Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Chris Jones watches the play against Edmonton during first half CFL football action at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Saturday, November 4, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor

Chris Jones hired as Edmonton Elks head coach and general manager

Chris Jones hired as Edmonton Elks head coach and general manager

EDMONTON — Chris Jones made it clear, over and over again, on Tuesday as he was introduced as the new coach and general manager of the Edmonton Elks — he intends to not only rebuild the football team, but entrench himself as one of the CFL’s greats.

He said he wants his name to be mentioned alongside the likes of Wally Buono, the CFL’s all-time winningest coach, and John Hufnagel, who ranks no. 9 on the all-time coaching wins list.

“This is where I try to build a legacy,” Jones told the media Tuesday as he stood in the Elks’ locker room, surrounded by plaques bearing the names of some of the all-time greats in CFL history. “Four years from now, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can tell you we’re going to work as hard as anybody. We’re going to be organized, we’re going to play fast and have fun doing it.”

Jones, who coached the Edmonton franchise to a Grey Cup win in 2015, was introduced after the team’s board of governors unanimously voted Monday night to hire him as the GM and coach. It’s a four-year deal.

“This is one of the flagship organizations of the league,” Jones said. “We had so much fun when we were here prior with our staff. It’s an opportunity for us to come back and cement our legacy as a group, and cement the legacy of this organization, to get it back where it should be, and that’s winning football games — and being ultracompetitive at all times, both in practice and in games.”

It was Buono who was tasked by the board to create a short-list of coaching candidates. Jones said he’s talked to Buono for more than 10 hours — all totalled — during the hiring process, and that he takes down nuggets of wisdom from the CFL’s winningest coach and saves them on his phone.

“Now it’s time to do like Wally and Huf and settle down and let’s do it for a long period of time, and have fun doing it.” said Jones.

But, before he can address history, Jones needs to fix a team that has a lot of question marks, maybe none more glaring than at the quarterback position.

Last season, the Elks made a late-season trade to acquire veteran Nick Arbuckle, but then-GM Brock Sunderland and coach Jaime Elizondo opted to not play him at all down the stretch. They claimed he just didn’t have time to get used to the offensive scheme. So, Taylor Cornelius and Dakota Prukop got the snaps as the Elks sputtered to the gate with a 3-11 record. And, for the first time ever, the team went through a CFL season without a home victory.

“Every team has got to have a great quarterback, certainly we’re no different,” Jones said, but warned it would take at least a couple of months before the coaching staff can finish evaluating the position. So, the radio talk-show hosts will have a lot of ‘what ifs’ to discuss when it comes to Edmonton football over the next couple of months.

The four-year-deal is significant, as Jones left bad tastes in the mouth of many fans as he left Edmonton right after the 2015 Grey Cup win to take the reins with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He then joined the coaching staff of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns before joining the Toronto Argonauts as a defensive consultant.

He promised he would not only work to rebuild the Elks, but to meet with high-school coaches and build the sport in the community. As for maybe going back to the NFL one day?

“I’ve been to Disney World, and I’m glad I am right here.”

He received an enthusiastic welcome from Ian Murray, the chair of the Elks’ board of governors.

“This is the first proactive step to turning around the problems we’ve had,” Murray said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2021.

Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press