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Montreal Alouettes head coach Khari Jones watches his team warm up prior to their game on July 4, 2019, against the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Montreal Alouettes head coach Khari Jones, right, accompanied by president and CEO Patrick Boivin, centre, and assistant general manager of player personnel Joe Mack, answers questions at a press conference following the firing earlier in the day of general manager Kavis Reed on July 14, 2019.
Quarterbacks Khari Jones, left, and Ricky Ray at Edmonton Eskimos training camp on May 21, 2006.
MONTREAL — If Jason Maas loses the crossover Eastern Semifinal here Sunday, the expectation around the Canadian Football League is that he will be fired and quite likely be replaced by recently departed Ottawa Redblacks coach Rick Campbell.
But hold the phone. Time out. Just a minute.
While it’s rather unseemly to be contemplating the exit of a head coach with a winning record who could still end up in the Grey Cup game, let’s say Maas gets gonged.
In the event the Montreal Alouettes’ Khari Jones ends up as the winning head coach Sunday against the Eskimos , there would be another candidate to consider for a vacant Edmonton job.
Khari Okang Jones!
The CFL Coach of the Year candidate, who piloted the Alouettes’ Flight of the Phoenix trip from a crash landing prior to takeoff this season, has his team with a home playoff date and sporting a 10-8 record.
And he doesn’t have a contract for next year.
The Alouettes still don’t have an owner.
And who knows whom the owner might want as general manager.
Or who the GM might want as head coach.
And if both the Eskimos and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers lose semifinals this weekend, there might be two head coaching jobs in two pretty good situations out west.
Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea’s contract expires at the end of the season.
While there was word here earlier this week that agent Gil Scott and Als president Patrick Boivin entered into very preliminary negotiations toward a new contract for Jones, why would he rush into anything?
Where’s Jones at with all of the above?
“Oh, I don’t know. I’m just trying to stay out of it and just kind of worry about the playoff game. But yeah, who knows? Who knows?” is how he phrased it in a one-on-one interview with your correspondent. “There’s a lot of stuff to get sorted out here. We’ll see what happens.”
Edmonton, most Eskimos fans probably didn’t notice, was the place where Khari Jones last wore a CFL jersey. It was where he threw his last pass. It was where played his last game.
Indeed, Khari Jones was cut in consecutive Eskimos training camps to end his playing career.
Edmonton is also connected to the incredible turnaround Jones directed in his first year as a head coach.
What happened in Edmonton the week he was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach was the key to the season that followed, he insists.
The Als lost the opener to the Eskimos , but he believes that first game set up the storybook success story that got him to this game.
It was the day Vernon Adams Jr. got his shot when he came into the game to replace starter Antonio Pitkin. And Adams introduced himself as a new CFL star.
“I was happy with what I saw with Vernon. He made it pretty clear in my mind just who the starting quarterback was going to be and he kept growing in that performance,” said Jones. “When Vernon came in replacing Antonio Pitkin, Vernon just lit a spark under the team. When you have that kind of a guy who can do that, you’re going to keep him there. He proved that.
“He came in as probably the third or fourth guy at training camp and he just kept working. He kept giving great effort every day. Some things are tough because you can only see at game time when the lights are on and it’s game time.
“He’s at the point of his career that he wanted to prove that he’s one of the elite quarterbacks and he really was this year.”
But there was more than Jones finding a quarterback to who he could hitch his wagon.
“We found out a lot of things that first game,” he said. “That was big. We found out we had a room full of guys that will fight and not give up. We were down quite a bit in the opener in Edmonton and came back to tie it up and came within a few plays of winning the game.
“Even though we lost the game, it was a big game for me. I got to see what this team could be. I told them after the game that I love the team, I love what we are and we’re going to win football games. And luckily, they believed it.”
So here they are, Khari Jones and his unlikely collection of followers having climbed out of one of the most bizarre start-of-a-season situations in the bizarre history of the often Crazy Football League, in a home playoff game against the Eskimos and favoured to win it.
It was only days before that first game in Edmonton that the Als fired head coach Mike Sherman .
“Things just happened so quickly. I kind of credit that almost helping me a little bit because I didn’t have time to think about it or anything,” said Jones.
“We’d already played both preseason games. We were getting ready to head to Edmonton and we heard the head coach was fired. Then they were asking me if I’d take over. I accepted. Then it just kind of went from there.
“I didn’t really have time to think about anything but how do I help the players to get ready for the game? How do I set things up the way I want to set them up? Luckily, I’d been through the process of interviewing for jobs as head coach a couple of times, so I kind of knew what kind of set-ups I would want.
“The biggest thing was just getting in front of the guys and telling them despite all of this and what’s going on, we’re going to win football games. I told them we’re going to block all that other stuff out. And that’s what I’m most proud of this team. We haven’t let anything affect us. We’ve left the outside stuff remain outside.
“We just went about our business no matter what people thought was going to happen. That turned out to be the fun part of it.”
Throughout my entire journey, I’ve observed the people around me and the things I’ve liked about coaches I was with in addition to the things I didn’t like so much and wanted to take those things with me wherever I went. I knew I’d be coaching.
Having gone through the Johnny Manziel circus of the year before, Jones believes, might even have helped make the craziness of this season look like stability.
“I think it might have helped. The guys were just tired of that atmosphere surrounding the team. The biggest thing was just trying to close out everything.”
Having the league insist on the removal of general manager Kavis Reed a few weeks later due to alleged violations relating to the salary cap was a blow to Jones.
Obviously, the former Eskimos player and head coach and long-time resident of Edmonton — where his wife and family have remained regardless of where he spent the season — gave Jones good football talent.
“I have nothing negative to say about Kavis,” he said. “He brought me in. He hired me as the coordinator. He made me head coach. He put the group of players together that we have, and it was up to us to assemble it and get it going in the right direction.”
So Jones gets the Alouettes to this game and what team do they play?
“It’s pretty wild that my first playoff game as a head coach is against Edmonton,” he said of Sunday’s crossover Eastern Semifinal. “I went to camp there two years straight and never played a game there in the regular season. I got released both years.
“But I appreciate every stop I made including those two short ones in Edmonton. It was a good experience to see how that team operates and does what they do. And yeah, that was the last jersey I had on and the last touchdown pass I threw was in a pre-season game with Edmonton.
“In 2005, I got released by the Eskimos, who went on to win the Grey Cup without me and I got picked up by Hamilton. In 2006, I was released again, but right when it happened, my phone rang and it was CBC asking me if I wanted to be a part of the broadcasts .”
Jones said he always knew he wanted to become a coach, and after a couple of years of working in television, he felt the time had come.
He’s one of those overnight success stories that was a long time in the making.
“I’ve been with every team in the league except Ottawa and Toronto,” he laughed.
He played college football with the University of California at Davis, arena football with Albany, World League of American Football with the Scottish Claymores and enjoyed all-star seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and less than starry seasons with the B.C. Lions, Calgary Stampeders and the Eskimos.
His coaching career began as a quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator in Hamilton, two years with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, where he won the Grey Cup in 2013, the B.C. Lions and Montreal.
“Throughout my entire journey, I’ve observed the people around me and the things I’ve liked about coaches I was with in addition to the things I didn’t like so much and wanted to take those things with me wherever I went. I knew I’d be coaching.”
Anyway, in the event Montreal defeats Edmonton here on Sunday and Maas gets fired, you now have Khari Jones’s resume for the Eskimos job.
Bucking the ‘favourite’ tag
Against all odds, the Montreal Alouettes not only made the playoffs for the first time since 2014, they ended up with a 10-8 record and a home playoff game.
And Khari Jones is against all the odds.
The Alouettes head coach doesn’t want his players to think about being favourites Sunday in the crossover Eastern Semifinal.
It’s not by much — a point spread of just 1.5 against the 8-10 crossover Edmonton Eskimos. But Jones wants to hear nothing about being the favourite.
“They have quality people. They have Trevor Harris, who is one of the elite quarterbacks in the league,” said the rookie head coach.
“We know not to take anyone lightly. We will never, ever take a team lightly. All year we’ve felt like the ultimate underdogs and that we have to work for everything we get.”
Basically, the Alouettes perfected playing as underdogs all season. They don’t want to give up that role.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019