FRIESEN: Khari Jones ready to prove people wrong
His team doesn’t have an owner or a clear No. 1 quarterback, its fan base is deserting it like a sinking ship and it fired its head coach a week before the season-opener.
Khari Jones, welcome to your first job as a head man.
“This is what I’m used to. It doesn’t bother me at all,” the freshly-installed boss of the flailing Montreal Alouettes said over the phone Sunday. “Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s in my wheelhouse. I feel like I thrive in these situations.”
Jones was just one day into what should be a dream gig. From the outside, though, it looks more like a nightmare.
Als GM Kavis Reed ousted second-year head coach Mike Sherman on Saturday, the day CFL teams made their final cuts of training camp.
The reason given: Sherman had trouble picking up the Canadian game.
Reports of player malcontent quickly surfaced, suggesting there would have been a revolt had Sherman stayed on.
Meanwhile, the league has to approve everything the Als do, since it took over the once-proud franchise when nobody could find an owner to replace the Wetenhall family, who’d grown tired of losing money hand over fist.
The gong may be ringing in Montreal, but Jones, the former Blue Bomber all-star quarterback in his 11th year as a coach in the CFL, says he can’t hear it from his office at Olympic Stadium.
“No, not really. And that’s the weird part,” he said. “We’re insulated. It’s nice being where we are, in the Big-O, we’re underground a little bit. And I like that. You kind of get that bunker mentality, where it’s like, ‘Let everybody talk and do whatever they want to do. But we’re just going to get to work.’
“We have the makings of a good team, and now it’s about just putting it together and not listening to the outside noise. I mean, no owner has ever won a game. That hasn’t affected us in the least.”
There’s actually an advantage to being thrown into this situation, the 48-year-old says, finding a silver lining like he used to find open receivers in four-plus mostly sparkling years (2000-04) as the Bombers gunslinger.
“I haven’t had time to really process it,” Jones said. “It’s all just been work. The title hasn’t sunk in, none of that has sunk in. It’s, ‘OK, what’s next? We have Edmonton.’ A lot has been thrown at me in the last 24 hours. But it’s something I feel like I’m ready for.”
He’s certainly paid his share of dues, through 10 years as an offensive assistant with four teams.
That sounds a bit like how, at 29, he finally became a starting quarterback in Winnipeg.
“It’s funny, because I liken it to my playing career a little bit, as far as having to wait a while to get an opportunity to play,” he said. “But being ready when I got the chance. I was able to hit the ground running as a player. I’m used to being patient. I’m used to learning while getting ready for something.
“Hopefully it works in a similar way. I’m sure there will be some nerves and all that. But I almost don’t have time to be nervous. It definitely came as a surprise. No time to think. Let’s just get out there and do what we do.”
What he’s done over the years is take notes, copious amounts, starting back when he was a player. He saw something from a coach he’d like, he’d write it down. Something he didn’t, the same.
All with the goal of one day getting a chance to be his own version of the coaches he worked with and under, including Dave Ritchie, Wally Buono and Joe Paopao in the CFL, and his old coach at the University of California-Davis, Bob Biggs.
These aren’t the circumstances under which Jones hoped to get his first shot. But most of his football jobs have begun on losing teams, and he’s done his share to help turn things around, Winnipeg a glowing example.
Jones helped turn the losing Bombers into a 14-4 powerhouse in his second season, winning the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award and falling one agonizing game short of a Grey Cup title. In Montreal, no less.
Former teammates including Milt Stegall, Robert Gordon, Troy Westwood and Wade Miller, currently the Bombers president/CEO, offered congratulations on the weekend.
So did his dad, a high-school coach, retired and living in Florida.
“He’s just as proud as can be,” Jones said. “Both he and my mom are beaming right now.”
Jones doesn’t have time for that. He’s got work to do.
Oh, has he got work to do.
“Despite everything, I feel like we have a real chance to be successful,” he said. “And that’s what I’m excited about. I like proving people wrong, and shocking people.”
Making things work in Montreal this season would certainly do the trick.
The Khari Jones File
Born: Hammond, Ind.
College: University of California-Davis
2019: Head coach, offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, Montreal Alouettes
2018: offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, Montreal
2016-17: offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, B.C.
2015: receivers coach, B.C.
2014: offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, B.C.
2012-13: quarterbacks coach, Saskatchewan*
2011: offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, Hamilton
2009-10: quarterbacks coach, Hamilton
*won Grey Cup, 2013
Hamilton, 2005: 8 games, 406 yards passing, 1 TD
Winnipeg, 2000-04: 83 games, 20,175 yards, 139 TDs
Calgary, 2004: 4 games, 573 yards, 5 TDs
B.C., 1998-99: 36 games, 229 yards, 0 Tds
2001: CFL Most Outstanding Player, CFL all-star, led CFL in passing yards
2000: division all-star, led CFL in passing yards
Career: ranks second, all-time, in Blue Bomber passing yards