Sports: Inside the CFL: Khari Jones left the Alouettes with his head held high

Former CFL player and commissioner Doug Mitchell dies at age 83

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In the final year of his contract, and knowing he was not hired by general manager Danny Maciocia, former head coach Khari Jones was a dead man walking in many ways — especially when the Alouettes lost three of their first four games.

  Inside the CFL: Khari Jones left the Alouettes with his head held high © Provided by The Gazette

The seemingly inevitable occurred July 6 — not surprisingly, during a bye week in the schedule — when Maciocia fired Jones along with defensive co-ordinator Barron Miles. While the likable Jones wasn’t unemployed for long, hired last Monday by Hamilton as a football operations consultant , he’s reluctant to rock the boat when discussing his Montreal tenure, knowing he works in a small, nine-team league.

Alouettes outlast winless Redblacks in Ottawa for second win of season

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“It was so abrupt, and that’s the toughest part of this,” Jones told the Montreal Gazette this week — the first time he has discussed his two-plus seasons as the Als’ head coach. “I’ve moved on from teams after seasons. This was unnatural, because it was during the season. It’s not something I dwelled on. I know what happened and I’m fine with it.”

Was the firing inevitable? Jones wouldn’t comment. Was it premature, so early in an 18-game season and considering Montreal lost its opening two games by a combined four points? “I’m disappointed by it,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that.

“I knew the situation I came into and accepted that. I knew this could happen. I feel good about the job I did and walk away feeling good about it. I don’t dwell or worry about the other stuff and I won’t talk badly about anybody I worked with. I’m OK with it.”

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While there are little things like game decisions Jones admitted he might have done differently — although refusing to specifically address the benching of starting quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. for Trevor Harris early in the second quarter of the second game — he departs with his head high.

“I’m proud of what we accomplished there, although it might not have been to the point I felt we could get to,” said Jones, choosing his words carefully. “To take over from (Mike Sherman following training camp in 2019), do the things we did and come out with a winning record, regardless of what happened. I’m proud of that and think I’ve showed I can do the job. I learned a lot, made mistakes of course, but felt good about the job I did. I hope people see that.”

Under Jones, the Als went 10-8 his first season, making the playoffs for the first time since 2014, although they lost at home to Edmonton in the East Division semifinal. Montreal was 7-7 last season, although Jones missed one game the team lost due to COVID-19 . Again they were eliminated in the division semifinal, at Hamilton. His regular-season record was 18-17, but 18-19 overall.

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The only matter Jones will discuss extensively — and one for which he takes umbrage — was having his name associated with the lack of discipline by his players. While the Als were penalized heavily many games under Jones, and two defensive players were ejected from games this season, those totals haven’t subsided under interim head coach Maciocia.

“It bothers me that my name became synonymous (with that) and people started talking about the discipline,” he said. “I take issue with that. People start thinking of you as an undisciplined person or someone who promotes it. A lot of different things were involved. If we had guys who were crazy off the field, getting in trouble or there were a bunch of suspensions … We had high penalty totals on special teams, where he had young guys. Those same guys are now doing well.

“When you’re hanging your hat by saying he runs an undisciplined team, I take issue with that. Did I just become an undisciplined coach? That became kind of the rallying point and that was a little unfair.”

Jones watched his former team squander a 19-point, third-quarter lead against Edmonton on July 14, but the Tiger-Cats were at B.C. Thursday night, so he wouldn’t have witnessed Montreal almost blow a late 14-point cushion at Ottawa earlier that evening. Hamilton entertains the Als next Thursday.

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It’s believed Jones received a severance package from the Als when he was fired, clearing the way for him to be hired by another CFL team. While he has never worked with head coach Orlondo Steinauer, Jones, a former quarterback, played for Hamilton in 2005 and launched his coaching career with the Ticats in 2009, mentoring the quarterbacks for two seasons before becoming the offensive co-ordinator.

While the responsibilities that come with Jones’s new role are still being defined, he denied he’s out to usurp anyone’s job. Hamilton has struggled this season, going 1-5, but the Ticats have reached the Grey Cup — losing to Winnipeg twice — the last two times it was played.

Jones could have sat at home with his family in Surrey, B.C., while cashing the Als’ cheques, but is flattered another organization reached out so quickly. Jones’s popularity also shouldn’t be questioned, given how many players he said contacted him upon learning of his dismissal.

“It just feels good that someone would … want me to be around,” Jones said. “This is what I want to be doing.”

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