Football coaching mercenary Chris Jones: ‘It’s a deal where you never know what’s coming tomorrow’

Photo courtesy: Arthur Ward/CFL

Commitment and Chris Jones don’t go well together with football, just ask the Saskatchewan Roughriders who watched him leave for the NFL literally one week after signing a contract extension, but it’s admittedly part of the business.

Jones was one month into the Tennessee high school football season when the opportunity came about to join the Toronto Argonauts. He resigned as South Pittsburg High School head coach — his alma mater — to accept what the double blue are calling a defensive consultant position. His contract includes a team option for the 2022 season.

“Football is a season to season thing. It’s a deal where you never know what’s coming tomorrow. For me to sit here and say next year or two years from know or whatever — this is pro football,” Jones responded when asked if he’s committed to the Argos beyond 2021.

“We get judged off what we do. It’s a short term game. You’ve gotta come in, you’ve gotta compete right away, you’ve gotta win right away. That’s hard for me to look that far down the road anyway.”

According to Jones, he was contacted by the Argonauts on Saturday, September 11. He discussed the opportunity with his wife and daughters, ultimately deciding to accept the offer from general manager Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons and head coach Ryan Dinwiddie. In the morning on Monday, September 13, Jones let South Pittsburg know he was leaving for Canada.

“I appreciate him making that decision, sacrificing the comfortability of him living in his own hometown, I’m sure some people around there were upset, also leaving his family to come up and help us,” Dinwiddie said.

“You compete to win a championship, that’s why they brought me here, it certainly wasn’t my looks. It’s a great league, been a great league before I got here, it was a great league while I was gone, and I’m just fortunate to be back,” Jones said.

While completing his seven-day quarantine, mandatory for any individual obtaining tier one status in the league during the pandemic, Jones was watching film, studying the Argos defence and taking part in Zoom meetings with the team. The soon-to-be 54-year-old was on the field with the members of the franchise for the first time on Tuesday for practice at Lamport Stadium in downtown Toronto.

“A lot of people are like: ‘You’re bringing in a guy with more experience who has done all those things as a head coach and general manager,'” head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said.

“I feel pretty comfortable in my own skin, who I am. I want to get the best guy in here to help us win, Chris wants to do that, but I also felt like our players deserve that opportunity to play for a guy with Chris’ calibre as a d-coordinator.”

It might not be the title Jones was given officially, but for all intents and purposes he is the Argonauts’ defensive coordinator. Jones will lead the game-planning and call the plays for the defence in Week 8 against the Alouettes. Montreal travels to play at BMO Field on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

“You know what, I really did miss the CFL. It was one of those situations where you’re in one place for so long, even though you’re different places, and you go to the same venues, competing, it’s really good to be back,” Jones said.

The last game Jones coached in the CFL was the West Division Semi-Final At Mosaic Stadium on Sunday, November 11, 2018. His Riders lost to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers by a score of 23-18 following a 12-6 regular season. He was named CFL Coach of the Year for his efforts and drew interest from the NFL.

After signing a two-year contract extension on January 8, 2019 with Saskatchewan, exactly seven days later Jones inked a two-year agreement with the Cleveland Browns as a senior defensive assistant on Freddie Kitchens’ coaching staff. Kitchens was fired hours after a 6-10 season was finished that year and Kevin Stefanski was named the Browns new head coach for the 2020 season.

“The year, when I was there with Freddie, I was nickels coach the first year. I was not on the field the second year, I was taken off and put more in an analytics type role. The communication with me was that I was still part of the staff,” Jones said.

“But then when COVID hit you can only have a certain number of people inside what they call the bubble. At that point, it didn’t go from there. I stayed at home most of the year and I graded the quarterback for the analytics department, that was my role.”

His Cleveland contract was not renewed and it expired to make him a coaching free agent. The four-time Grey Cup champion was hoping for a chance to be in professional football north of the border and it’s happened. Jones is a polarizing figure and doesn’t care about the sentiment from some fans who believe he’s always only looking out for No. 1.

“I’m no different from any of the other coaches or players in the league, I’m no different from anybody else in the league,” Jones said.

“I’m hired to coach football, I love the game of football, I love competing, game days is what I live for.”