‘This team needs a cultural shift’: Eddie Steele defends Elks’ veteran signings as Chris Jones establishes ‘winning culture’

Photo courtesy: Edmonton Elks

Eddie Steele is finally happy with Edmonton Elks’ management.

The retired defensive lineman turned analyst made headlines last season for his critiques of former general manager Brock Sunderland, resulting in his firing from team broadcaster 630CHED.

Now Sunderland is gone and Steele’s old coach Chris Jones is back in town, leaving him excited for the future. Jones’ behaviour in the past has rubbed some people the wrong way, but Steele has little time for those critiques.

“Initially you had a lot of people when he signed, they go to the same old, kind of tired commentary of, ‘He’s gonna be here for a couple years and he’s gonna scramble,'” Steele acknowledged on The Rod Pedersen Show.

“That sentiment kind of wears, because is that all you’ve got to say? Because other than that, I mean he wins and he’s shown that he wins.”

A Grey Cup ring may prove Steele’s point, but even the most fervent Jones supporter was left scratching their head this week when the Elks announced the signing of veteran receivers Adarius Bowman and Emmanuel Arceneaux. The 36-year-old Bowman last played in the league with Montreal in 2018, while Arceneaux is 34 and last suited up with the Roughriders in 2019, spending last season playing indoor football.

For a team in desperate need of a talent infusion, many have wondered what possible value the two past-their-prime veterans could offer. Steele has no such questions.

“It’s been well-documented how I felt about the previous regime and the culture and how the overall organization was run. I think Jones is bringing these guys in to establish a winning culture, establish a veteran presence in that locker room with guys who have been there, done that, had a ton of success and won in this league,” he explained.

“They know what it takes to win. I don’t think Adarius and Manny are being signed to come in and be the bell cow, couple of thousand-yard receivers. I think they’re there more for that leadership, that presence.”

According to Steele, that aspect is far more important than on-field contributions, especially given the lingering effects of the team’s old leadership.

“This team needs a cultural shift. That was one of the main overriding issues with the Elks last year was lack of team culture, lack of direction,” he insisted. “Jones is putting a stamp on it by bringing these types of guys in who know Chris Jones and knows what he expects and they can kind of be like coaches on the field and in the locker room to really turn things around.”

While Jones has axed popular veterans in the past — just ask Weston Dressler and John Chick — he has also been known to give opportunities to some considered past their best before date. It’s part of what makes the curmudgeonly coach so immensely popular with players.

“He looks out for his guys. If you’re in with Chris and you have a good relationship and a guy like him gets the positions that he gets where he can have the power to make decisions, he’s gonna look out for his guys,” Steele said.

“As a player, he looked out for me when I got cut. As coaches, he looks out for his boys. He’s loyal. I have to say that about Chris Jones. He might not be loyal to franchises where he bounces around, but he’s not just bouncing around either. He’s going for promotions and you’d be crazy in life to not to go after promotions the way he’s gotten promotions.”

Promotions, like the one he got in Edmonton, allow Jones to get more opportunities for trusted players like Bowman and Arceneaux, setting a new tone for the entire organization.