Monday, August 15, 2011
EXIT REALTY PRESENTS...BOB HUGHES!
WASTED DAYS AND WASTED NIGHTS
By Bob Hughes
Well past the sunrise portion of a season that glowed with such hope that was wrapped in the normal plethoria of promises, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are taking on water as swiftly as the Titanic. And, some of the relentlessly riveted Rider Nation have it figured that like the captain of the Titanic that fateful night, the Riders’ brass have chosen to believe that no iceberg can sink something this unsinkable.
The Good Ship Rider is taking on water fast, and week by week hope dwindles steadily that anybody on board can figure out what’s wrong, how to right the ship. Even the embattled first-time head coach Greg Marshall flipped out a “If you figure it out, let me know” quote after the Riders were felled 45-35 by the Calgary Stampeders.
Before this Season of Illusions unfolded, most picked the Riders to duke it out with Calgary and B.C. for first place. Seven games into the season, the Riders have won just once, lost six, and that one win came against a Montreal Alouettes team which lost quarterback Anthony Cavillo early in the game. Even with that huge advantage, the Riders barely won the game.
How did all this happen so swiftly? How, in the blink of an eye and the snap of a finger, did the Riders go from top to bottom? Well, there are many who now believe that it didn’t happen overnight. They figure it’s been a long time in the making.
Go back to 2007, the year of Eric Tillman and Kent Austin. Within that season, the Riders went from a so-so team to a Grey Cup champion. They did it with a quarterback who hadn’t done much before and hasn’t done much since. Tillman was and is a master builder of a team. Austin was a superb coach.
Austin left after the 2007 season, and was replaced by Ken Miller. He got the team to the Grey Cup games in 2009 and 2010, both losses. He retired after the 2010 season and in a move regarded by many as one never fully explained, was named Vice President of Football Operations, which put him in charge of the general manager, whose name is Brendan Taman.
Under Taman and Miller, the Riders became an “Old Boys Club.” They brought in the senior citizens of football as assistant coaches – names form the past like Jim Daly, Doug Berry, Richie Hall, Steve Buratto, all people who had been head coaches around the league, and never really distinguished themselves in those roles.
When Miller stepped down, he wound up bringing in another long time CFL coach, Greg Marshall, who, despite being interviewed countless times for head coaching jobs in the CFL in 17 years as a gypsy assistant coach, never once got an offer until he landed on Ken Miller’s doorstep.
Since Tillman left, the Riders recruiting has not measured up. They have yet to replace star players who have left, and have not done what championship teams must do – improve your talent every single season. Air-lifting players in during the season rarely works, but what’s a fella to do when you team can’t win for losing.
There is this theory out there that Riders made a wrong turn after Miller’s first season as head coach. The theory goes, they should have retired Miller to his golden egg job, and named the younger Paul LaPolice as head coach. He would have retained two rising stars in the coaching world – Kavis Reed and Marcus Crandell.
But, the Riders didn’t. They let Miller hang on when even he admitted later he was ready to go. So, what happens?
LaPolice ends up as head coach in Winnipeg. Reed is hired by Tillman as head coach in Edmonton, where the Eskimos were floundering. And, one of Kavis’ first calls was to Marcus Crandell to offer him the job as offensive co-ordinator. Crandell did not want to leave Regina, but the Riders decided that Berry was a better fit as offensive co-ordinator than Crandell, who had a superb relationship with Darian Durant.
The end result? The Riders are tied with Toronto and B.C. as the worst teams in the league. LaPolice has the Bombers in first place in the East. Reed has Edmonton in first place in the West and Crandell has Ricky Ray playing some of the best football of his career.
It has become a league of young guns in the coaching ranks. Whether it be head coaches or assistant coach, the young jets of football are taking over because the Canadian game is designed for gun-slingers who mix excitement with imagination and sound football.
It is a way too early to write off the Riders. The loss to Calgary was devastating, to be sure, but it’s far from being the last straw. Nobody can say they won’t turn this thing around. The only question is, Do they have the people who can turn it around? And, rebuild what clearly needs to be rebuilt?
Bob Hughes column presented by EXIT Realty Fusion at http://www.exitrealtyfusion.com/.