In December of 2015 Chris Jones was named Supreme Overlord in Saskatchewan. He was given full control over pretty much everything except what I put on my game day burger and even then he probably has some sway if he so chooses. I still honestly cannot believe that we are damn near 3 years into his tenure and the black jerseys have yet to be revived. I mean, come one... it's a match made in heaven!
Anyway, with 2+ years of experience in Chris Jones' empire reviews are decidedly mixed. To be fair, Jones' popularity in this province has followed the path of pretty much every coach that has preceded him. Win and they line up to fellate him. Lose and they line up to burn you at the stake. It's what we do and there is literally no middle ground. But because Jones does not possess the warm friendliness or engaging personality of a Ken Miller or Danny Barrett, the scrutiny is far more intense during times of loss. Also he really has no one else to blame but himself good or bad.
Today since we are coming off a bye week and there is no game to talk about (other than the epic choke job that Winnipeg put up) I thought I would take a look at how Chris Jones is doing at each of his 3 main roles: Defensive Coordinator, Head Coach and GM.
Chris Jones the D-Coordinator
For all the knocks against Jones since he arrived in Saskatchewan (and there are many) he remains a damn good defensive coach. He can be stubborn (the 3 man rush is second only to black button up shirts in terms of things he loves) and sometimes takes the whole mad scientist thing a little too far to the mad side of things (Duron the DB, the rookie receiver he made our safety, etc...) but at the end of the day the man gets results. It took him a little over a year to assemble a credible starting 12 on D here but once he did they were rock solid. Last season they finished 2nd only to Calgary in points allowed. The also finished 3rd in turnovers forced. This was quite the feat given that they started the year with a league low 5 turnovers through 6 games and then finished with a league high 35 over the remaining 12 games. D has been and continues to be the strength of our team. Chris Jones the D-Coordinator is doing an outstanding job.
Chris Jones the Head Coach
This is where some kinks start to appear in Jones' black armour (for the record I know that "kinks in the armour" is not the real expression. I just can't bring myself to type the real one. It seems wrong even by my low standards). Wins are the most important stat in this department and Jones sits at 17-23 as a Rider. If you exclude the first 10 weeks of 2016 where he essentially blew up our roster, pissed on the ashes and tried a complete rebuild in a matter of a few months, he's gone 16-14 since. The problem is that 4th is the highest we've finished in the west division. Honestly Jones' biggest flaw as a coach is his unwavering faith in Steve McAdoo. I don't think McAdoo is incompetent but when you look at some of the stuff he is known for (refusal to run, random insertion of 3rd string qb at dumb times) there has to be a bit of concern at some point (particularly this year where we have just 4 TDs all season). Throw in the QB carousel and a few other oddities and you get some legit reasons to doubt Jones as a coach. But though he may be unconventional (putting it mildly), the man gets results. He took the Esks from a 4 win season in 2013 to a Grey Cup in two years and was 1 play away from getting the Riders to the Cup two years after inheriting a 3 win team. He has a lot to prove yet this season but all and all I'm still willing to count him as a pretty good head coach.
Chris Jones the GM
GM Jones is by far the face of Jones that draws the most scrutiny... and rightly so. As per the Peter Principle they say people are promoted to their level of incompetence. While I won't call Jones an incompetent GM there is some level of truth to this in his case. There are 3 mains tools a GM has to build a winning team: scouting, drafting and free agency. As a scout Jones is actually fairly decent. He has brought in guys like Kacy Rodgers, Justin Cox, Crezdon Butler, Sam Eguavoen, Derrick Moncrief, Tobi Antigha, Caleb Holley, Jordan-Williams Lambert. Dude can actually find talent. Now its not all rainbows and unicorns. There's some crazy thrown in there: Vince Young, that thing that never happened with Manziel, Khalif Mitchell, pre-practice squad, the basketball player we tried to convert to starting D-line in a matter of weeks and so on. So its not perfect but of the 3 GM roles scouting is the one Jones does best. Drafting that's another story. We currently have as many draft picks in the NFL (4) as we do on our starting roster. With the exception of 2017 where we nabbed Bladek and Judge, Jones' drafting has been nothing short of abject failure. I mean sure St John could suddenly get healthy and become a phenom and change the narrative but at this points that seems about as likely as me praising the strategic genius of shot gun formation on 3rd and 1.
As bad as drafting has been, free agency has likely been the worst. It's not that we don't sign quality players but we either sign guys who don't last long or we sign guys that we really didn't need in the first place. This is a by no means exhaustive list of high profile FAs who didn't even last a full season here: Shawn Lemon, Justin Cappiccioti, Curtis Steele, Kendial Lawrence, John Chiles. Add in guys like Dennis, Muamba, Chambers, Grant, Owens, LaFrance who lasted just 1 year before we cut them and a concerning pattern emerges. Sure we had success with Jefferson, Gainey, Evans and Duron though I would argue that given his near $200k salary using him at DB is awful cap management. As is paying Jerome Messam 6 figures to not run the ball. The hope was that having a guy like John Murphy (and to a lesser extent Jeremy O'Day) here that the risk of Supreme Overlord Jones stretching himself too thin was sufficiently mitigated. I don't know if Murphy was just over hyped due to riding Hufnagel's coat tails or if Jones just over rules all his good ideas but we certainly are lacking overall in this department.
This 3rd season will likely be the defining one (good or bad) for all 3 faces of Chris Jones here in Saskatchewan. Remains to be seen which direction this will go.