There are 5 stages of grief they say. Tuesday I had only two and I went through them in a matter of seconds: 1) shock and awe… as in aww S#&$!!!!! 2) grave concern… and by concern and mean we are screwed (only screwed wasn’t the word I was using).
It was a bomb that went off across the prairies when the news broke that Chris Jones was leaving to accept a coaching job with the Cleveland Browns. Look anyone who has paid any attention to Chris Jones’ career path cannot be completely surprised by his sudden departure. He bolted for Toronto while still under contract to Calgary. He bolted from Edmonton for the before the last speck of confetti had fallen in the Grey Cup. Deep down we all knew this wasn’t likely to be a long term relationship but the timing of this all is devastating. We just parted with our assistant GM (who would sure come in handy about now). We are now a month past when every other team was hiring coaches. We are month away from free agency with no GM, Head coach or defensive coordinator. Chris Jones leaving is a real steamer… a Cleveland steamer if you will (I’m sorry… I really that I was better than this but I’m not).
Many will point a finger at Craig Reynolds and blame him for the out clause in the most recent contract extension that allowed Jones to bolt. Look, the fact is that out clause was likely in his contract prior to the extension and is pretty standard. Side note: Chris Jones’ new title “Senior Defensive Specialist” is clearly a made up title meant to comply with the wording of the out clause. My guess is that the wording was such that he could have an out for a head coach, coordinator or other equivalent senior coaching opportunity. So I don’t fault Reynolds for the out clause. The lesson learned here though is that if one man is essentially 75% of your football operations that maybe there needs to be stricter parameters around the timing of exercising the out to avoid having to replace 3 key positions at a time when the best candidates have already been poached by your competitors. But its too late now. He gone. I don’t fault him for wanting to make a jump to the NFL and as much as some people love to hate him, he did a hell of lot to turn a shitty football team (circa 2015) into a contender during his tenure. Of all his roles I truly think we will miss Chris Jones the D Coordinator most. He’s one of the best in the league and won’t be easy to replace (plus its not like we can expect our offensive to compensate for a drop in defensive performance at this point).
Where too from here? Well that’s where it gets complicated.
At GM, likely O’Day gets promoted and with Paul Jones as assistant we are in pretty good hands. We could try to poach John Murphy back from the Argos before he officially inks his contract there but that’s highly unlikely at this point.
Coaching is complicated for 3 reasons. #1 the cap on coaching salary and positions. The max is 11 coaches and we have 10 on staff still. Short of additional firings at least one the HC or DC roles will need to be filled internally. #2 Timing. We missed the coaching hiring frenzy and this late in the offseason getting permission to speak to other coaches is no guarantee. #3 Current staff. Fact is Steve McAdoo is still here. Much to the chagrin of many he wasn’t a package deal with Jones to Cleveland. So hiring an offensive head coach (such as Marc Trestman and Paul LaPolice who top the speculation list) is difficult because they will bring their own offensive philosophies that likely won’t jive with McAdoo’s (whatever that is). So do you fire him and try and find an entire new coaching staff this late in the offseason? Can you afford it from a cap perspective? So the general gist of all this is that we are screwed.
Here (in no particular order) are options out there for us to consider:
As head coach
· Promote Craig Dickenson to Head Coach and hire a new DC. Dickenson has been in the consideration for other HC spots so its not a stretch. He brings continuity.
· Marc Trestman. Obviously a multi-time Grey Cup champ who is currently unemployed should warrant consideration. But Trestman is currently on a paid vacation thanks to Argos and after a tough personal year may decide to stay that way. Plus the above mentioned complication regarding our current offensive staff.
· Paul LaPolice. LaPo has been closely linked to O’Day as his candidate of choice if/when he becomes a GM. The Bombers have said they won’t stand in his way. He’d be a great choice but there would need to be some serious thought as to how our current offensive staff would fit into his philosophies and what he would do for a DC.
· Noel Thorpe. Not sure if Ottawa would give permission but he’s a top tier D Coordinator and ready to be a head coach. It’s worth at least exploring.
· Steve McAdoo. Can you imagine how much the province would explode?!? Can you imagine how much I would explode?!?! Seriously let’s all pray that despite him being the Assistant Head coach that he’s not even on the short list.
As D Coordinator:
· Promote Jason Shivers. No one is really able to fill the big shoes (and wide array of black Rider paraphernalia) left behind by Jones but Shivers would be the most logical if looking internally given how long he has been working under Jones. Jones himself thinks Shivers is ready.
· Mike Benevides. You’ll note I did not mention him in the HC discussion despite his previous experience. That’s intentional. Benevides as HC would be a step back but in terms of a late hire, he’s a pretty good DC option. That said his D in Edmonton was not that good (hence his current availability). But beggars can’t be choosers at this point.
· Jerry Glanville. Did good things in Hamilton. He makes Paul McCallum seem young by comparison but still seems to have the energy of a man half his age.
Regardless of how this all shakes out it seriously downgrades the Riders’ prospects for 2019. The only ones coming out ahead in this deal (aside from the other West division teams) will be alcohol companies. Might take a lot to drink this season pretty. The Riders will need to move fast so we should have an idea very soon about where we stand.