JONES ERA WAS ONE BIG INCOMPLETION

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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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