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January 9, 2020

O’Leary: Jones invigorated by Alouettes’ new ownership

There is a sense of relief for many fans of the Montreal Alouettes that the team has found new owners.

The relief that Khari Jones feels this week might be different from everyone else’s.

Jones signed a three-year extension on Nov. 26, shedding the interim tag that was attached to his name throughout his team’s surprisingly successful 2019 season. It was something of a leap of faith on Jones’ part. In that moment he became the most secure piece of the franchise and was surrounded by question marks.

At the time, ownership was a question that was still seeking its answer. Upon that box being checked off, a general manager would have to be hired. Then last week, the team announced that its president, Patrick Boivin, had been let go.

Fortunately, Jones didn’t feel like one of the few pieces to the puzzle for very long.

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Sid Spiegel and Gary Stern’s purchase of the team was made official on Monday. During that introductory press conference, Stern said that he’d like to have both the president and GM roles — two separate positions, he emphasized — filled as early as Friday, while asking for a little bit of lenience on that timeframe.

“The biggest thing for me is I try not to dwell on things that I couldn’t control or worry about,” Jones said this week at the league’s team president and GM meetings.

“I thought we did a pretty good job of that as a team last year. But it is always nice when those actual things that are or can be barriers in the future are taken care of. To find someone who really wanted to be a part of the Montreal Alouettes and had the means to do so is a pretty exciting thing.”

If you watched or listened to Stern at that press conference, his enthusiasm for the opportunity in front of he and Spiegel was abundant. It’s the kind of energy that Jones put out to his team from the second he became the Als’ head coach, just six days before their 2019 season kicked off.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything more than what (ownership is) bringing to the table,” Jones said.

“(Stern is) very optimistic. He’s very passionate and it looks like he’s going to do what we need to be successful and then it’s up to us on the field to do our thing. I definitely think it’s the right group and I’m looking forward to the relationship over the years.”

Jones and Stern have spoken briefly so far, but the coach loved hearing what Stern said on Monday. He hopes to improve facilities for the team and seemed open to helping the coaches and players in whatever they might need to continue to grow on the field in 2020.

“He wants to win right now — which I love — and he knows how he wants to go about doing things,” Jones said.

“I’m very excited, very excited. It’s nice to have that box checked off. Quite a bit that was hanging over the team has been taken care of. It’s easier for everything else to fall in place.”

“I couldn’t have asked for anything more than what (ownership is) bringing to the table.”

Khari Jones on the Als’ new owners

Khari Jones signed a three-year extension with the Als this off-season (Dominick Gravel/Montreal Alouettes)

If he’d chosen to, Jones could have gone a different route after the season ended and explored his head coaching options. There were teams with ownership, team presidents and GMs already in place and teams with great rosters that under the right head coach could reach great heights this year.

After a dramatic and rewarding season in Montreal, Jones wasn’t interested in looking elsewhere, even with all of those question marks above and around him. Even with a coach-of-the-year calibre locked into a contract, the Als had trouble finding a GM. The team officially put that search on hold on Dec. 18 and said it would resume the search when the ownership issue had been resolved.

“I don’t really feel like I have a fear of the unknown,” Jones said of his decision to quickly re-up with the Als.

Instead of the unknown, he focussed on what he did know and that was the group of players he worked with this past year.

“I feel like a lot of this, I knew what was happening because of the on-field product and what we were able to do together. I had a lot of faith and that everything else would take care of itself and it’s looking that way now. Things are starting to fall in place,” Jones said.

“The guys in just a short amount of time came together, they played inspired football at times. This was just the start of the journey, in my opinion. It’s tough to leave something like that. You want to see it through and hopefully we can do it with a lot of the same players in place and add pieces here and there.

“The nice thing is that (the players) know me I know them and to have that over the course of years, it can be something really nice.

“With the guys that we have and with the city and all of those things, (taking the extension) wasn’t a big decision for me because I think we have something special here.”