How will former Calgary DC Chris Jones do as Edmonton's head coach?The Edmonton Eskimos' announcement Wednesday that they've hired Toronto Argonauts' defensive coordinator Chris Jones as their new head coach is an interesting one on several levels, but one of the most intriguing is what it means for their rivalry with the Calgary Stampeders. Jones served as the defensive coordinator for the Stampeders from 2008-2010, then added assistant head coach and assistant director of player personnel to his portfolio in 2011, but controversially left Calgary for Toronto after the 2011 season, angering Stampeders' head coach John Hufnagel in the process. Jones' defence found plenty of success in Toronto and neutralized the Calgary offence in the 2012 Grey Cup. His hire in Edmonton should add some fuel to a Stampeders-Eskimos rivalry that's been quite one-sided lately, especially when you consider that current Calgary DC Rick Campbell (Jones' replacement with the Stampeders) was also expected to be a strong candidate for the Edmonton job. However, while there are plenty of points in Jones' favour, his success as a head coach is far from guaranteed.
Jones has a long and impressive resume, including 10 seasons of experience as a CFL defensive coordinator (he worked as a defensive line coach with the Alouettes in 2002, then served as a DC in Montreal from 2003-2007 before going to Calgary) and substantial NCAA experience before that. His unit's also found recent success, dominating en route to the 2012 Grey Cup. The Argos' defence faced substantial attrition this year, but still impressed on a number of levels; while it wasn't great from a yardage perspective, it did well from a scoring perspective. That doesn't necessarily mean that Jones is guaranteed to succeed in the head coaching job, though. Other long-time CFL defensive coordinators have struggled to make the adjustment to the top coaching position, including Richie Hall in Edmonton, Rich Stubler in Toronto and Greg Marshall in Saskatchewan. Jones definitely has the ability to put together a solid defence, and his past work in various personnel roles should also be an advantage, providing him a different perspective than that of someone who was only a DC, but a lot may depend on who he hires to run the Eskimos' offence and how well he manages them.
Another concern with Jones is his reluctance to talk to the media. Despite being one of the most crucial storylines in the 2012 Grey Cup, he refused to do any interviews that week. He's also only spoken to the media very sparingly this season. That's somewhat acceptable for an assistant coach, but it doesn't work for the man in the head coach's job. It apparently does if you're a general manager, though, as Eskimos' GM Ed Hervey notoriously avoided the press this year except to pop up with CBA-violating comments and personal attacks on reporters, so it's not like strong media relations is a key value for the current regime in Edmonton. It's not like media dealings should or do define a head coach in and of themselves, either. However, as previous Eskimos' head coach Kavis Reed found out, press conference missteps can help make you more of a punchline than a respected coach, and there are sometimes consequences.
Beyond that, much of Jones' success or failure will depend on the players Hervey supplies him with, and there are certainly issues on that front too. Edmonton finally seems to have found a capable quarterback in Mike Reilly, but the disastrous offensive line they put in front of him last year prevented them from successfully establishing the run led to him taking a substantial beating. They have some promising pass-catchers, including league receiving leader Fred Stamps, plus a talented running back in Hugh Charles and several terrific linebackers in J.C. Sherritt, Damaso Munoz and T.J. Hill, but have holes elsewhere too. We'll see what Hervey does there, and we'll see how well Jones works to maximize the strengths of the players he has. His hire certainly has potential, but there are a lot of questions that remain about the Eskimos going forward. They'll certainly be interesting to watch, though, especially when they face the Stampeders and Jones' old boss...