O’Leary: Ticats buying what Jones is selling
In about 20 short minutes on Monday, June Jones reminded fans exactly what he brought to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats this season.
The announcement of his three-year deal should serve as a beacon of light on what had started out as a very dark season for the team that he can now say he is the full-time coach of.
When Jones took the helm in Hamilton in time for the Labour Day Classic, the Ticats were 0-8. Some wondered if they’d win a game this season. With him patrolling the sidelines, the Ticats went 6-4 and were dominant offensively.
Through Jones’ 10 games, Hamilton’s offence basically looked like an old Undertaker gif, going from laying lifeless on the mat then sitting straight up, staring at you with those you’re-dead eyes.
Jones put the offence in the hands of longtime backup Jeremiah Masoli and watched the sixth-year pivot put up 3,032 passing yards, while pumping life into receivers Brandon Banks (959 yards), Jalen Saunders (739 yards) and Luke Tasker (728 yards).
The changes were similar on defence, too. Under new coordinator Phillip Lolley, the Ticats’ defence was first in rushing yards allowed per game (73.4), QB sacks (33), forced fumbles (13) and pass knockdowns (38). There was new life for defensive end Adrian Tracy (nine sacks) and rookie defensive back Richard Leonard (five interceptions).
You can’t guarantee wins in pro sports, but you should always be able to sell hope. Stepping into what looked like a particularly bleak season, Jones did just that. He gave the Ticats a shot at making the playoffs, before they lost on a field goal to Calgary in mid-October and were ushered out the same night via a REDBLACKS win.
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Over a conference call with reporters on Monday afternoon, he continued that trend. His three-year deal is a big investment from the Tiger-Cats, who survived some interest in the coach from a NCAA program that was close to his Portland, Oregon home.
As Jones settled in on the call, the topic of quarterbacks came up more than once. He didn’t show the organization’s hand on what it wants to do with Masoli, a pending free-agent, and Zach Collaros, the previous starter with a year on his contract.
“I believe that we’re going to do what’s in the best interest in giving us the best chance,” Jones said.
“I think Zach showed his true professionalism, the way he practised, the way he prepared, the way he did everything. I have a lot of positive feelings for him that I know he’d have success if I’d continued to go with that, but as I said when I took the job, head coaches and quarterbacks are usually the first to take the fall when you’re 0-8 or have a losing season.
“I was proud of Jeremiah, he really got better every week. There’s no question in my mind that he’s a top flight quarterback in the league and I think Zach is too.
“At the same time, obviously we can’t keep both of them and we’ll make that decision in the next few weeks. We’re going to do what’s best for everybody involved. That’s a good problem to have.”
Another good problem to have, from the sounds of it, is the ongoing situation the Ticats have with former NFL QB Johnny Manziel. You could almost hear the puddle of drool building up around Jones during the call when he was asked about the potential fit that the Heisman-winning, 24-year-old could have in the CFL in Jones’ high-powered offence.
“I could plug him in very, very easily,” Jones said, laughing a little at the thought.
“I worked him out twice and his arm strength is much better than I thought it was. I really think if he makes a commitment to come up here for three or four years that he’ll write his own ticket if he wants to go play in the NFL again. It’ll be a Warren Moon situation, to be quite honest. I think he has the potential to be a great football player.”
Manziel, of course, has to meet requirements set before him by CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie. Jones said that Ticats’ VP of football operations, Kent Austin, GM Eric Tillman and assistant GM and director of football operations, Shawn Burke, have been in contact with Manziel’s camp and that things are progressing.
“There were some things that (Manziel) had to do on his end before we start really thinking that’s a reality,” Jones said. “I don’t know whether it will be or it won’t, but we’ve had quite a few discussions myself, Kent, Scott and Shawn Burke, about just that. We’ll see what happens.”
There are free agents to be signed — Banks, Masoli, Tasker, Ted Laurent and Tony Washington to name a few — but on Monday, with their coach inked and committed to the next three years, there was a lot of hope shining through Hamilton. With the way the season ended and the direction that the Ticats seem to be headed in, those dark first eight weeks of 2017 are feeling more and more like a distant memory.