never occurred. He felt blown off and disregarded, so he decided to send a message. In June 1991, Jones walked out of training camp and brought the Bombers into a soap opera.

“I have no idea where he went and I’m not going to chase him,” said Murphy after the walkout.

Jones demanded a trade. Money was the initial issue, but the dismissal of his concerns had caused a larger rift.

“It’s not really the money anymore, it’s the principle behind it,” the linebacker told reporters. “I don’t want to work for Cal Murphy anymore.”

The whole situation was especially irksome for Murphy, who was struggling to tighten his team’s belt as they awaited TV money from the league. He had already been vocal in the press attacking Ottawa Rough Riders’ GM Jo-Anne Polak for lavish spending that was hurting the delicate financial balance of the league. This was simply another example of other teams driving up the salary market in an unsustainable way.

Murphy was actually open to paying Jones more money, he just wasn’t going to go out of his way to do it. The two sides were shockingly quick in setting out a new three-year contract that got the star closer to numbers that other all-star defenders were receiving.

“I’m really happy because I really didn’t want to leave Winnipeg,” Jones said afterwards.

He would not feel that way for long. It was to be a trying season in Winnipeg with an inexperienced CFL coaching staff led by Darryl Rodgers. Jones got hurt early on and required arthroscopic knee surgery. Tempers flared as he was frustrated by missed games.

Reporters witnessed one such altercation after practice one day, with Jones and Murphy at each other’s throats. It seemed that the defender had sought a secondary medical opinion and wanted money to see a specialist. This offended Murphy who was insulted at the undermining of club medical staff and unwilling to cover costs.

“I told him ‘Heck no, I ain’t paying any $200,’” explained Murphy after. “So Tyrone yelled his favourite line ‘So trade me’.”

It was the second time Jones demanded a trade in 1991 and, despite efforts by the club to chalk the fight up to injury frustration, it wouldn’t be the last.

When Jones returned to the field, he was soon distracted by another controversy. Murphy decided to shake up the roster after a series of highly criticized defensive mistakes and cut free safety Dave Bovell in October. Bovell’s play had never recovered after a knee injury and it seemed a sound football move to many. Jones saw it as another cheap personnel move by a crooked GM. He walked out of practice with his best friend James West in solidarity. West stayed quiet and raised his issues with Murphy privately. Jones did not.

“I hate to say it, but I think Cal is prejudiced,” Jones said when asked about the move. “Every guy he’s gotten rid of or done stuff to has been a black guy. He’s not doing right by us and a lot of black guys think it’s a black-white thing.”

Ironically, in the same criticism Jones said Murphy was too soft on Rod Hill, another black defensive back, and didn’t punish him proportionally to Bovell for penalties he committed.

Murphy would never be confused for a progressive icon — his refusal to allow female reporters into the locker room generated a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission — but the allegations were still surprising. Jones did not receive much support from his teammates and Murphy dismissed him outright.

“It doesn’t do me or anyone else any good to respond to that type of thing,” he told reporters.

“The only way I can play here again is if he guarantees to trade me at the end of the year,” was Jones’ consistent response.

No trade was promised but Jones begrudgingly returned to the team. When asked why he backpedaled, his response was simple.

“I was going to lose $10,000 over the next three weeks if I didn’t, that’s why.”

He walked back his comments on racism, but insisted he was standing up for the players in a just crusade against Murphy. He provided cheap equipment, discount transportation and was unfairly tight with contracts. Jones threatened a boycott of the teams next game if the board of directors didn’t meet with him about the issue and said 25 to 30 players would join him.

Close friend and teammate Lyle Bauer was frank when discussing it in the media.

“Rest assured there will be no boycott,” the future Bombers president correctly predicted.

Winnipeg’s season ended in a 42-3 East Final shellacking by the Toronto Argonauts and their new safety Dave Bovell. It was clear to everyone that Jones would not be with the team the next season. To paraphrase one Bomber player, you can’t call your boss a racist and keep your job. It was an open secret that Jones wanted to play with the free-spending Argonauts, but he especially wanted to be in the East to be near his ailing mother.

“Heck, let me play in Halifax, just get me away from Cal Murphy,” he told anyone who would listen.

Murphy sent him West to Saskatchewan for receiver Allen Boyko and a first-round pick.

When reporters called Jones a boil on the team in the post-trade media conference, the GM responded in kind.

“Yeah I guess I lanced one,” he chuckled.

Before sending him to Regina, Murphy provided Jones with a lovely parting gift. The GM served his former linebacker with a lawsuit, alleging he had failed to pay back a $16,777.78 loan the club had given him when he returned from the NFL. They garnished $8,000 dollars from his wages. It seemed monetary complaints went both ways.

Murphy returned to the sidelines in 1992, which excited his opponent Jones. He had grand plans to use his legendary fast talk to get back at his old boss.

“I’ll taunt his butt,” Jones said in anticipation of their first meeting.

There was indeed words exchanged in their pre-season matchup, with Jones using his customary pre-game lap of the field to make sure he was heard. The league would later warn Jones to temper his comments on Murphy or risk a fine — especially when the coach wound up in hospital for a heart transplant — and banned him from crossing mid-field. That made commissioner Larry Smith no friends in the Jones household.

Finishing up his career in Saskatchewan and B.C., Jones was content away from his nemesis and held no ill-will towards his former team.

“I love the city. I love the organization,” he said about Winnipeg. “It’s just that one guy that was running things. He’s not personable. The guys have been scared into playing for years.”

The essence of this fight is one that has always plagued the CFL. As Jones put it, “I’m a professional and I deserve to be treated like one.” For decades, this has been a professional league with little cash to spare. As athletes’ expectations rise, there will always be a bad guy with his pocket book out trying to figure out how to make the whole thing work financially.

The CFL is a league where the calibre of the athletes often exceeds the dollars on their cheques or the quality of the facilities. Fans have seen hundreds of feuds like the one between Jones and Murphy, but they rarely stretch out over a season or have such antagonistic talkers involved.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.