Some readers have said these columns are getting a little too long so today's entry will be in bullet form, and as rapid-fire as we can make it:
1. We are less than a week away from Christmas but the Rider Nation has already received its gift. It came on December 7 when Chris Jones was named V.P. of Football Operations, General Manager, Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator.
Still, that hasn't stopped virtually everyone I've run into in the past week from asking, "What do you think of the Rider moves?" At Friday's Regina Pats game, I could barely walk five feet without someone posing that question and it included fans, ushers, scouts and the media room personnel. Unfortunately I didn't have time to respond to all of them because we were hustling from the SportsCage radio show and getting ready to do the television broadcast of the hockey game.
However I think I've made my thoughts pretty clear on the radio, TV and on this blog. Rider President Craig Reynolds hit a grand slam with this appointment and things couldn't be more positive in Saskatchewan. Near the end of that dreaded 3-15 campaign of 2015, I wrote that brilliant times were ahead but we just had to suffer through the terminal stages of that forgettable season.
Now, finally, the good times are here. Enjoy them!
2. A precious few nervous nellies in the Rider Nation have asked if there are too many chefs in the kitchen whatwith Jones, John Murphy and Jeremy O'Day calling the shots but really, Jones is the only Masterchef. Saskatchewan's Gordon Ramsay if you will. From what I've gathered, Jones is calling ALL the shots in Riderville from top to bottom, and that's why he was hired. With great power comes great responsibility but he seems thrilled to have the weight of the Rider Nation on his shoulders.
3. History repeats itself and Chris Jones continues to exhibit all of the traits of Don Mathews who retired as the CFL's all-time winningest coach almost a decade ago. New Rider Defensive Line coach Ed Philion was a player on the 2002 Montreal Alouettes when "The Don" road into town and recalled this week how Mathews promptly cut 28 players (many of them veterans).
Philion said he gets that same sense here with the 2016 Saskatchewan Roughriders and it should be noted that the 2002 Montreal Alouettes went on to capture the Grey Cup that season in Edmonton. They made a Grey Cup appearance in Regina in 2003 before succumbing to the Eskimos.
Who was on that 2002 Alouettes coaching staff? None other than Chris Jones, who was hired by Mathews for his first CFL posting. Now, he's running the Roughriders and has waited a long time to get exactly this opportunity.
In fact I feel so strongly about the comparison to Mathews that I called around on the weekend to some former CFL play-by-play men who've worked with Mathews to see how they made their relationship work. I feel the same strategy may work with Chris Jones. The results were interesting and enlightening.
4. Next up for the Riders will be their January free agent tryout camps followed by CFL free agency which opens at 12:00 pm Eastern time on February 9. Not sure whether it's true or not, but I was told part of Jones's pitch to land the Saskatchewan job was that he planned to bring as many Eskimo free agents to Saskatchewan as possible. There are now whispers across the CFL that many of the Edmonton players aren't entirely comfortable playing for first-year Head Coach Jason Maas so things might be coming together in that regard. Here's a list of Edmonton's available free agents:
BOULAY, Mathieu, FB
BOWMAN, Adarius, SB
CHAMBERS, Shamawd, WR
FOSTER, Otha, DB
GRYMES, Aaron, DB
HINDS, Ryan, DB
JEFFERSON, Willie, DE
JONES, Andrew, OL
LAWRENCE, Kendial, KR
MILLER, Michael, DB
ORAMASIONWU, Donald, DL
SEWELL, Almondo, DL
SHERRITT, J.C., LB
SIMMONS, Brian, OL
SIMPSON, Chad, RB
STAFFORD, Kenny, WR
WHITE, John, RB
WHYTE, Sean, K
WOJT, Greg, OL
This is a star-studded free agent class across the CFL and apparently many players have made it known they'd like to play for Jones. That includes the many players Jones has had a relationship with during stops in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and of course, Edmonton. If the salary cap can be made to work, this could be another All-Star team like 2013.
5. A question about the Syrian refugees coming into Saskatchewan: Have they been given Saskatchewan Roughriders jerseys yet?
6. The Ottawa RedBlacks announced a large portion of their coaching staff on Friday including Special Teams Coordinator Bob Dyce who will replace Don Yanowsky. Yanowsky is reportedly leaving the team for "unspecified personal reasons". The RedBlacks have lost Running Backs coach Jordan Maksymic to the Eskimos and they still haven't named an Offensive Coordinator. Jacques Chapdelaine, the Riders' O.C. in 2015, remains available but reportedly has a year left on his contract and although he won't be back in Saskatchewan next year, has the opion of being paid during the upcoming season. However his son Justin, who was an Offensive Assistant with the Roughriders last year, reportedly doesn't have that luxury.
7. CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge's moratorium on coaching moves last week certainly brought things to a halt but something still smells fishy. How could the CFL's investigation into Noel Thorpe's resignation in Montreal turn up "no wrongdoing" by the Edmonton Eskimos in terms of tampering? Obviously Thorpe didn't resign out of the blue for no good reason. Perhaps the CFL couldn't prove contact between the Eskimos and Thorpe but somebody's not telling the truth.
Meanwhile the Riders seem nowhere near done with their hirings in Football Operations. Sportsnet's Arash Madani reported over the weekend that Scott Annand, "a fixture in Nova Scotia football" is poised to join the Riders' front office. Apparently Annand forged a strong relationship with Jones when Chris held coaching clinics in the Maritimes over the past number of years and now he's on his way to the 306.
8. One of the first moves by Chris Jones regarding Saskatchewan's roster was on Friday when he dealt defensive tackle Andre "Juicy" Monroe to the Toronto Argonauts for veteran offensive tackle Jarriel King. An Argo employee sent me a note on Friday stating via text message, "One of Jarriel's biggest assets is that he plays both sides and don't forget it's pronounced 'Ja-RELL'!" That's not good news for Xavier Fulton and/or Levy Adcock.
9. Some notes on the Regina Pats: Head Coach & GM John Paddock can't be at all pleased that his team lugs a four-game losing streak into the Christmas break with three of those losses coming at home. How could the Pats go 4-3-2 on a nine-game road trip and then fall on their face once they got home? That's junior hockey for ya but Pats Assistant Coach Brad Herauf huffed it's not acceptable. The Pats' play for the opening 40 minutes of Friday's 6-4 loss to Saskatoon was uninspired and they were habitually beaten to the puck in all three zones. The good news is we've seen them at their best (a 2-1 overtime triumph in Brandon on Dec. 4), but they need to manufacture that work ethic every game if they're going to be heard from in the end ... Sophomore Sam Steel hasn't been anywhere near what we expect from the Sherwood Park, AB product in his draft year. One veteran NHL scout offered this assessment of Steel's play this season over the weekend via text message, "Not very good. Shows flashes at times but hard to find most nights". Gulp ... 17-year old defenceman Liam Schioler has been a nice addition who dropped out of the sky for the Queen City Kids. He reportedly left the USHL's Lincoln Stars due to a lack of ice time but made a very solid debut in two Pats home games this past weekend. He chipped in two assists in Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss to Moose Jaw. At 6'3", 225 lbs with a physical presence and offensive flair, he reminded me a lot of Pats great Brad Stuart ... We were treated two three decent fights in Friday's game against Saskatoon but I was surprised the WHL still allows players to undo their chinstraps prior to squaring off. If you're going to insist on a 10-minute misconduct for taking off your helmet before engaging in a fight, you might as well institute the same punishment for the chinstrap thing ... The biggest disappointment of the WHL's first half has to be the Kootenay Ice who go into the break on a 12-game losing streak. Their 17-year playoff streak is in serious peril.
10. The MMG had no interest in fighting the crowds to witness the latest installment of Star Wars but we'll likely get to it this week. Funny to see former pro football player Michael Sam get skewered for Tweeting out a spoiler for the movie on the weekend. He got lambasted by Star Wars fans for the selfish gaffe and subsequently Tweeted, "Oops".
Fortunately we were able to catch a couple of flicks over the past week with varying results. The movie Sisters starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler was two hours we won't get back and I wouldn't advise going unless you're a big fan of those two female stars. However the motion picture The Gift starring Jason Bateman was a nice surprise and turned Sunday into Scary Movie Night at the Pedersen Pavilion. It had a whopper of an ending.
THAT'S ALL FOR THIS WEEK! MERRY CHRISTMAS!