JONES ERA WAS ONE BIG INCOMPLETION
The final verdict on Chris Jones’ tenure with the Saskatchewan Roughriders: Moderately successful.Those two words were wielded by Jones in November of 2016 to describe legendary Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant.It turns out, though, that the memorable phrase is a better fit with regard to Jones, who has resigned as the Roughriders’ head coach, defensive co-ordinator, general manager and vice-president of football operations to join the Cleveland Browns as a senior defensive assistant.Durant quarterbacked the Roughriders to three Grey Cup berths and one championship-game victory. As the team’s starting quarterback, he had a 58-54-1 record.Jones, by contrast, had a 27-27-0 regular-season slate and a 1-2 playoff mark in three seasons with the Green and White.He inherited a three-win team and produced seasons of five, 10 and 12 victories. In 2017, the Roughriders were one defensive stop shy of reaching the Grey Cup. This past season, they secured a home playoff game, but it turned out to be an eyesore.In the final analysis, Jones transformed the Roughriders into one of the CFL’S better teams, and was duly rewarded with 2018 coach-of-the-year honours.But last season’s performance, using Jones’ own standards as a benchmark, was unsatisfactory.“If you don’t win a Grey Cup, it’s a failure, and there’s no two ways around it,” Jones said two days after the quarterback-deficient Roughriders lost 23-18 to the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West Division semifinal.Jones moved the bar every year, flirting with a Grey Cup berth as a crossover playoff participant and then posting the second-best record in the league.The logical next step was to advance to the championship game. As recently as last week, Jones was talking about “unfinished business,” during a period in which he signed a contract extension that carried through the 2020 CFL season.That deal included an escape hatch that allowed Jones to pursue opportunities in the NFL or NCAA. When asked about that contractual provision by the Regina Leader-post’s Murray Mccormick, Jones brushed aside the question.“I don’t think right now is the time to talk about that,” Jones responded. “It’s the time to talk about extending and how we are moving forward.”Jones proceeded to extend his time with the Roughriders by another week. Then it was exit, stage right.Unsurprisingly, the reviews were mixed, in keeping with the manner in which Jones was perceived during his stint in Riderville. He was a polarizing figure, one who appeased some fans and alienated others.Personnel-wise, Jones’ first major moves in Saskatchewan were the releases of slotback Weston Dressler and defensive end John Chick. Regardless of the merits of jettisoning either player, there was a backlash.A comparable firestorm raged a year later when Durant was traded to the Montreal Alouettes. A giant photo of Durant was affixed to Taylor Field’s west-side exterior during its final season, but even a player of that stature was not untouchable.Again, many denizens of the Rider Nation made their objections known.There were notable missteps — especially in 2016, whenJones was repeatedly fined for contravening league rules before the tone-deaf signing of controversial defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell — but also some significant strides in the right direction.Jones assembled and co-ordinated a defence that enabled the 2018 Roughriders to post a 12-6 record and stage a home playoff game.Last season, the Roughriders tied CFL single-season records — set by the 1987 B.C. Lions — for defensive touchdowns (11) and non-offensive touchdowns (16).The Roughriders of 2018 were as likely to score a touchdown on defence as they were through the air. The offence, such as it was, produced a mere 11 touchdown passes.Jones arrived in Saskatchewan with the well-established reputation as a defensive genius and certainly lived up to the billing.Ultimately, he steered the Roughriders toward the path of “sustained success,” in keeping with the mantra of president-ceo Craig Reynolds. However, the Roughriders did not reach the pinnacle of success over the past three seasons.In the final analysis, Jones departed without delivering a Grey Cup title or a long-term solution at quarterback — a franchise player who could emulate the “moderately successful” Darian Durant.
Former Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Chris Jones was a polarizing figure, one who appeased some fans and alienated others, Rob Vanstone says.
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