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Tuesday, December 8, 2015



1.  Anything going on back home?  The above photo was taken from our seats at SunLife Stadium on Sunday for the Dolphins-Ravens NFL game as part of the SportsCage/Marlin Travel Ultimate Sports Trip V.  We're down here in the Sunshine State with 46 SportsCage listeners who signed up to join me on our annual NFL/NHL/NBA sun and sports trip  Unfortunately the internet is painfully slow here at the Oceanside Comfort Inn in Deerfield, FL and it takes 20 minutes just to upload ONE photo.  The photoblog will have to wait until we get home but that's not what you came here for today anyway.

2.  Dec. 7/2015 will go down as a landmark day in Saskatchewan Roughriders history.  Just like February 2/2005 when Jim Hopson came on board as the franchise's first-ever President & CEO or December 6/2006 when Kent Austin joined the club.  There have been many others over the club's 105-year history too but Monday's hiring of Chris Jones figures to be a watershed day.

3.  And what exactly transpired over the past week-to-10 days isn't known by many however the facts may unfold over the months ahead.  Or perhaps they won't, so we'll have to take Riders President Craig Reynolds at his word when he spoke at a news conference on Monday before a national viewing audience on TSN3 and across Saskatchewan on 620 CKRM.  As the story goes, the head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos was on the team's radar as soon as they compiled a list of targeted candidates for the club's head coach & GM jobs.  The fact is Jones' name never hit the public until the week of the CFL Division Finals and even then I still feel it was just media and fans throwing names against the wall and seeing which ones stuck.  As one CFL source said on Monday, "I don't think Reynolds even thought Jones would be available until Grey Cup Week".  Until then, Jeremy O'Day solidly had the inside track.  More on that later.

4.  The rumours of John Hufnagel being lured to Saskatchewan were nothing more than fun gossip for us to toss around and fill air-time over the past three months.  Hufnagel told his staff privately months ago that he wasn't going anywhere and he issued a news release saying the same thing.  At least we know he's a man of his word.

5.  As far as O'Day goes, I've heard from those close to him that he was "down" with the news he wasn't getting the Rider GM position and Reynolds confirmed as much on Monday however he said Jeremy "understands and supports" the move.  Was he led to believe he'd get the job all along?  I don't believe so but I was told that by someone in the Riders' hierarchy.  However things change.

6.  Like all of us, O'Day only wants what's best for the Saskatchewan Roughriders organization and the hiring of Chris Jones seems to be exactly that.  I haven't seen one detractor to the hiring in the wave of reaction on social media in the past day although one commenter to this blog said Reynolds' "job is on the line" with the hiring of Jones.  Well no kidding!  But not as much as if he'd opted for O'Day over Jones.  Now, no matter how this all turns out, Reynolds can point to the fact he "made the best decision at the time" and also gave the fans what they were clamouring for once we learned Jones was available and wanted the job.  If it all blows up, it'll all be on Chris Jones but I'm sure he's fine with that.  Corey Chamblin was fine with that too last spring, but we all know how that turned out.  However I don't expect history to repeat itself here.

7.  Although Chris Jones has certainly bitten off a lot with the titles of V.P. of Football Operations, General Manager, Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator with Canada's Team.  However he certainly seems ready for it doesn't he?  And no one seems to think he's not capable of it.  The Riders figure to be a Grey Cup contender in 2016, especially since I'm told one of his selling points in the job interview was the fact he plans to bring a lot of the Edmonton coaching staff and free agent players to the 306.  There's something in Chris Jones that inspires confidence and I'm excited for the future of this franchise.

8.  Regarding my support of Jeremy O'Day for the position, I'm still stunned at the negative reaction it garnered.  Some horrible things were said to, and about me over this stance but I was simply supporting the internal candidate and someone I've known closely since 1999.  Imagine the reaction if I hadn't supported him!  The fact is he's ready to be a CFL General Manager but now you have to wonder when it will happen.  A long-time hockey coach surmised last week that O'Day will likely have to leave Saskatchewan to prove his worth as a GM and I'm inclined to agree.  Let's just say Chris Jones leaves in three years -- what's to say O'Day is anymore ready then or will have garnered anymore support from the Rider Nation?

I'm still shocked how much negativity there is about O'Day and most of it's tied to the fact he was a part of the last regime. Maybe he should've been more vocal about his role in it but he bit his lip and took the high road.  That's SUPPOSED to pay off.  In this case it didn't but maybe it will eventually.

But I'm not down in the dumps over the Riders' hiring of Chris Jones.  I'm thrilled and as stated before, confident and excited about the years ahead.

9.  Many people have said over the past 48 hours, "You know Chris Jones far better than I do" but that's not the case.  I only know him from sitting in his news conferences or sticking my microphone into media scrums as the opposition broadcaster over the past few years.  Initially he seemed somewhat harsh but softened this year and I'm guessing that's because Eskimo assistant coaches Craig Dickenson and Ed Philion - two long-time friends of mine - likely told Jones what I'm all about.

From what I could see from the photos and videos from Monday's news conference, Jones looked quite refreshed and content.  He looked 10 years younger than he normally does.  I guess $600,000-$650,000 will do that.  He's earned it.

Speaking of, I heard from players across the CFL on Monday who were upset about the amount Jones signed for.  "It's more than 99% of the players earn" one of them said.  Hey, I'm all for everyone making as much money as possible so I wasn't going to engage in the debate.

10.  And that brings us to Chris Jones' coaching staff with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2016.  TSN's Farhan Lalji reported Monday evening that Jarious Jackson has already agreed to join the Roughriders as Quarterbacks Coach/Passing Game Coordinator signalling the first of likely many Edmonton coaches to migrate to Saskatchewan.  The rumour mill also suggests Craig Dickenson is sure to follow as Special Teams Coordinator but others expect he'll wind up with his brother Dave's Calgary Stampeders.  I questioned that, pointing out the Stampeders already have a quality ST Coach in Mark Killam, but was cautioned, "Family's family".

11.  And Jones's phone will definitely be ringing off the hook between now and Christmas.  Former Blue Bombers head coach and Eskimos O.C. Mike Kelly has expressed interest in coming to Saskatchewan as has former Rider linebacker Reggie Hunt who's coaching high school in Texas and was a guest coach with the Calgary Stampeders this past June.  The hiring of Chris Jones may be behind us, but now comes the next wave of the news cycle with his assistants.

** As of Tuesday afternoon, Sportsnet's Arash Madani reported Bob Dyce has cleaned out his office at Mosaic Stadium meaning he's looking for work. Things are moving fast and furious.**

* Madani further reports Ryan Dinwiddie is heading to Calgary to be QBs coach while the Calgary Sun's Scott Mitchell says Devone Claybrooks is primed to be the Stamps DC.

* Another from Madani: Craig Dickenson is headed to Saskatchewan and former Rider DC Greg Quick is going to return to the Montreal Alouettes (the Quick news was confirmed by the Alouettes Tuesday evening).

* Still more from Arash - Craig Smith is out as personnel director with the Riders and Jason Maas is the leading candidate to be head coach of the Eskimos. If he goes, he's expected to take several Ottawa assistants.

Good luck to Craig Smith. He's a class act.

Interesting too, that the Ottawa RedBlacks announced a rash of transactions today including the release of DE Shawn Lemon. He could help somebody.  What a wild free agent period we're in for.

12.  I should point out too, how this stuff all works.  I've been told that Chris Jones actually signed his deal on Saturday but the Riders truly hoped to hold onto the news until Monday.  That became impossible when, upon learning of his resignation, the Eskimos picked up the phone and notified TSN Edmonton's Ryan Rishaug that Jones was gone.  One of the many patrons on this trip asked over supper Sunday evening, "How could the Riders make this move and not tell you?"  It would have taken an hour to explain the background and the inner-workings of how this stuff all goes down.  I'm not miffed.  The Riders had the best-of-intentions but the Eskimos wanted to spoil their party.  Can you blame them?  "Congratulations on winning the Grey Cup Edmonton!  Now you're in a full rebuild thanks to the Saskatchewan Roughriders and their fat bank account!"

But I heard from Craig Reynolds on Monday personally.  We're good.  I could hardly say I didn't want to be involved in the process, then turn around and complain about being left out of the loop.  This has all worked out just fine.

13.  As far as this trip goes, we've had a blast.  About half of the guests are returnees while 20 or so are first-timers.  Almost ALL of them are farmers from across the province and they represent communities such as Kipling, Carnduff, Odessa, Assiniboia, Hodgeville and Saskatoon.  They ALL are avid SportsCage listeners and I'm always astounded when they quote things we've said on the show going back years and years.  Most of it I'd forgotten.

The most special story comes from Brett, a 50-something farmer from Kipling who became a diehard Miami Dolphins fan after reading a book from his "Book of the Month" club when he was just 10 years old in the 70's.  He was mesmerized by the magical 1972 Dolphins and their iconic coach Don Shula however he was only able to watch maybe one Dolphins game a year on TV while living on the farm.  On Saturday night when our plane touched down in Ft. Lauderdale, Brett said, "I've waited 40 years for this.  Come tomorrow, I'll be vibrating".  While the others tailgated, I walked around the whole stadium with him taking it all in and listening to his stories.  It was wonderful.

We'll have a full recap of the week's events in the days ahead.