That was one hell of a week in Riderville!
In just seven days the whole direction of Canada's Team changed and, with it, a different type of excitement for the 2019 season.
Let’s begin with Chris Jones leaving the football club to become a senior defensive assistant with the Cleveland Browns under newly minted head coach Freddie Kitchens.
This is an incredible opportunity for Jones to begin a potential NFL coaching career under a man (Kitchens) that Jones has known since he was a grad assistant at the University of Alabama and Kitchens was a quarterback.
Like Kent Austin before him (who left after winning the 2007 Grey Cup to become the offensive coordinator at his alma mater, Mississippi under Houston Nutt), this is the right opportunity at the right time for Jones.
He leaves this team in a great spot with the league’s lowest number of free agents to re-sign and a string of current and potential stars.
There are many Rider fans that are still angry with Jones for leaving, but most of them didn't like him to begin with.
A big part of the job, especially with Jones who was the general manager and vice president, is the rubber chicken circuit. He didn’t have to do every small-town dinner and fundraiser but if he did some of the small fan engagement things needed during the offseason, it may have bought him a lot of slack with fans.
But if it didn't factor into wins, Jones wasn't interested.
That brings us to the new man at the helm of the Saskatchewan Roughriders on-field product, new General Manager Jeremy O’Day.
He is by far and away the best man for the job. O’Day has been under the tutelage of some of the best as a player and then in football operations. He also understands the brand and what the Roughriders mean to the passionate fans in this province, across Canada and around the world.
Three things that O’Day will more than likely keep at the top of the list when it comes to building on what Chris Jones has done:
1 - A renewed emphasis on Canadians and the CFL Draft. This is one of the key components that Jones was not successful in. O’Day will want to win with Canadians and not just trying to survive with Canadians.
2 - With his background and where football is currently going, O’Day will place an incredible emphasis on offensive and defensive line play.
3 - Find a quarterback for now and in the future. Fans want a quarterback for right now, but it is incredibly important to try to develop a quarterback within the Rider system. Fans love quarterbacks that win like Kent Austin and Kerry Joseph but when a pivot is developed and stays in the province like Ron Lancaster and Darian Durant, they are placed into legendary status and help the team on (wins) and off the field (selling them jerseys!).
We are going to have a little fun with this because no one really knows all of the names O’Day has in mind.
We begin with the many names floating around the social media-sphere.
PAUL LAPOLICE AND JAIME ELIZONDO
First knock two offensive coordinators off the list. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers denied permission for the Riders to talk to Paul LaPolice and the Redblacks did the same for Jaime Elizondo, so the list continues to thin.
The first name that pops up is former Toronto Argonaut head coach and offensive guru Marc Trestman. He is used to coming to a team later in the off-season which is what he did with the Argos in 2017.
He has the most head coaching experience among all the potential candidates and because he is out of work right now, no permission is needed to bring him into the fold. There would be a shake-up of the Rider staff if Trestman is the man. He would take over the offensive play-calling but there would still need to be an offensive coordinator.
Next is current Rider special teams coordinator Craig Dickenson. He is one of the most experienced coaches on the staff. Dickenson has been an assistant special teams coordinator in the NFL with both the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, a running backs and receivers coach and a coordinator for four CFL teams, including the Roughriders.
Dickenson is a heart and soul type of guy and at times was the voice of reason with this current coaching staff. He also fits well because he can be both the head coach and special teams coordinator.
The one reason why he may not want to take the position is that Dickenson loves his lifestyle off the field. He loves his life in the Montana mountains and cherishes his off-season time away from the game. In January 2013, Dickenson left the Roughriders because Corey Chamblin wanted Dickenson to be around the team on a year-round basis. Things may have changed but this is a huge factor.
BC Lions offensive coordinator Jarius Jackson is another familiar face on the list. He was a part of this current Roughrider staff as a quarterbacks coach and would keep some cohesiveness. His lack of experience may hinder his hopes, but he's regarded as a rising star in BC. The Riders would also need permission from the Lions to talk to him which, as we've seen, has become a problem.
The other easy hire would be to hire a defensive coordinator and name McAdoo head coach as he keeps the OC job.
Jeremy O’Day has a three-year contract and may want to build his own staff in the future. Because of the timing of this situation, this may mean that Year 1 may be a bit of a bridge year.
A great head coach for a short-time basis may be Philip Lolley. His name has also been bantied about the media types as a potential candidate. Lolley is an incredible football man with one hell of a resume.
Chris Jones was Lolley’s protégé in when Lolley was a high school head coach in Alabama. The bulk of his career was spent with the Auburn Tigers, first as a strength and conditioning coach in 1998 under Tommy Tuberville, then as an assistant coach under Gene Chizik, then finally as the director of football relations with Gus Malzahn.
Lolley might be one of the most in-shape 65-year-old on the planet so his age is not a factor and he is also well versed with what the current staff is doing. He can also fill both the head coach and DC duties without any shake-up
The one problem is that he was just named the Edmonton Eskimos defensive coordinator at the beginning of the month and getting permission to talk may be difficult.
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Now for a name from left field…Jerry Glanville. The long-time coach said he would be interested in taking over the spot left by Jones. He was the Hamilton Ticats defensive coordinator last season, so he is now a little more familiar with the CFL game. At 77-years-old, his age would be a factor but man would it be entertaining!
STEVE SARKISIAN AND TOM CLEMENTS
When the week began two names that crossed the minds of the Out of the Tunnel staff were Steve Sarkisian and Tom Clements. Both have Roughrider ties and have extensive resumes but Sarkisian is going to return to Alabama as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator and Clements was just named the Arizona Cardinals primary offensive assistant in charge of the passing game.
This is fun to banty names around and if you have a wish list on who you want as the next head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, comment below and have some fun!
It’s never a dull moment in Riderville!!