A RIDER DOZEN HOLIDAY TIDBITS
1 - The vacation is over for the MMG and I'll be back on the air on 620 CKRM's SportsCage Monday at 4:00 pm for our usual Rider Monday program. What did I miss? It appears not much, at least with regards to Canada's Team.
In fact the only news to come out of Mosaic Stadium last week was broken by Sportsnet's Arash Madani who reported the Roughriders had fired their training staff. It's true, and that group consisted of Schad Richea and Trevor Len who were terminated on Wednesday.
|Richea (left) and Len|
And that was a difficult situation for this blog to cover. CKRM football analyst John Lynch was confused as to why the news wasn't covered on this blog immediately but I had to point out that I'm the Voice of the Riders first, and this website comes second.
Clearly it was a delicate situation for the Roughriders and not typically the kind that would call for a news release to be issued. This might be the only market in pro sports where the trainers being fired would garner discussion on the local sports radio talk shows but it did in Regina.
It's obviously a tough situation for me personally because I have a close association with Schad and Trevor which goes back several years. Having spoken to the football club on the matter - and received a satisfactory explanation - all I can offer is a "no comment".
2 - Despite being on vacation, I had three appearances late last week and all of them were outside of Regina. It gave me the opportunity to speak with Rider fans in Meota, Moose Jaw and Milestone, Saskatchewan as well as with several Rider fans in the Phoenix area.
Here are some of the questions they posed, and the answers I gave:
WHAT'S THE LATEST ON DURANT?: Absolutely nothing. In the middle of last week I spoke to a source close to Darian and asked how he sees this situation playing out. "If the decision were to be made today, I'd say he's gone," the source surmised. "But we're still at least two months away from a decision being made so anything can happen."
Some of the farmers in Meota (just outside North Battleford) feel the closer this gets to free agency, the more pressure will be applied on Chris Jones from the fans to sign Durant. However I'm not sure that will make a difference.
WHAT SHOULD DURANT SIGN FOR?: That's debatable but Darian is a career 6-3 in the playoffs and one of those losses includes the 13th Man incident (clearly not his fault). Over in Winnipeg, free agent quarterback Matt Nichols is asking for $400,000 or more per season and has never won a playoff game. Neither has Ottawa's Trevor Harris.
But market value means he's worth whatever someone's willing to pay him.
ARE WE ANY FURTHER AHEAD THAN LAST YEAR AT THIS TIME?: I'd say we have to be, but that's a tough question to answer. Rider fan Pete Johnson sent me a list of all players signed by the Riders in 2016 and it totals 192! That's from Melvin Abankwah (A) to Devrin Young (Y) and a heckuva lot of players in between.
Chris Jones was given a blank canvas, complete autonomy and an open chequebook to try and resurrect this franchise from the dead. Did we think he, John Murphy and Jeremy O'Day were going to do it in one year? We'd have been naive to think they could.
But in all our discussions on the air over the years about how long it should realistically take to complete a rebuild, I think we settled on a season-and-a-half. Therefore, this group should be rocking and rolling by Labour Day of 2017 in terms of being amongst the league's elite.
IF IT'S NOT DURANT, WHO WILL QUARTERBACK THIS TEAM?: I don't know. Darian Durant and Mitchell Gale were the only quarterbacks to win games for Saskatchewan in 2016 but both are free agents so it's conceivable we'll have all new quarterbacks to open the new stadium.
Sunday night a Rider representative told me via text message that no decision on Mitchell Gale will be made until the Durant situation is rectified.
As we've written and said many times, Rider management must have a Plan B for the quarterback position but they're not obligated to tell us what it is.
WHICH NEW PLAYERS DO YOU THINK WILL MAKE AN IMPACT NEXT YEAR?: That's another good question but at the rate that Jones switches jerseys on a week-to-week basis, it's tough to know exactly who will be around. Remember they cut 19 vets with one fell swoop in mid-December last year, but those were holdovers from the prior regime.
Assuming these guys come back, I'd expect big things out of LB Henoc Muamba, REC Ricky Collins, RB Curtis Steele (if he can stay healthy), REC's Armanti Edwards and Jeff Fuller and DE Willie Jefferson. These are the guys who figure to become household names in Saskatchewan.
WHAT'S CHRIS JONES REALLY LIKE?: As advertised, he's a tough-as-nails, ruthless taskmaster who expects no more out of the people around him than he does himself. His bedside manner may leave a lot to be desired but make no mistake: every move he makes is for the betterment of his football club and ego will not get in the way.
For years I've looked around at guys like Wally Buono, Hugh Campbell, Jim Popp and even Kelly McCrimmon on the hockey side, and wondered why we can't have someone like that.
Now we do.
He also treats me as well professionally as I've ever been treated so I still have no complaints about the man.
WHAT ARE THE RIDERS DOING NOW?: They are not holidaying. Jones and Murphy have already coordinated free agent workouts in California, Las Vegas, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. They've also scouted Division II playoff games as well as the New Orleans Bowl. They'll be in attendance for the Pinstripe Bowl, Sugar Bowl and other assigned Bowl games. Jeremy O'Day will attend the CFB championship game in Dallas on January 7.
3 - Of course of the 20-some free agents that the Roughriders have, they are all elligible to work out for NFL teams. DB/LB Otha Foster has worked out for New Orleans, and I'm told the Saints also have strong interest in free agent BC Lions LB Adam Bighill.
Meanwhile the CFL's secret negotiation list draft was held on Friday.
Saskatchewan made five selections, national offensive lineman James Bodanis (Alouettes), imports offensive lineman Rogers Gaines (Lions), quarterback Jake Heaps (Eskimos) and defensive back Chase Minnifield (Ticats).
4 - Another thing is certain: the Riders have an enormous amount of work to do on and off the field to get their brand back to the top of the heap. A lady at a dinner party in Phoenix said last week, "I don't even enjoy watching them anymore". Presumably she was referring to the fact that the household names like Dressler, Chick and Getzlaf are long gone and the fans have a tough time identifying with players who are going in and out of a revolving door.
Winning, of course, is the best marketing tool and at 5-13, the club couldn't even hang its hat on that last season.
So for now the club is going through some excruciating growing pains and all they can really hope for is to do their talking on the field. Sadly we're a long, long ways away from that happening.
5 - Another Rider note: former Rider quarterback Cole Bergquist (2009-2011) popped the question to Regina's Kelly McDonald on Sunday in his home state of Montana and she said yes! Kelly's probably better known to Rider fans as the face of the Regina-based Hillberg and Berk jewelry company.
Bergquist - one of my all-time favourite people - announced the news on Facebook Sunday night.
6 - Happy belated birthday to Roughrider receiver/returner Nic Demski who turned 23 on Wednesday. The first round pick in 2015 was the youngest member of the Riders in his rookie campaign and was the second-youngest last season.
7 - Tell me why someone would rather stand outside in -30 degree weather and beg for money rather than get a job pouring coffee and work indoors?
8 - A heckuva story from the 9th Annual Milestone, SK Sportsman's Dinner Saturday night. I was the MC in my hometown with guest speakers Russ Howard and Paul Coffey however as of 6:30 pm Saturday night, Coffey was sitting on an airplane runway in Toronto.
However he made it, and he strolled through the doors of the Milestone rink at 10:40 pm and went straight on stage to deliver a tremendous 45-minute address.
|Coffey, just as cool as ever|
Here are some of my favourite quips from his speech:
"What's the most important thing about playing sports? Fun? NO! Hard work. If you want fun, go on a family vacation to Mexico or go to Niagara Falls. Sports are about hardwork and the fun comes later."
"Wayne Gretzky was the one who started the sports tradition of taking the Cup from bar-to-bar on a pub crawl. We did that first in Edmonton in 1984 and it was Wayne's idea. Although we got in some trouble when a photo of the Stanley Cup on stage at a strip club ended up on the front cover of the Edmonton Sun!"
"I know you Rider fans are impatient and you only had five wins last year but please wait a month before you hang Chris Jones this year! He's the best in the business and he will win here."
"I'd say Saskatchewan won the Grey Cup last year just because Calgary lost it. I didn't want them to win either!"
9 - Interesting news out of the Regina Pats front office on Friday that COO Marty Klyne is stepping down to accept another executive position in the Queen City.
I'm told the Pats already have a replacement in mind, and it's someone with a great sports and business background.
10 - Next to the Darian Durant situation, the Regina Pats will be the #1 news item worth watching over the next several months. Regina goes into the WHL's Christmas break with the 4th-most points in the league (50) but they have several games in hand on the teams ahead of them and the #1 winning percentage at .806.
It was a treat to call Friday's 5-4 loss in Moose Jaw on Access and Shaw TV and the Warriors showed the template for beating Regina that night. However the Pats turned the tables on Saturday, erupting for five goals in the third period on the way to a 7-3 victory before another sellout crowd of 6,484.
The fact remains that when the Pats get serious, there's no one that can skate with them and they've done that on the vast majority of nights so far this season. The good news is they've got 41 more games to perfect their game and it seems they've still got plenty of potential to reach.
Sure starting goaltender Tyler Brown had an off-night on Friday but he wasn't the only one. The WHL trade deadline is in three weeks and we'll know then if John Paddock truly believes he has championship-calibre goaltending. He says he does, between Brown and back-up Jordan Hollett.
The Pats continue to be a treat to watch and I'm getting asked about them more and more at these sports dinners around the province. That's a great sign.
11 - Having two Regina Pats cut from Canada's World Junior Team has sparked a ton of debate around here. The whole thing surprised me, to be honest. I was surprised Austin Wagner got an invite ahead of teammate Connor Hobbs, but Sam Steel was a slam-dunk to make the club anyway. Hobbs might have been the best fit for Team Canada out of all of them.
In the end, the whole works cut shown the door. Call it an Eastern-bias or what have you, but all it means in the end is that Canada had better win gold or they'll be facing an avalanche of criticism. Even TSN's Bob McKenzie said Steel would've made his team.
The bonus is the Pats will have their top guns in the lineup over Christmas and this team's chemistry will continue to build.
The bad news is the Regina Pats - the team who's produced more World Juniors than any other - won't have a player on Team Canada in 2017. That's about the only negative as this won't hurt Sam Steel's career at all.
12 - The Columbus Blue Jackets' nine-game winning streak under John Tortorella is a franchise record and proof that the Vancouver Canucks' problems go way above the bench. I don't care much for Tortorella but it's hard to look past Columbus's record. We saw them play live in Phoenix and although it's not saying much, this is the best Blue Jackets team ever.
Furthermore as Paul Coffey stated the other night, great players make good coaches so a lot of the credit has to go to Columbus GM Jarmo Kekäläinen.
13 - Meanwhile the Dallas Cowboys' 12-2 record is proof that teams get lucky from time-to-time. Head Coach Jason Garrett may be this smart, but Owner/GM Jerry Jones is not and this is coming from a Cowboys fan. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot are the pearls of the 2016 Draft and a pair like that never happens!
At least Jones knew enough to let his coaches and scouting staff make their picks at the draft table in the past (building the offensive line rather than drafting Johnny Manziel) and now the Cowboys boast the best O-line in football.
It's what Jones, Murphy and O'Day are trying to do here.
IT'LL BE GREAT TO BACK ON THE AIR! SEE YOU AT 4:00 PM