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Monday, January 18, 2016



1.  FLORIDA TRYOUT CAMPS - The Saskatchewan Roughriders held their first off-season open tryouts over the weekend in Florida.  Saturday's camp was held at the Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach on a beautiful day with good attendance.  On Sunday the players battled some bad weather at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach.  There was a wide range of hopefuls, some with NFL, CFL and/or Arena League experience.  The Riders expect 4-6 players will receive invitations to the club's minicamp this spring.  The next scheduled tryout camp will be this Saturday in Montgomery, AL.

2. MOVING ON - No doubt we haven't heard the last of Thursday's release of franchise legends John Chick and Weston Dressler.  After the initial outrage of the first 24 hours, the Rider Nation seems to be stabilizing and realizing it's what's best for the organization.  However that won't change our love for John and Weston, who will go down in history as two of the best all-time Saskatchewan Roughriders.  Many fans have written on social media that their "heart is broken", and that's understandable.  I got choked up a bit too.

When Premier Brad Wall got involved by addressing the story on his Facebook and Twitter pages, you know the impact of the situation hit far and wide.

This move has many sides.  Since Chick and Dressler were due to earn a combined $500,000 in 2016, it's not surprising that the axe came out.  Some fans questioned why the pair wouldn't accept lesser money if playing for the Roughriders meant so much to them but let me ask you this:  how would you accept a massive paycut in your workplace?  I know I wouldn't like it very much, particularly if I felt I earned what I signed for.

But Dressler and Chick left the Rider Nation in the past to pursue their NFL dreams, thus breaking many hearts in the process.  There was no guarantee they'd ever return, and they were simply doing what was best for them at the time.

Now, the team has done the exact same thing for its own interests.

3.  COOL HAND LUC:  620 CKRM SportsCage analyst, and former Roughrider, Luc Mullinder had a reasoned response to the releases of Chick and Dressler on Friday's show.  Here's what he had to say:

"My take on it is we talked about it as the season ended," Mullinder explained.  "We knew there was going to be change.  We sat here on the SportsCage and told everybody 'Your favourite players aren't going to be here'.  That's the risk that change brings and this is obviously as bad as it gets for some people, emotionally.  Business-wise though, it's a good decision.

"When you clear as much cap space as the Riders did, it's unfortunate for the players affected.  John Chick's one of my best friends and I don't want him to go.  But this is what change brings.  Business is business.  I think somebody out there said it best, 'Would you rather be 3-15 with all your favourite players or would you rather be 13-5 or 12-6 and competing for a Grey Cup every year?'  In June, everybody wants the second option.

"It's part of the business and the process.  And trust me, those guys are going to be alright.  If football is what they love to do and they want to do it within their heart, they're going to be good wherever they go.  It's not just within the Rider Nation.

"You want the bottom line truth guys?  The way the last regime saw this business of football is a direct result of what happened on Thursday.  The way that Brendan Taman and Corey Chamblin saw this business isn't the wrong way.  But it's the way they looked at it and their contract structures reflected their vision and their theoretical viewpoints.  So now, when you have Chris Jones coming in here, who's on a totally different wavelength, who has a vision of how things need to be done, who's had success with a lot of teams, those theories will be different.  That's all this is!

"That's why we see these changes.  If Brendan Taman and Chris Jones saw eye-to-eye, shoot, they'd probably walk in here and there'd be no changes made!  But when we talked about changes needing to be made and when President Craig Reynolds came on this program and said 'We're chasing sustained success', this all comes with it.

"Everybody said 'What a coup!', 'We've got three of the four GM candidates all in one shot.  This is amazing!', what did you think was going to happen after that?"

4. WHAT ABOUT DARIAN? - Without question, everyone's waiting for the next shoe to drop.  Barely home from Arizona, I walked into a 7:00 am meeting of my club on Friday and the guy beside me pounded his hand on the table and yelled, "Is Durant next?"

That narrative continued throughout the weekend with pretty much everyone I ran into, including my mother-in-law.  She's already writing off the 2016 season and I could clearly see there was no reasoning with her.  However to say that thinking is "premature" is an understatement, let alone preposterous.

I'm not entirely sure what people are expecting.  Are they expecting the release of the Face of the Franchise?  Are they expecting him to restructure his contract which has him scheduled to earn a reported $500,000 this year?

Who knows.  But something's going on.  When I asked officials with the Roughriders over the weekend if any talks were planned with Darian regarding his contract, the response I received was, "Yes, we have had good talks.  He's been busy with family, travelling and the holidays".

As it stands now, there's no reason to expect Durant won't be with the Roughriders in 2016 however his salary seems to be a discussion point.  Frankly that's between Darian and the football club.

However most CFL teams have a marquee quarterback in the $500,000 range and Durant has a resume comparable or better than each of them.  Henry Burris, Bo-Levi Mitchell and Mike Reilly all have a Grey Cup win as a starter while Ricky Ray has multiple championships.  Drew Willy is still chasing his first.

Why shouldn't the Roughriders - the CFL's richest team - have a $500,000 quarterback and why shouldn't he be named Darian Durant?  If you'd like to bring up his injury history, well, that's fair game too.  Darian's spent his career having to prove himself and 2016 will be no different.

I do know there are other players who've been approached about restructuring their contracts and it's been met with mixed results.  John Chick and Weston Dressler are Exhibit A and Exhibit B, but they aren't the only ones.  However their release shows the new Roughriders mean business.

How bad do you want to be in Green & White?  We'll know the players' answers to that question over the coming weeks.

5. WE HAVEN'T HEARD THE LAST OF IT - Settle in and buy some popcorn.  Free agent kicker Paul McCallum has been vocal in his criticism of CFL coaches' salaries, taking to Facebook to air his grievances.  He feels there should be a salary cap placed on the coaches such as players.  We've even talked about it privately.  Hey, I'm all for every employee earning as much money as they can whether it be coaches, players or the ballboys!  But when players see their comrades being asked to take paycuts all-the-while seeing coaches and GMs signing record-breaking deals, it tends to rub some the wrong way.

6.  THE SOCIAL MEDIA FACTOR - The Facebook group The All Rider Fan Page has some 6,500 members, including me.  I posted in there on Sunday that it's a shame there's a rumour going around that Darian Durant is poised to be released, and it all started within that group.  My comment rankled a few members but to clarify, I have no issue with the group whatsoever.  It's a fantastic vehicle for fans to post their opinions on the Roughriders and the added bonus is that fans have to reveal their identity.  It's great because each and every fan feels part of the process.  The only downside is that those comments hit the street as fact and can create a negative, or unnecessary buzz (like the release of Durant).  Otherwise, have at 'er.  The more people talking about the Riders, the better, and I feel that particular Facebook page does the club a great service.

7.  GIBSON'S FINEST - The sudden release of Mike Gibson as head coach of the University of Regina Rams on Sunday seemed to catch everybody off-guard.  Gibson, who was 0-8 in his first and only season in charge of The Horns, has fled to the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos as assistant coach on Jason Maas's staff.

I really have no comment on the matter other than that I was surprised when I learned Gibson was poised to takeover the Rams a little over the year ago because he wasn't on the list of targeted candidates.  Truthfully, he was taking over a hornet's nest that extended far beyond the playing field and it would've been a challenge for anyone who wasn't Rams alumni.

Having said that, for what it's worth, the ideal replacement is right under the University of Regina's nose and it's Regina Thunder head coach Scott MacAulay.  He's earned his stripes in the PFC, he isn't a CFL alum who would jump at the next pro opportunity, and his hiring should appease the anxious Rams alumni.

But, this will be the U of R's choice.

8.  GOING DUTCH - Friday evening in Wadena, SK was a wonderful experience as TSN's Darren Dutchyshen and I hosted the kickoff banquet for Cameco's Hockey Day in Saskatchewan festivities.  The 21-year host of TSN's SportsCentre was the guest speaker while I served as Master of Ceremonies.  It was wonderful for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was the fact I'd never before set foot in Wadena even though it's only 116 miles northeast of Regina.  My opening remarks seemed to go over well although the Pamela Wallin jokes went over like a lead balloon.  Apparently the former CTV national news anchor and Canadian Senator is still very popular in her hometown in spite of her expense scandal!

I'd never worked with "Dutchy" before - the pride of Porcupine Plain, SK - and although we didn't "click" on stage, his Q&A went over extremely well with the soldout crowd.  I learned a lot of interesting things about Darren, most notably the fact he's hosted more SportsCentres than any other sports anchor in North America.  One funny tale of Dutchyshen's was from 2013 Grey Cup Week in Regina when he hosted the CFL Awards along with comedian Brent Butt from Tisdale, SK.  Afterwards Dutchyshen was scolded by B.C. Lions GM Wally Buono for turning the event into a Roughriders love-in and he called Dutchy's work "unprofessional".  Wally went so far as to predict the event would backfire on the Roughriders and they'd lose to Hamilton on Sunday.  Of course it didn't, and Dutchyshen couldn't have cared less about Buono's concerns.

I am of the firm belief that any Roughrider or TSN personality could belch into the microphone at any Saskatchewan sports dinner and still receive a standing ovation.

Thank you Wadena, Cameco, and the Saskatchewan Hockey Association for a wonderful day.

9. THE QUEEN CITY - It was great to see on the weekend that Regina, SK make's list of the Top 10 Canadian cities to visit in 2016.  We came in at #10 while Nanaimo, BC earned top spot.  It's true, we've got a lot of great things going on here spearheaded by the scheduled opening of the New Mosaic Stadium in eight months or so.  It's also extremely disappointing to see and hear about what's going on in Alberta with the falling oil price and what it's doing to their economy.  I'm sincere with that comment.  Growing up in Saskatchewan, I had it drilled into my head that this province wasn't the place to be and ultimately moved to Calgary at the age of 17.  Now I do my best to help spread the good word of Saskatchewan and encourage our youth to stay here and help keep it so great.

10. JUST NOTES:  Had a fantastic experience at the new Twisted Vine restaurant on East Quance St. at lunch on Saturday.  The manager, Brian, is a regular reader of this blog and we had a great visit.  The food is top-notch!  Why not check it out this week if you have time ... Congrats to Strasbourg's Nick Schultz on his 1000th NHL game.  Sheesh, that went by fast. ... Sorry that I missed it, but what are we supposed to do with our Christmas trees now that we've dragged them out into the backyard? ... The attendance at the Saskatchewan Rush home-opener Friday in Saskatoon was 9147.  Not a sellout, but not bad ... Spent the weekend binge-watching Making A Murderer on NetFlix and completed all 10 episodes.  It left me wondering what all the fuss is about?  Dateline could've whittled that story down to an hour, and we still don't know whether Steven Avery is guilty or not.  Personally, I think he's innocent. ... Caught the fourth quarter and overtime of Arizona's 26-20 NFL playoff win over Green Bay on Saturday night and I'm certainly glad I did.  NBC's Chris Collinsworth called it "perhaps the greatest NFL playoff ending ever" and Aaron Rodgers' last-minute Hail Mary touchdown pass, "perhaps the greatest NFL throw ever".  I'm starting to agree with Ray Elgaard's assertion that every week Americans say they've witnessed the greatest "whatever", ever ... There are a lot of Regina snowbirds who refer to the Arizona Cardinals as "we".  I contend that if you have a Phoenix address, you can rightfully refer to the Cards as "us" ... Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is getting flamed for throwing a Seahawks 12th Man flag onto the field at the conclusion of Sunday's playoff game in Charlotte.  Hey!  That kind of thing used to be common-place in sports and players rubbed the opposition's nose in it all the time.  I say, "You go Cam!".  That guy takes way too much heat.  ... All four home teams won in the NFL playoffs just one weekend after all four road teams were victorious.  As for this upcoming weekend, book Carolina and New England to advance to the Super Bowl in San Francisco.