Jean-Francois Joncas decided that if he was going to leave Champlain College Lennoxville where he was the head coach and many other things on the school’s varsity football team, it would only be if the right opportunity came along.
Well, that opportunity came along and this week he was named the offensive coordinator of the Gryphons when former OC Todd Galloway moved into the new full-time recruiter position.
“I was approached by other universities over time when I was at Champlain. They were good opportunities, but I was always felt that if I was leaving Champlain it was to go to a place where we could win and the structure was there,” he said after watching the Gryphons go through off-season skill drills at the Gryphon Fieldhouse. “This is what I felt when I came for a visit here. The structure is serious. People, the AD, the head coach and everybody is on line and everybody is there for the kids and they have the structure that will probably allow them to win.”
Joncas is used to winning. In 11 seasons at Champlain, he guided the Cougars to seven Bowl d’Or championship appearances in the CEGEP Division 1 league. They won the league final twice, in 2013 and 2015. He was also on the Team Quebec coaching staff the won the under-17 Canada Cup in 2007 and 2008 and under-18 Canada Cup in 2012. He’s also the offensive line coach of Team Canada’s under-19 squad.
“I coached 11 years at Champlain. I was the head coach over there, OC. It was a great 11 years over there,” he said. “Before that, I had a stop at Sherbrooke University for a year. I coached running backs and I was helping out with special teams and stuff and then before that I played at Laval University. I was an offensive lineman, a centre, and then I had a year with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and a year on the practice roster with the Ottawa Renegades.”
Joncas has also been part of more U Sports Vanier Cup championship victories than the Gryphon program has in its history.
“I won two Vanier Cups at Laval,” he said. “I won one in my freshman year in 1999 and one in my senior year in 2003.”
The Gryphons have won the national title once, in 1984.
“JF is one of the best coaches in Canada,” Gryphon head coach Kevin MacNeill said. “He brings a degree of professionalism. Coming from Laval, he’s got incredible pedigree. He was team captain, Vanier Cup champion. He was an all-Canadian there, went two years pro and then 11 years with one of the top CEGEPs in Quebec.”
He’s also great at time management, something that stood out at Champlain.
“Eight of his years there were as head coach and OC,” MacNeill said. “One of the things that is remarkable is that he was strength coach, equipment manager, program councillor. He was their only full-time guy running that program and that just speaks to his level of organization.
“He’s got a great work ethic and he’s a tremendous recruiter and administrator. His track record as a coordinator was what we were looking for. What he brings in terms of his work ethic and administration is what we were looking for and his ability to recruit some of the better players – if you look at the players who’ve come out of Champlain, it’s like a who’s who of professional football players and the best players in the country. We’re really excited for all those reasons.”
Among the players he coached at Champlain are nine who went on to play in the CFL, one in the NFL and four who played NCAA football.
While being considered for the position with the Gryphons, Joncas watched the video on all of their 2016 season games.
“I watched all their game tape from last year,” he said. “Like I was telling Kevin, I think we’re a much better team than our record showed last year. Most of the games last year were within a score or two scores, 10 points, so there were a lot of tough games. That’s the mindset that the team has this winter, to get ready for those tough games. Coach Kevin asked the kids yesterday to give him that extra six inches. We might need that and hopefully those tight games might turn in our favour next season.”
The Gryphons had a 3-5 OUA regular-season campaign last year following four consecutive 7-1 seasons. They also bowed out of the league playoffs with a loss to the McMaster Marauders in the quarter-finals.
Including the playoff setback, four the six losses were by six points or less, one by 12 points and the other by 34.
“I like the offensive line,” Joncas said. “I think we have got a good group coming back – big kids, they can move, they’re athletic kids so that’s positive. Quarterback, the quarterback’s coming back. James (Roberts), he’s awesome, so I think the quarterback position is solid as well. Receivers, we’ve got some good athletes there and RBs, too. It’s a good group that I’ll have a chance to coach and work with.”
While Joncas said there will be some changes to the offence’s playbook, it won’t be a complete overhaul of the plays.
“Terminology will change, but at the end of the day it’s football,” he said. “I’m not bringing wing T or triple options, we’re still going to be a spread offence. It’s going to change a little bit, but at the end of the day it’s still football. We want to put the ball in our athletes’ hands as much as possible and stretch the field as well, use the 65-yard width of the field and take a shot downfield when we can do it.
“I like to play with tempo as well, different tempo. We’re going to huddle sometimes, but sometimes we’re going to go no huddle and try to play fast and see what the defence is giving us. Like I said to the kids yesterday, the terminology will change a little bit, but at the end of the day it’s football. There’s a guy in front of you, you’ve got to block him, you’ve got to run your route and catch the ball.”
While the players might have dreams of playing professionally, all have the chance to get a good education at the University of Guelph and Joncas realizes they are students first, athletes second.
“If I look at my personal background, I did a major in kinesiology and a master in administration so the student part of being an athlete, I know that myself,” Joncas said. “I always took pride in having good marks and stuff so on that part I can be a good role model for these kids. Anytime you have a chance to chat with them and ask them how it goes and how they’re doing in school, I think it’s positive.”
Football wise, the team has about five and a half months to go until the start of training camp for the 2017 season. Joncas hopes his offence will be ready to play long before then.
The team has a mini-camp and its regular spring camp to go before the players finish the school year.
“By the end of the spring, I’d like to be ready to play a football game, have everything ready and have a good idea of what we’re going to be doing against Ottawa U to open the season (Aug. 27),” he said. “Everything we do this spring, in the back of our heads will be to get ready for that game in August.”