Elks’ DC Jason Shivers hopes new role can ‘free up’ Chris Jones for winning ‘ideas’

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If an idle mind is the devil’s workshop then Chris Jones might have the capacity to be a little extra devious in 2024.

After two unsuccessful seasons of pulling triple duty with the Edmonton Elks as general manager, head coach, and defensive coordinator, Jones surrendered control of one of those roles this offseason with the hiring of Jason Shivers. His 41-year-old disciple comes over from Saskatchewan to serve as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, lightening the load for his overworked and underperforming mentor.

“I think that it will free him up to have even more ideas,” Shivers told Morley Scott of 630 CHED this week. “Even though he’s always been involved in every facet of the game, he’s always coming up with ideas. He’s game-planning in every facet, he’s always had that multi-dimensional approach.”

“I think that not having to be in one specific room to make sure that comes back to his identity, having me in place and the staff that we put on the defensive side and on the offensive side as well, can free him up to find new nuggets that can help us succeed and help us win.”

Shivers is no stranger to working under Jones, having gotten his start in coaching as a defensive assistant with the Toronto Argonauts in 2013 when Jones was the coordinator. The former NFL draft pick followed his mentor first to Edmonton and then to Saskatchewan when he took head coaching jobs, building a rapport to the point where he now believes the two can finish each other’s sentences.

After spending the last five years apart, Shivers believes he can assist Jones in ways that go far beyond just signalling in defensive play calls.

“My job as the assistant head coach is to support Coach Jones and make sure that I’m helping him with anything that I can take off his plate,” he explained. “(Whether) it comes to organizational duties or being on the road, we always talk about on our staff with Coach Jones that we have a workman mentality. Just because your job title says defensive coordinator doesn’t mean you can’t run over and grab water if we’re short and we need somebody to grab water.”

Shivers took over as the Roughriders’ defensive coordinator when Jones unexpectedly left for the NFL in 2019 and held the job for four seasons. He was not retained after his unit struggled in 2023, finishing ninth in net offence and points allowed, but had already developed a solid reputation that he’ll carry to Edmonton.

Schematically, Shivers admits that not much will change for the Elks from when Jones was giving the orders. Given their long shared history, both coaches use much the same verbiage and emphasize a fast, physical, and aggressive style of play. When it comes to how they get to that result, there will be some tweaks.

“The teaching aspect will probably be different. The preparation that we’re going to bring in as far as pre-practice and walkthrough, we want to try to do some different things there,” he explained. “Not saying that it wasn’t working for them before, I thought they made some turnovers, they played some hard-nosed defence, it just was inconsistent. My job is to come and meet them where they’re at and then also take them to another level.”

Jones has struggled since returning to Edmonton in 2022, the same franchise where he and Shivers hoisted the Grey Cup together seven years prior. After posting identical 4-14 records in each of the last two seasons, the former CFL Coach of the Year is on the hot seat with the organization in a state of flux.

Sub-par outings on the defensive side of the ball, the 56-year-old’s typical area of expertise, have been a major reason for that slump. Shivers acknowledges that it will be hard for his boss to cede control of an aspect of the game he’s long held in a vice.

“It’s hard for him to not be as involved,” he said. “I think when he says it’s hard, what he’s trying to communicate is that love of being in the flow of the game from every other down or every other series between offence and defence. I think that now his flow of the game will be more in the management phase.”

That doesn’t mean Jones’ fingerprints won’t be all over the defensive game plan, however, hopefully accompanied by the type of advice and innovation that can only be conceived by taking a step back.

“We’re going to talk every play, so it’s not like he’s going to be gone. The way that we communicate as far as in the flow on defence, I think that he’s still going to be right there with me,” Shivers insisted. “He’s kind of there to help me, give me nuggets when I’m in the heat of the moment. Remind me of things that could be intricate (sic) to us making a big play, getting a turnover or changing field position.”

The Elks will open their 2024 regular season by hosting the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, June 8.