The Saskatchewan Roughriders helped ease Chris Jones’ pain.
The Riders signed Jones, their head coach/GM, to a one-year extension Tuesday. The 51-year-old native of South Pittsburgh, Tenn., is under contract with Saskatchewan through 2020.
The deal comes after the Alabama Crimson Tide — Jones’ top U.S. college football team — dropped a 44-16 decision to the Clemson Tigers in the NCAA championship game Monday night.
“Alabama is my team and they certainly didn’t play very well,” Jones said via telephone from Mont Tremblant, Que., where CFL presidents and GMs are meeting this week. “I think what (Clemson head coach) Dabo Swinney has done is create a great locker room.
“Those kids seem to play for one another, have fun and enjoy the comradery football brings.”
The Riders have steadily improved under Jones, registering five, 10 and 12 regular-season wins in each of his three seasons with the franchise. In 2018, Saskatchewan was second in the West Division with a 12-6 record before losing 23-18 to Winnipeg in the conference semifinal minus starter Zach Collaros.
Still, Jones was named the CFL’s top coach for the first time in his career.
Jones’s extension came after Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported at least two NFL teams had “done extensive research” on the veteran CFL coach.
“The NFL has media just like the CFL has media and that’s just part of football,” Jones said. “At this point I’ve not spoken to any NFL teams.
“I’ve got a great job and I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been in this league for 17 years. I love this league, it’s been extremely good to me and my family and I’ve worked for some great organizations, some great coaches, some great presidents. I respect the league extremely highly.”
The Riders also signed assistant vice-president of football operations Jeremy O’Day through 2020. Paul Jones joins the organization as the assistant GM with a two-year deal while director of football administration Mike Davis and football operations co-ordinator Jordan Greenly also both return.
“We’ve been really busy as an organization,” Jones said. “We’ve got some unfinished business and it’s time to go to work.”
Jones is content to continue operating under a microscope in Regina — which sports the CFL’s most rabid fanbase.
“When people get up in the morning the first thing they think about is Roughriders football and that’s what you want to be involved in,” he said. “You don’t want to be somewhere where they could care less whether or not there’s a game being played that week.
“It’s one of the top organizations in the league and a great opportunity.”
Saskatchewan’s defence — under Jones’ tutelage — was among the CFL’s best last year, leading the league in fewest yards allowed (317.5 yards per game), tied for most interceptions (21) and tied for third in sacks (41). Offensively, the Riders were tied with Calgary for fewest sacks allowed (27) and second overall in rushing (222.9 yards per game) but a distant seventh in points (19.6 per game), tied for sixth in TDs (40) and last in offensive touchdowns (25).
Collaros completed 61 per cent of his passes but had more interceptions (13) than TD strikes (nine). Backup Brandon Bridge, of Mississauga, Ont., who recorded 10 TDs against four interceptions in 2017, registered one touchdown toss and three interceptions last year.
Both Collaros and Bridge are scheduled to become free agents next month. Jones said Saskatchewan will look long and hard this off-season at the quarterback position, adding Collaros and Bridge remain in the mix.
“We’re going to look under every nook and cranny,” Jones said. “They (Collaros and Bridge) are great young men, they did a nice job for us this year.
“We won’t rule anybody in or out.”
The Riders will have to rule out linebacker Sam Eguavoen returning for a fourth season after he signed with the Miami Dolphins on Monday. Saskatchewan is also expecting to lose receiver Jordan Williams-Lambert to the NFL.
The six-foot, 227-pound Eguavoen had 159 tackles, four sacks, an interception and two forced fumbles in 38 games with Saskatchewan. The six-foot-three, 228-pound Williams-Lambert recorded 62 catches for 764 yards and four TDs last season, his first with the Riders.
“J-Will, came into our league and did some real nice things and was able to make an impact,” Jones said. “If he ends up not making a football team we’ll retain his rights but I do feel very strongly he’ll make a push because he’s a very hard worker who has very high character as well.
“Unless the wheels fall off, Sam Eguavoen is going to make Miami. Sam’s a very under-rated player in our league. He’s not one of those rah, rah guys … he’s one of those blue-collar players who all he does is produce.”
Jones said whatever team he fields in 2019, he expects Saskatchewan’s blueprint for success to remain the same.
“I think you can expect a lot of what we’ve done in the past,” he said. “We’re going to run the football, play good defence and (co-ordinator Craig Dickenson) does a great job with special teams.
“We’ve got an awful young team, we’re athletic, we’re very fast. We’re going to create a great locker room where guys care about one another. I think that’s one of the biggest things.”