- FREE AGENCY
‘It couldn’t come at a worse time’ is a lyric Canadians have belted out for 25 years.
And it may be the perfect refrain to encapsulate the thoughts of Riderville after Chris Jones’ departure to the National Football League.
Eleven years ago plus a day, Kent Austin bolted to Ole Miss in the NCAA after winning a Grey Cup. The Riders were quick to make a simple move to promote Ken Miller to head coach. The Riders would continue their success with a 12-win season and two Grey Cup appearances in the three consecutive years.
But this is no simple matter. Chris Jones held four positions, not one. The Riders will be looking for a vice president of football operations, a general manager, a head coach, and a defensive coordinator.
And they aren’t going to find it from one person. Not on Jan. 16.
» Jones resigns from Riders to take NFL job
» O’Leary: Jones couldn’t turn down dream job
» Riders release Williams-Lambert to pursue NFL opportunity
» Free Agent Tracker: View Riders’ pending FAs
Of course, the team is 27 days away from the free agent period kicking open and the Riders will have to show quickly they have a clear plan of attack or they potentially scare away interested players. If Jones’ sudden resignation hasn’t done that already.
Another big reason the timing is poor is the Riders have announced and signed 10 of their 11 coaches, and under the new administration salary and staffing cap, they will have to hire one person while likely promoting others within the staff to fill the voids left by Jones.
Jones’ salary off the books could make for a little more wiggle room with tough decisions ahead.
Are there quality candidates out there either on staffs or available completely? Of course there are. Marc Trestman’s name is the most common one thrown around. However, Trestman would have to adapt to working with a Chris Jones staff, and if you want to pick two coaches with the most polar opposite personalities, it may be Trestman and Jones. So I’m not sure that would be a great marriage.
Mike Benevides would fit the bill as a head coach/defensive coordinator but also doesn’t have much history with Chris Jones’ staff.
If you’re looking at coordinators around the league like Paul LaPolice, would teams allow them out of their contracts to interview this late in the process?
Now you’re looking at who within the coaching staff could be promoted to head coach, and head coaching experience among the 10 coaches is very thin. Nothing in pro football or college.
Long time special teams coordinator Craig Dickenson and offensive coordinator and assistant head coach Stephen McAdoo have the longest CFL resumes.
One name on the football ops staff who has been a successful head coach is Director of Player Personnel Mike Davis. He coached Nebraska of the Indoor Football League to three straight conference championships.
Then the trickle down is who is qualified to be defensive coordinator? Can anyone replace Chris Jones as the mastermind or ‘mad scientist’ as safety Mike Edem described him this season?
Oh, and then there is the general manager position. Jeremy O’Day or newly hired Paul Jones are the likely candidates, with O’Day being the front runner.
At least with O’Day, the team knows there is a much greater likelihood of a long-term commitment with an employee/player who has been in Saskatchewan for 20 years, going into his 21st.
O’Day got a taste of the role when he was interim GM following Brendan Taman’s firing midway through the 2015 season. Taman was certain then O’Day was ready to be a general manager and he could only have gotten better watching how Chris Jones worked sources and camps to find diamonds in the rough.
You can not deny Jones’ ability as not only a head coach but a football ops man. And in one conversation with President and CEO Craig Reynolds when he informed the team on Tuesday he was leaving, the major ramifications were felt of losing such a talent who had so much, if not too much, responsibility within the Riders organization.
So is this a transition year for the Riders, with it being too late to make drastic and sweeping changes? Or can they move forward with a staff full of very loyal friends and acquaintances of Chris Jones and be successful without the head of the snake?
You can tell, there are so many questions just a week after the team appeared to have all its ducks in a row.
For the Riders to move forward and continue on the path Reynolds laid out when he hired Jones of ‘sustained success’ in Saskatchewan, I’ll circle back to the origin of the lyric ‘it couldn’t come at a worse time’.
The song of course is ‘Courage’.
And it’s going to take a lot of it for Reynolds to make the right decisions with little time to do so.