“That’s yesterday’s news,” said the head coach of the Stampeders. “I thought we were talking about the 100th anniversary Grey Cup. What I said, I said, and I’m not changing what I said. Move on.”
He’s not changing what he said. Last winter, the Stampeders filed tampering charges against the Argos for signing Jones as defensive coordinator, assistant head coach and assistant general manager. He believed the Argos acted inappropriately in poaching a coach he had under contract. Jones had one year left on his contract with the Stamps when he called Milanovich and congratulated him on being hired by the Argos. That conversation led to Jones’ shocking resignation from the Stamps.
Said Hufnagel last December: “Chris informed me yesterday that he’ll be moving on to Toronto. If they had contacted me, I wouldn’t be so surprised. I’m not pleased with the way it came down ...”
“The Toronto Argonauts did not request permission from the Calgary Stampeders to talk to Chris Jones,” the Stampeders announced. “Chris Jones was under contract to the Stampeders. As such, the Argonauts did not believe him to be available for discussion. He does not have a contract with the Toronto Argonauts.”
He did shortly thereafter. The Argos ended up paying the CFL a $5,000 fine because the league determined the Boatmen had, in fact, tampered with Jones. They were found guilty of tampering but the fine was minuscule, all but contradicting the decision.
“I don’t believe we tampered. That’s my opinion,” said Barker, the Argos general manager, who was GM in Calgary before Hufnagel’s hiring pushed him aside. “Obviously, the league didn’t see it that way. Did Scott and Chris talk? Sure. They didn’t talk about him coaching. They’re friends. That’s the business we’re in. This business is all about guys who are friends, that’s the nature of the coaching business.
“If you’re friends in the business, you want to surround yourself with friends. That’s why I love this job so much. Scott and Chris are two of my best friends in football.”
But, while under contract to the Stampeders, the head coach of the Argos spoke to the Stampeders defensive coordinator.
“It was two friends talking,” said Milanovich. “I’ve talked to coach Hufnagel about this situation. Wish it had happened differently. What originated was Chris calling me to congratulate me and it turned in to more than that.
“I could have handled it better in regards to the Stampeders and coach Hufnagel.”
The fine the Argos paid the CFL might have been the best $5,000 they spent all season.
While Ricky Ray gets the headlines, Chad Owens wins awards and breaks records and Milanovich gets a contract extension, you can make the argument that this Grey Cup apperance doesn’t happen without Jones.
It isn’t that he works solely as defensive coordinator, which he has done for 11 CFL seasons — this is his sixth Grey Cup stop. Jones doesn’t just coach as much as he creates his defence. He’s picked up many of his players from off-season free-agent camps.
“They pay $80 to attend,” said Barker. “Chris loves nothing better than running these camps. We’ve gotten some good players this way.”
Marcus Ball, the linebacker who picked off two passes from Anthony Calvillo last Sunday, was a Jones find. Jones worked him out in Atlanta, asked him to come to Bradenton, Fla., for a camp.
“I drove a long time to get there,” said Ball.
It was worth the drive. There are at least four other members of the Argos defence who were discovered by Jones in the off-season.
“That’s why Chris Jones is so valuable,” said Barker, who had to call owner David Braley, via then team president, Bob Nicholson, to make sure “I could afford him.”
“Chris loves travelling and finding players,” said Barker. “We found Johnny Dixon in the middle of Mississippi. He got out of a beat-up car with messed-up tires and ran a 4.3. That’s what Chris Jones does. He finds guys under rocks.”
The Jones situation isn’t the only rub between the Argos and Stamps heading towards Sunday’s game. Barker was the general manager of the Stampeders when Hufnagel was hired as coach and GM. Suddenly, Barker was answering to Hufnagel. He left for Toronto not long after that.
In Barker’s first game against Calgary as an Argo, Hufnagel was asked by a reporter about his former front office executive. He basically said nothing and then called a halt to his pre-game interviews. Hufnagel says there is no animosity at any level, but his actions seem to indicate the opposite.
“I have nothing but respect for Huf, I think he’s a great coach,” said Barker. “But I left because I had a chance to come run my own organization. You’d have to ask Huf if there’s animosity but there’s no animosity from us.”
He says that while whispering to others that feelings between the organizations are indeed frayed. Jones’ unwillingness to speak on the subject may be telling. Maybe not.
“He doesn’t want to be distracted by interviews,” said Barker. “He wants to be judged by how his defences play and not by what he says.”
In that area, so far ,it’s been all good for Jones with the Argos defence. And that impresses the players he happens to coach.
“You can compare Chris to a Dick Lebeau or a Monte Kiffin, he’s that good at his job,” said defensive back Ahmad Carroll. “He eats and sleeps football. He has a crazy tenacity for the game.”
“He’s a mad scientist,” said linebacker Ball. And the emphasis was on the word ‘mad.’
Another discovery, Robert McCune, said that animosity is only natural between the Argos and Stamps and never mind the ill feelings between then teams over Jones.
“With this kind of prize at stake, there’s going to be animosity. There has to be animosity.”
And one more thing: Milanovich, who wanted nothing to do with the Jones conversation and was almost apologetic about how it happened, told of his brief time working with Hufnagel.
“We were together for a bit,” he said, when Hufnagel coached quarterbacks for the Cleveland Browns and Milanovich was trying to stay in the NFL. “I was released right before my contract was guaranteed. If you’re looking for another storyline, there’s one for you.”
Chris Jones wasn’t looking for one. By then, he had long disappeared from sight.