Chris Jones ‘doesn’t care’ about added pressure after losing season: Elks’ president Victor Cui

Photo: Michael Scraper/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Elks’ head coach and general manager Chris Jones did not put a winning product on the field in the first season of his return to Edmonton, but president Victor Cui doesn’t believe the increased scrutiny makes any difference to the man leading his football team.

“I would say he doesn’t care about the external pressure on him. He cares about the internal pressure he’s put on himself,” Cui said during an extensive sitdown with 3DownNation. “He’s a champion. He wants to win everything he does, every minute of the day is dedicated to winning.”

The Elks cleaned house following a 3-11 season in 2021, firing head coach Jaime Elizondo and GM Brock Sunderland. Jones was hired to fill both roles that December and took over an organization that was in a downward spiral. He posted slightly better results than his predecessors in 2022 with a 4-14 record as the team failed to win a home game for the second season in a row.

Cui, who was hired a month later to assume the president’s job left vacant by the firing of Chris Presson, remains unperturbed by the slow start to Jones’ latest stint with the green and gold. He cites the coach’s resume as a “big part” of why he accepted the job.

“Coach Jones, say what you want about what people may say about him, about the way he dresses or his sternness or whatever it might be, but without a doubt, nobody can question that wherever he goes, he builds loyalty,” Cui explained.

“You talk to ex-players, you talk to coaches, they want to follow him under his leadership. So, why? There’s something that he’s doing great as a leader, that he can unleash that greatness in others, that he can build them to believe that they can be champions, and he has a track record of doing that.”

Jones’ first CFL head coaching job came in Edmonton in 2014, sparking a brief time of renewed success for the club. He posted a 26-10 record in two seasons with Edmonton, winning a Grey Cup in his second year at the helm. He quickly earned a reputation for his gruff, no-nonsense approach to the game, something that has continued in his second stint with the team.

“In that respect, he’s a great person to work with because his mission is very, very clear in his mind,” Cui noted. “He’s not distracted by politics. He’s not distracted by shining lights and other things. He’s not trying to be a star in the media. He’s not doing any TikTok dances. He wants to win and every day that’s what he’s focused on.”

Jones jumped to Saskatchewan in 2017, assuming dual duties as head coach and general manager. He struggled through a 5-13 first season before going 22-14 over the next two years, making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

Though the defensive guru left the Roughriders without a championship for a shot with the Cleveland Browns in 2019, it was during his time in Regina that he developed his formula for rebuilding a losing team. In lockstep with Jones thanks to regular meetings, which often take place at 11 p.m. due to their usual schedules, Cui understood that the 2022 season was going to be tumultuous to lay the groundwork for future success.

“We both recognized last season, we needed to change. What [the Elks] were doing wasn’t working, something had to change from our fans to our partners to the football game to our players — we have to change everything,” Cui said.

“We had the most transactions of players of any team in the entire league. Maybe we set a season record for transactions but the mandate was — and what coach Jones and I talked about — is if we’re going to do that, this season — 2023 — let’s get stability in place. Let’s do this change and now let’s focus on what’s the foundation going forward. That’s what he’s building.”

The lifelong sports executive believes that the shift in approach is evident heading into Jones’ second season, with 2022 scouting finds like receiver Dillon Mitchell and running back Kevin Brown already inked to extensions. Across the board, building roster continuity with the best players to walk through the revolving door has been a priority.

“We’ve signed probably one of the league-leading, most number of multi-year contracts for players. A number of players have chosen to make Edmonton their home and all of these kinds of things give us the roots and foundation that we’re able to build on,” Cui highlighted.

“Now I get it, maybe they might only stay here for two years or three years but at least we have that two-year, three-year runway that we didn’t have before.”

The person with the least stability heading into next season may be Jones himself. Though he signed for four years with the Elks, according to sources his contract is structured as four individual one-year contracts, giving the team an out following each season to avoid any possible penalties to the league’s football operations cap if he is fired.

If Jones’ formula for success is working, the team will be expected to take a leap forward in 2023. Should the Elks fail to live up to expectations yet again, the coach could be on the hot seat — though Cui avoided answering when asked what record Jones will need to achieve to be safe.

“My expectation of [the coaching staff] is we want to see a Grey Cup ring on our players’ fingers. That’s what we’re playing for,” he insisted. “Now, the timeline of that is to be determined, I’d say, but we’re putting all of our resources into everything we can do to support the team to get to that.”

A significant portion of those resources are directed towards Jones’ salary. He’ll need to prove himself to be a prudent investment this season to stay in the good books of a smart businessman like Cui.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.