JONES: Jason Maas now coaching Eskimos from the edge of cliff
Certainly Jason Maas must now be coaching from the edge of a cliff.
It’s not the time to push him off the ledge but he has to recognize he’s put himself there to give himself one last chance to reel himself back.
The conundrum involving Maas is that he clearly does have the ability to be an excellent coach. But he continues to allow the environment for players to take selfish major penalties that keep costing his team games. Like the ones that turned the Labour Day Rematch game around and resulted in a third straight loss and a fifth straight to the top team combination of Calgary and Winnipeg and they have yet to play either of the other top two teams, Hamilton or Saskatchewan.
After an excellent start, a pair of major penalties on the same down followed by the continued lack of discipline that has defined Maas’ coaching career here — eight penalties for 88 yards in the first half — did his team in again Sunday in a 33-17 loss to the Stampeders in a third sweep of the Labour Day series in Maas’ four years as head coach.
Yes, an arm injury to starting quarterback Trevor Harris would later become a factor. But the penalty problem was the iceberg that sunk the ship.
There was an incident in the third quarter that most of the people in the park missed involving a physical confrontation between two players that spoke volumes about the issue of players who can’t or won’t control their own actions and reactions. Rookie Vontae Diggs became the poster boy for the problem.
There was no penalty on the play. Referees don’t throw flags for objectionable conduct involving two players when they both play on the same team.
Diggs has proven to be an exceptional talent on the Eskimos front seven but he’s more than occasionally out of control and seems to pride himself on his ability to trash talk as much as play his position.
Diggs, who got into a pushing and shoving sideline situation with teammate Josh Johnson, explained what happened in a post-game media scrum.
“I was talking a lot of trash. Josh just came up to me on the sidelines and basically just told me to calm it down. I know the refs are looking at me because I’m a trash talker. It got heated on the sideline. It wasn’t something Josh did. It was something he was supposed to do. I just lost my cool because I was hot — hot and annoyed. I had a horrible game against those guys in Calgary and …”
Maas didn’t call Diggs out. Instead he made a big deal about guaranteeing Diggs and Johnson wouldn’t bring it back to the dressing room.
Mike Moore was the player who took the roughing the passer penalty on Bo Levi Mitchell that was followed by Nick Usher being flagged for objectionable conduct at the start of the game that turned an almost certain two score lead into a seven-point deficit by half time. Maas benched Usher for a couple plays and then put him back in.
It’s not isolated incidents. Two-thirds of the way through the season, the Eskimos once again lead the league in penalties with 138 for 1,158 yards. That’s 11.5 penalties per game for an average of 96.5 yards.
Maas seldom admits that he is personally a part of the problem when it comes to the penalties. But to his credit, he did finger himself for being to blame for another failure that played itself out in the game.
When starting quarterback Trevor Harris was forced to leave the game with an arm injury, backup Logan Kilgore came into the game to take over the team. He’d managed to go through the first two-thirds of the season without taking a single snap behind centre.
“I would have liked to have got him better prepared but I didn’t do my job in that respect,” said Maas.
The bottom line in pro sport is almost always the bottom line. Last year Mass’ entire coaching staff was fired after he took arguably a 12-6 team to a 9-9 record.
This year, with two games to play against 9-2 Hamilton and two more against 7-3 Saskatchewan, Maas is now going to have his work cut out to match the 9-9 with arguably a totally revamped 12-6 calibre team again, particularly if Harris doesn’t come back from this week’s bye ready to roll again.
If he’s going to keep his job, Mass might have to get to the Grey Cup game in Calgary to do it. And the only likely way to get there now is now almost certainly going to have to be either as the third place team in the West or as the crossover team in the East.
No crossover team has ever made it to the Grey Cup.
The stupid thing here is that this year, Maas can’t miss the playoffs again despite his current 6-6 record.
There are only mathematical possibilities remaining with 1-10 B.C., 2-9 Toronto and 3-8 Ottawa. So unlike last season, Maas and this team will have the ability to salvage the season in November.
To me, Maas has to visibly and publically address the penalty problem and do something to reform the repeat offenders. Maas must bring his football team back from the bye week prepared to play run-the-table type of football and go into November a very different football team than they’ve been these last three weeks.