The Saskatchewan Roughriders are still reeling from a victory.
Or so it seems.
Although the Roughriders are coming off last Thursday’s surprising 18-13 CFL conquest of the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats, there is still an undercurrent of discontent among some devotees of the Green and White.
Much of the muttering pertains to head coach, defensive co-ordinator, general manager and vice-president of football operations Chris Jones.
Even when he wins, he simply cannot win.
The Roughriders were able to enter the current bye week on the strength of a magnificent performance by the Jones-coached defence, which held the high-powered Tiger-Cats without a touchdown.
Jones’ ingenuity was such that Tiger-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli never knew what was coming. The confusion was evident when Masoli threw an interception to Tobi Antigha, a defensive end who was lined up at safety.
Earlier, Antigha had lined up as a cornerback before blitzing Masoli. On that play, Roughriders defensive end Charleston Hughes forced a fumble, plucked the ball out of midair, and trundled 57 yards for a touchdown.
Instead of relying on largely ineffectual three- and four-man rushes, Jones blitzed with abandon and consistently bamboozled the foe.
A defensive coaching clinic, conducted by Jones, allowed the Roughriders to emerge with two points only five days after Saskatchewan had incomprehensibly lost 23-17 to the woeful Montreal Alouettes at Mosaic Stadium.
However, the victory over Hamilton did little to assuage the critics.
This critic, for example, gave Jones his due (see: column in Saturday’s paper) before once again concentrating on issues surrounding the team’s punt-oriented offence.
Callers to open-line shows have articulated their displeasure with the Roughriders’ ridiculous rotations of quarterbacks (Brandon Bridge, David Watford) and tailbacks (Jerome Messam, Marcus Thigpen, Tre Mason).
Oh, and there is also the indefensible utilization of Duron Carter — a CFL all-star receiver last season — as a defensive back, a move that exacerbates the Roughriders’ offensive woes.
Such is the climate in Riderville, where Jones is perpetually in the crosshairs.
Not that he cares.
“I worry about this football team and I can’t be worried about the fans,” he said last week. “If we went undefeated, there would be somebody complaining.
“I remember when we won the state championship in high school. I was sitting in a cafe the next day and they were complaining that we didn’t throw the ball more.”
Some fans have taken exception to that comment, even though Jones is absolutely right.
The reality of the situation is that he cannot concern himself one iota with external factors.
Always honest in responses to questions from reporters, he did not attempt to sugarcoat his answer with niceties.
The candour is refreshing, although it rankled some people — partially because the comment has been interpreted by some to mean that he is indifferent to the fans.
In fact, there are times when it is clear that Jones has an affinity for — and even a kinship with — supporters of the community-owned team.
Consider his comments of June 22, 2016, during the Roughriders’ first annual general meeting after he was lured away from the 2015 Grey Cup-champion Edmonton Eskimos.
“We’re tremendously, tremendously excited,” Jones told the gathering. “Everybody asks, ‘How in the world can you leave a place where you just got through winning the Grey Cup? Nobody had ever done that.’
“It started a long time ago, back in 2008 or 2009. I saw I could get a $1.99 breakfast across the street from where we were staying (during a road trip to Regina) … I made the mistake of wearing my Calgary Stampeders sweatshirt in there. About an hour later, there was all green.
“I knew that it was a place kind of like home and a place that I would like to be in, because about an 85-year-old lady in the back of the room kept looking at me real, real mean, so I knew that this was a spot where I think I can fit in.
“The only difference between me and y’all is the way we talk.”
The fans responded with a thunderous ovation.
Jones owned the room that night. He was folksy, friendly and endearing.
Any fan I have encountered who has met Jones has offered a comparable appraisal.
One of the problems, though, is that Jones does not get to show that side of himself nearly enough.
A man utterly absorbed with football, he lives and breathes the sport — and basically lives at the stadium.
During the off-season, he resides in the United States as a matter of convenience, considering the multitude of free-agent camps that the Roughriders hold south of the border.
He isn’t John Gregory or Jim Spavital — a high-ranking Roughriders employee who will appear at every small-town sports dinner in return for a free chicken dinner.
He isn’t Kent Austin, whose every word was regarded as gospel during the storybook season of 2007.
He isn’t Ken Miller, who was everyone’s favourite grandfather.
As a result, people are less forgiving.
Miller, remember, was the head coach when the Roughriders committed the 13th-man gaffe in the 2009 Grey Cup.
For some coaches, such an outcome would have been a career-ender, or at least a catalyst for widespread vitriol.
In Miller’s case, the response was largely different. People empathized with him. They agonized with him.
Imagine the outcry if Jones, not Miller, had been the losing coach in that game.
The difference: Jones hasn’t built much capital with Roughriders fans.
Popular players such as Darian Durant, Weston Dressler, John Chick and Rob Bagg have been released or traded.
League-issued fines in 2016 and 2017 fuelled the negativity.
In some cases, Jones’ penchant for wearing black has alienated people who feel that he should be resplendent in green.
His elongated job description is a source of irritation for those who feel he should not be wearing so many hats — even though he was also multi-tasking last November, when the Roughriders were one play away from a Grey Cup berth.
After losing 25-21 to the host Toronto Argonauts in the 2017 East Division final, it is time for the Roughriders to take the next step.
And, despite some early-season stumbles, there is plenty of time for the Roughriders to repair what ails them early in the 2018 campaign.
Jones could help his own cause by making obvious decisions, such as using Carter on offence, ending the game of musical quarterbacks, and — this may seem like a radical solution — finding a defensive back to play defensive back.
But even if Jones makes the necessary adjustments and pilots the Roughriders during a season that is ultimately judged to be progressive, the question will likely persist.
Can Chris Jones ever win here?
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