|Canadian Press/Michael Bell|
After two tumultuous weeks at Mosaic Stadium, the dust has finally settled and things just feel ... right.
General Manager Jeremy O’Day’s first big decision was made official on Friday when he named longtime special teams coordinator Craig Dickenson as the 47th head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He is the right choice at the right time.
Dickenson said in his press conference that he is up for the task and can’t wait to get his hands on this team. He has an incredible opportunity to build on an already great situation that Chris Jones has created.
Considering all of the flashy names and interview denials, sometimes the easy and low-key choice is the correct one.
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If there's any question over if this is the right hire - and there's only one - it's is Dickenson too nice a guy to be a head coach?
Former Rider receiver Duron Carter lauded the hiring on Twitter saying, "I guess good guys do win sometimes."
But go back and watch some games from the past few seasons.The voice that was constantly in Chris Jones’ ear was Dickenson. It felt like when there was chaos on the field and in the office that Dickenson was the voice of reason and was leaned on for instant support.
The only other question is if a longtime special teams coordinator can find success as a head coach in professional football? It will be tough to tell because there haven’t been many that have taken this path.
In the CFL there have been two head coaches that quickly pop to mind (three if you include Bob Dyce who took over the Riders in 2015 as an interim head coach when Corey Chamblin was let go) and they are current Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea and former Bombers head coach and current Hamilton Tiger-Cats special teams coordinator Jeff Reinebold.
O’Shea only had four seasons under his belt as a coach all with the Toronto Argonauts as their special teams coordinator before taking over the Bombers in 2014. There have been a lot of growing pains for O’Shea but he has slowly helped the Bombers take little steps towards a potential big season in 2019. O’Shea also had the help of 16-seasons as one of the best linebackers in CFL history.
Reinebold has been a much-travelled coach and held the title of special teams coordinator with the B.C. Lions and Las Vegas Posse before he went 6-26 in less than two seasons as a head coach with the Bombers. He hasn’t been a head coach since.
Ottawa RedBlacks Head Coach Rick Campbell did special teams stints with Edmonton, Winnipeg and Edmonton, but has worked on all three sides of the football.
There are only two prominent former special teams coaches in the NFL that went on to become head coaches.
Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has been by far and away the most successful; winning Super Bowl XLVII and currently has a 104-72 regular season record.
For the other name, one has to go all the way back to the 80’s when Kansas City Chief special teams coordinator Frank Gansz took over the team in 1987 and didn’t have much success. In two seasons he was 8-22 and missed the playoffs in both years.
No one knows a team’s roster better than the special teams coaches. They have a grasp on what the younger players' strengths and weaknesses are. It’s even more important in the CFL because many of the up-and-coming Canadian players cut their teeth on special teams so Dickenson will have a grasp on who may be able to take the next step in their careers.
The downfall in many general managers' minds is that special teams coordinators may not have a full grasp on the ebbs and flows of the game on offence and defence and will have to rely even more on their assistants. But the same could have been said for Chris Jones. As the head coach and defensive coordinator (along with the general manager and VP roles) he wouldn’t have complete inside knowledge of what is happening in the other two phases.
Dickenson also has the advantage of watching and absorbing from some great coaches over his football coaching career. He can also tap into his brother’s brain on how to handle certain things. Dave Dickenson has been a great head coach with the Stampeders. Just how much he will share with his big brother remains to be seen.
So if Dickenson is successful he may open up some doors for future special teams gurus to become head coaches in football.
However it won't be all lollipops and rainbows. Expectations are incredibly high in the Rider Nation right now. Fans want the best team to match the CFL's best stadium, and they deserve it.
The first thing Dickenson has to decide now is who will be the Riders defensive coordinator? This will be his first big decision and it will be interesting who he will ride with on the defensive side of the football. This has been the strength of the Riders the past two seasons and whomever takes over will have some big shoes to fill.
Next is free agency. Beginning February 12th, the team will develop into what we will see on the field beginning in training camp. It will be fun to see what kind of players they will bring in and how they mix with the current members.
Of course, it’s quarterback first, then Canadians and find a couple of explosive playmakers on offence.
Things are on the right track and training camp is only 16 weeks away!
An interesting take from columnist Mike Stackhouse from the Yorkton This Week on the Roughriders play-by-play job which has now been posted by CKRM:
It will be a highly-sought job by sports media types right across the country, but make no mistake about it. The ‘new Rod’ will be under a lot of scrutiny and will be micromanaged to the point that the individual will be nothing more than a glorified public relations flak.
Have you ever wondered why local Saskatchewan sports media never break a big story? Think of the Chris Jones hiring by the Cleveland Browns. Dave Naylor, of TSN, had it first. Sportsnet's Arash Madani was the first to report Jones' replacement would be Craig Dickenson.
There’s no way we should ever be scooped in our own backyard, but it happens constantly and I refuse to believe professionals like Rod were unaware of what was going on. I think they are handcuffed and have to wait for the information to become public or for the Riders to give their okay.
But, such is life in the media now. There is no such thing as journalism anymore. Everything is geared around promotion and the Riders are no more or less protective of their brand than any other sports organization. This is the way it is.
I just think the new person coming in is going to be immersed into a pressure cooker and I don’t envy him (or her).