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Head coaches Jones, LaPolice open CFL season with high expectations

Montreal's Khari Jones and Ottawa's Paul LaPolice face similar pressures heading into the CFL regular season. The head coaches are both in the final year of their respective CFL contracts.
Ottawa Redblacks head coach Paul LaPolice watches the team’s training camp in Ottawa on Thursday, May 19, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Montreal's Khari Jones and Ottawa's Paul LaPolice face similar pressures heading into the CFL regular season.

The head coaches are both in the final year of their respective CFL contracts. In the results-based business that is pro football, each needs an improved showing by their club to secure extensions.

Adding to the urgency, both Jones and LaPolice weren't hired by their general managers. Montreal GM Danny Maciocia and Ottawa counterpart Shawn Burke both inherited their head coaches and thus don't necessarily have deep ties with them.

In Montreal, it was former GM Kavis Reed who promoted Jones to head coach from offensive co-ordinator when the club abruptly announced just before the '19 season that Mike Sherman was longer the head man. 

The amiable 51-year-old Jones has a 17-15 regular-season record over two seasons with the Alouettes, who've reached the playoffs both years but have been eliminated in the East semifinal.

Montreal finished third in the East Division last season with a 7-7 record before losing to Hamilton 23-12 in the opening round of the conference playoffs.

The Alouettes were 10-8 in 2019. It was the franchise's first winning campaign since 2012 and first playoff appearance since 2014 and secured Jones a three-year extension.

What adds intrigue to the Montreal situation is Maciocia also has a coaching background. Before being named Alouettes GM in 2020, he served as the head coach of the Montreal Carabins from 2011-19, winning a Vanier Cup in 2014.

Maciocia also has CFL experience as a head coach with Edmonton (2005-08), winning a Grey Cup in '05. He also served as an assistant with Montreal (1997-2001) and Edmonton (2002-04). So if Maciocia felt the Alouettes needed a coaching change, he wouldn't really have to look far in order to find an interim replacement.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, it was former GM Marcel Desjardins who hired LaPolice following the '19 season. LaPolice signed a three-year with the Redblacks after winning a Grey Cup as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' offensive co-ordinator.

LaPolice didn't have a team to coach until last season as the CFL didn't play football in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ottawa finished last in the East Division with a 3-11 record in 2021.

Desjardins, who built Ottawa's 2016 Grey Cup-winning team, was fired before the end of last season. He was replaced by Shawn Burke, who spent nearly 15 years in the Hamilton Tiger-Cats front office.

Burke elected to stick with his head coach and spent much of the off-season reshuffling Ottawa's roster. Among the many new faces Burke brought to the Redblacks is veteran quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, a longtime former Ticat.

The Redblacks haven't been to the CFL playoffs since 2018 when they lost 27-16 to the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup. The club has managed just three wins in each of the last two seasons, amassing a 6-26 overall record.

Like Jones, LaPolice will have to meet or exceed expectations to secure an extension. But there's a sense of optimism surrounding his team this year.

LaPolice enters the season with a 19-39 record as a CFL head coach, having also served in that capacity with Winnipeg (2010-12). The Bombers appeared in the 2011 Grey Cup game, which the B.C. Lions won 34-23.

While Jones and LaPolice will both be on the hotseat this year, there are other coaches from whom much is expected in 2021. They include:

-- Craig Dickenson. The Saskatchewan Roughriders are 22-10 in two seasons under Dickenson and reached the West Division final each season, losing to eventual Grey Cup champion Winnipeg both times. The Riders have been competitive with Dickenson at the helm, but Regina is hosting the CFL title game in November. There will be an expectation within the province that the Riders be in that game, much like in 2013 when the club beat Hamilton to win a championship on home soil.

-- Chris Jones. He's back in the CFL as the Edmonton Elks head coach/GM after spending time in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns. Jones has done plenty of winning in Canada, having being part of four Grey Cup-championship teams. That includes serving as Edmonton's head coach in 2015 when the franchise won its last title. The Elks finished last in the West Division last year with a 3-11 record. That's a big reason why Jones, the CFL's coach of the year in 2018, was rehired was to return the franchise to its former glory. Jones has a 53-37 regular-season record as a head coach with Edmonton (2014-15) and Saskatchewan (2016-18).

-- Rick Campbell. The B.C. Lions posted a 5-9 record last year and missed the playoffs for a second straight season. That's something that hasn't happened since 1990. The '21 campaign was Campbell's first as the club's head coach and co-GM. He was hired as coach in 2020. The Lions have a new owner in Amar Doman, whose enthusiasm and passion are resonating with football fans there. And one way to continue that momentum would be a winning on-field product. Campbell has done that, capturing a Grey Cup as Ottawa's head coach in 2016 after being named the CFL's top coach the year before. He enters the season with a 49-71-2 career regular-season record.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press