By Lethbridge Herald on October 25, 2023.
INSIDE THE CFL
Bud Grant who passed away at ninety-five last March coached Winnipeg for ten seasons and the Minnesota Vikings for 18. He won four Grey Cups in six tries, 11 division titles in the NFL and lost four Super Bowls. In the 1990’s when I interviewed him for my first book, Grey Cup: A History, he said, “The longer you are in coaching the more humble you become. You find out there are no geniuses in the coaching profession, certainly not yourself. The team that will win is generally the team with the best players, not the best coaches. In 1964 we lost nine players to injury. We started out 1-1-1-and then lost 13 in a row. The next year when seven of those players came back, we went to the Grey Cup.”
Roughrider head coach Craig Dickenson lost his job Monday, General Manager Jeremy O’Day kept his. The job of GM is to provide the tools for success. He provided his coach with the likes of free agent receivers Shawn Bane, Juwan Brescasin, Tevin Jones and Jake Wieneke, quarterback Trevor Harris, and O-lineman Philip Blake and Peter Godbar for protection. He added Jamal Morrow to the backfield and Larry Dean at linebacker. He drafted receivers Sam Emilus and Kian Schaeffer-Baker. Not bad. So why did they miss the playoffs two years straight? How does Bud Grant’s observation apply to Dickenson?
Last year they had no offensive line. O’Day upgraded it but this season they had no quarterback. Would another head coach have done better? That’s a fair question to ask. I say fair because since most of the paying customers would say “YES” and attendance is dropping, a change had to be made even if the executive believed he wasn’t the cause of the Riders’ downfall. To an important extent it was a business decision. Despite the enduring myth Rider fans support their team through thick and thin, when the club loses, they stay away to the extent three times the Green and White have faced bankruptcy. The George Reed memorial game was the most poorly attended at Mosaic until the season-finale vs, Toronto, the lowest turnout since 2006.
But remember Dickenson’s accomplishments. In his first year, 2019, his team finished with the best mark in franchise history, 13-5. They finished atop the West Division for the first time since 1976. His overall record was 34-34, two post season appearances. Not bad. So how could a legitimate Coach of the Year finalist turn into a pumpkin head in two years?
In 2022, the Rider offence was the league’s worst, even with Fajardo. Offensive coordinator Jason Maas lost his job. The team was the worst in sacks allowed and penalties. The main focus was improvement in those areas. This year the offence ranked fifth. They were fourth in penalties, average in sacks. GM Day and Dickenson decided the defence was okay. It wasn’t. In 2022, the team was 8th in points surrendered and 6th in offence yielded. The defence went from bad to the worst in the league. A few explanations are making the rounds.
They say he’s too nice a guy. Was he an ogre when they won? Did Regina drinking water kill too many brain cells? Did he use the wrong pronouns, thee and thy for he and his? Too many injuries? No more than other teams except they lost their veteran quarterback.
They went into Game 5 with a mark of 3-1. During the second quarter, Trevor Harris was injured, gone for the season. Calgary won that game 33-31 on a last play field-goal. Without their veteran quarterback the Riders would win only three more games. Mason Fine led them to victory over Ottawa, Jake Dolegala beat B.C. and Winnipeg. And that was it. Dickenson lost his job because of consecutive season ending seven game losing streaks. He couldn’t stop the bleeding. Because Calgary and Edmonton were going nowhere, Saskatchewan had the opportunity to clinch third place on a weekly basis. They couldn’t do it. That will get a coach fired every time.
By firing Dickenson and keeping O’Day, applying Bud Grant’s theory, the team had the talent, but lost because of poor coaching. I would argue if the Rider executive believes the talent O’Day provided was good enough, they’re in for trouble in 2024.