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November 15, 2017

Ferguson: Everything Chris Jones does is not an accident

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

When Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Chris Jones stood up from his post-game press conference and gave the media an appreciative nod and classic southern “thanks y’all” it completed step one of his master plan.

When Jones and his staff walked off the field an hour earlier with a 31-20 Saskatchewan win over the hometown REDBLACKS it was not an accident. In his second year as the czar of all things green and white Jones has already established a culture and level of expectation understood from the top to the bottom of the roster.

The tempo for Sunday’s success was set long before the matchup in Ottawa was confirmed but you couldn’t help not noticing the intensity with which Jones patrolled the Evraz Place indoor facility sidelines as his constantly crafted and red-created roster began their first on field action of Jones first playoff week since the 2015 Grey Cup when he led Edmonton to a victory over who else, the Ottawa REDBLACKS.

 

On Saturday as we sat alone in a television production meeting I asked Jones which college games had his eye. “Miami-Notre Dame should be a good one, TCU-Oklahoma too.” Chris Jones is as much a football fan as you or I with one massive difference.

Just like at Riders practice when Jones watches it’s always with a purpose. “I saw a kid make a one handed interception last Saturday and started searching him. I found his highlight tape and saw how highly he was rated so I moved on because we’ll never see him here.” While this might seem like an insignificant note in a much larger story it struck me as a staple of Jones football mentality.

No stone unturned. No conversation passed by without contemplation.

That same approach led to Duron Carter becoming a defensive back which gave the Riders defensive secondary depth down the stretch. It created a dual threat quarterback tandem which forces coordinators to burn the midnight oil and had the Riders accumulate so many talented running backs this year that Jones had to constantly address what his depth chart would look like come Sunday.

“We’ll play the healthiest guy” was the standard response. I had my doubts, but they did and it worked. Marcus Thigpen had 15 carries for 169 yards and a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the third quarter.

It was Chris Jones who helped get Marcus Thigpen back to the CFL and to his dominant playoff performance (Patrick Doyle/CFL.ca)

Where was Thigpen all season when Cameron Marshall, Greg Marshall and Kienan LaFrance were in the league? Where was he when Trent Richardson was signed mid-season to add another angle to the Riders offence? Essentially sitting at home on Instagram.

Thigpen messaged Kevin Glenn to congratulate him on passing a career milestone and the two former Ticats teammates reconnected. During that conversation Marcus mentioned he wanted back into the CFL and was in shape. Glenn took the direct message to Jones who quickly got Thigpen on the phone to ask all the right questions and hope for the right answers.

No stone unturned. No conversation passed by without contemplation.

Thigpen had the right answers, signed in Regina, travelled as the healthiest back and turned in a playoff-altering performance.

Jones’ intensity on the sideline comes in waves. He knows when to push buttons and when to let players be. The climax of his sideline demeanour came on a simple screen pass from REDBLACKS quarterback Trevor Harris to Diontae Spencer.

Jones, whose background is very much based in defensive football, watched as two Riders defensive backs were blocked by REDBLACKS receivers leaving All-Star defensive back Ed Gainey one-on-one in the hole.

 

Diontae Spencer started to dance as only Diontae Spencer can and Gainey hesitated for half a second. His aggressive momentum suddenly stagnant in doubt Spencer faked left, escaped right for a gain of nine and a volcano went off wearing all black on the Riders sideline.

Jones wandered out off the sideline pointing at Gainey, “HEY, that’s soft! What is that? What are you doing? That’s on you, Ed that’s all you”.

The exchange might sound civil in print but in person it was an evisceration the likes of which required CFL officials to come walk Jones back to his sideline before he tried to make the next tackle. As Jones reluctantly retreated in the arms of the officials he tapped them on the arm in a way that said, “I’m good, he just needs to learn.”

Ed Gainey is an All-Star, on a defence leading a playoff game yet Jones deemed this verbal confrontation absolutely necessary.

No stone unturned. No conversation passed by without contemplation.

On the very next play REDBLACKS short yardage quarterback Ryan Lindley would fumble giving Saskatchewan the ball back. As Jones high five’d defenders exiting the field, Gainey wandered sheepishly close expecting a continuation of the anger displayed moment earlier.

What he got was an arm around the helmet and Jones leaning in close to tell his starting boundary halfback and said, “Hey man, you’re better than that, you know.”

Nothing Chris Jones does is by accident so you know that as the Riders stay in the East to prepare for a possible Grey Cup berth each moment will be calmly calculated to maximize the potential of gang green until the moment is right to unleash the passion which has returned the Riders to not just the playoffs but the edge of history.

No crossover team has ever made the Grey Cup. If he gets his way Chris Jones will change that in the coming weeks.