Chris Jones wants to create legacy like Buono & Hufnagel, remain in Edmonton for long time

Photo courtesy: Edmonton Elks

The Edmonton Elks hired Chris Jones as the team’s new head coach and general manager on Tuesday, giving him a four-year contract. The veteran coach also plans to run the team’s defence, as he did in his first stint as Edmonton’s head coach.

“This is one of the flagship organizations in the league. We had so much fun when we were here prior with our staff that was here all together. It’s an opportunity for us to come back and kind of cement our legacy as a group and cement the legacy of this organization, get it where it should be, and that’s winning football games,” Jones said at a press conference.

The 54-year-old served as the head coach and defensive coordinator in Edmonton for two seasons during which he was named the CFL’s Coach of the Year (2014) and won a Grey Cup (2015). The club went 26-10 in the regular season and 3-1 in the postseason under Jones, hosting a playoff game in both years.

The Tennessee native has since had four jobs over a six-year span, beginning with the role of vice-president of football operations, general manager, and head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders (2016-18).

He resigned in Regina to become a senior defensive specialist with the Cleveland Browns (2019-20) before stints as the head coach at South Pittsburg High School (2021) and defensive consultant with the Toronto Argonauts (2021).

Jones faced questions from the media regarding his transience, which has been a source of criticism from fans. He originally departed Edmonton just one week after capturing the Grey Cup in 2015, which left a number of Green and Gold supporters feeling jilted.

“I can’t do more than just tell you what I’m going to do and I think my coaches can tell you that if I say I’m going to do something, that’s what I’m going to do,” said Jones. “All I can do is tell them what I mean and mean what I say. I signed a four-year deal in order to try to show the fact that this is where I want to try to build a legacy.”

“He’s staying put for the full four years and he’ll be very involved in the community all year round,” said board chair Ian Murray. “I’m very confident that things will go well from an operational perspective and we’re going to start winning football games.”

Jones has previously had long stints with the same organization. He worked under Don Matthews with the Montreal Alouettes for six seasons (2002-07) before a four-year stint with the Calgary Stampeders (2008-11). If he matches the length of either of those stints in Edmonton, he will have fulfilled the length of his contract with the Elks.

“I’m 54,” said Jones. “It’s time for me to do more in line with what [John Hufnagel] and [Wally Buono] did and that’s go somewhere and stay for a long time.”

Jones has his work cut out for him as the Elks are coming off an abysmal 3-11 season during which crowd sizes dwindled late in the year. The board cleaned house three days after Edmonton’s final game of the 2021 season — a 43-10 loss to the B.C. Lions — firing president Chris Presson, general manager Brock Sunderland, and head coach Jaime Elizondo.

Jones faced challenges during the first year of his tenure in Saskatchewan, finishing at the bottom of the West Division standings with a 5-13 record. He believes his experience with the Riders will help him hit the ground running with a greater understanding of how to perform so many roles.

“When you’re a first-time head football coach you’re full of yourself a little bit. You figure out some mistakes that you’ve made and I’ve made plenty of them. I’m human and have made a lot of mistakes over the course of my career and you learn from them and decide what’s good for your team and what ain’t,” said Jones.

“It was a learning curve, there’s no doubt. You gotta surround yourself with good people. That’s the first thing, the first agenda. We’ve gotta surround ourselves with good folks that know their role and with the way things are run in the league, guys have to have more than one thing they can do.”