First game against old team as a head coach is something special for Bombers Hall of Famer Khari Jones
MONTREAL — He’s a Hall of Famer in Winnipeg and the last Blue Bombers quarterback to be named the CFL’s most outstanding player.
He threw 139 touchdowns in Blue and Gold, passed for more than 4,000 yards four times and was a true celebrity in the city for four-plus seasons.
On Saturday, Khari Jones will face his old team as a head coach for the first time.
“I’m really excited about,” Jones said Friday after his Montreal Alouettes wrapped up preparations for the contest.
“It was a long time ago when I had my history there but it still remains.”
Jones, now 48, has been down a long and winding road since he was traded away from the Bombers in 2004.
He went on to play for Calgary and Hamilton, before signing a one-day contract with Winnipeg in 2007 in order to retire as a Blue Bomber. He was inducted into the Bombers Hall of Fame in 2008.
“It’s great, it’s where I began, really, in earnest,” he said of his time in Winnipeg, where he was named CFL MOP in 2001.
“It’s where I started playing and got my opportunity to do what I do in the league. I appreciate the fans there and the people there for accepting me as a player and allowing me to live out my dream.
“It was a really good time there for the four-plus years that I was there. I always enjoyed myself.”
Since then Jones has been a quarterbacks coach and offensive co-ordinator in Hamilton, Saskatchewan, B.C. and Montreal. This year, after two pre-season games, the league-run Alouettes fired head coach Mike Sherman and thrust Jones into the role.
He’s currently serving as quarterbacks coach, offensive co-ordinator and head coach.
And he’s doing well. The Als are 6-5 overall but are 6-3 in their last nine games and the three losses were all close games (seven points or less).
“It’s been a little crazy but it’s been great,” Jones said. “I’ve enjoyed it.
“As soon as it happened, I didn’t really have time to think about it too much. It was just ‘What do we need to do to get things going in the right direction and how can I help this team achieve some success?’
“It’s been a good ride so far. Basically, I’m just concentrating on the game at hand, worrying about who we have next and enjoying every minute of it.”
Jones and the Alouettes will get one of their toughest tests of the season with the Bombers in town. Winnipeg is 9-3 and has been winning with an outstanding rushing attack, havoc-wreaking defence and stellar special teams.
Quarterback Chris Streveler, starting his fourth game in place of injured No. 1 Matt Nichols, brings another dimension to a rushing attack that also features league-leader Andrew Harris.
Like the Bombers, the Als have been winning games with a strong ground game, featuring running back Will Stanback and mobile quarterback Vernon Adams, Jr.
Jones has played a major role in developing Adams into the kind of quarterback many scouts thought he could be.
“His offence is pretty simple once you get to know it and then, meeting with him every day, him being our QBs coach, offensive co-ordinator and head coach, you understand what he’s thinking in certain situations with the game,” Adams said.
“I go back to watch some film on him every now and then and it’s pretty cool and unique to have a quarterback coach/head coach who’s been through things that you’re going through.”
The Als were reportedly a team ready to revolt under Sherman, but Jones has changed the atmosphere and the culture with his demeanour.
“He’s got a lot of energy,” Adams said. “It’s all about us. He doesn’t care about anybody’s opinion. It’s all about us. He tells us to stick together and just go have fun and win the game.”
There are many around the CFL who see Jones as a strong candidate for coach of the year honours. A few more wins down the stretch and a playoff appearance would certainly help that cause.
“We’re just kind of starting the journey and I’m really enjoying that,” Jones said. “Hopefully we can accelerate this and be as good as I think we can be at the end of the season.”
Former Bombers receiver Matthews surprised, but not hurt by release
Chris Matthews is disappointed that things didn’t work out in his second stint with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but he’s not hurt or angry.
Signed to a three-contract by the Bombers in May, the former NFL receiver was released in late August after catching just 12 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown in six games.
“It was just a bad fit,” Matthews said Friday after practising with the Montreal Alouettes in advance of Saturday’s game against the Bombers.
“I’m not perfect. I probably didn’t handle everything as well as I was supposed to. At the end of the day, it was a business decision and I had to move on from it.
“Surprised, for sure. Hurt, no.”
Matthews will look to do some damage against the Bombers on Saturday but he doesn’t have any hard feelings toward the organization.
“I learned early on when I got into the NFL, (Seattle Seahawks coach) Pete Carroll told me ‘Releases happen’ so you’ve got to get numb to it and move on and keep pushing.
“I still love Winnipeg. It was a great place for me. I learned a lot there, grew a lot and it was just the best.”