Saturday, January 19, 2019
NEW RIDER GM O'DAY NIXES DURANT RETURN
Jeremy O'Day wasted no time making his first decision as the Saskatchewan Roughriders' general manager/vice-president of football operations.
One of the Riders' most pressing needs this off-season is a bona fide quarterback but O'Day, who signed a three-deal as GM, quickly dismissed the return of veteran Darian Durant.
Saskatchewan promoted O'Day to the post Friday to replace Chris Jones, who resigned Tuesday as head coach, defensive co-ordinator, GM and vice-president of football operations to become an assistant coach with the NFL's Cleveland Browns.
Durant, 36, spent 11 seasons with Saskatchewan (2006-2016), leading the franchise to its last Grey Cup victory in 2013. Durant signed a one-year deal with Winnipeg in January 2018 that included a $70,000 signing bonus but retired shortly afterward and opted to keep the money.
Durant has kept the door open to a possible return to the CFL, saying he continues to work out and physically feels good.
"Darian was a very successful player and he did a lot of great things for our organization,'' O'Day told reporters in Regina. "But I will tell you we won't have an interest in Darian.''
O'Day is in his 21st season with the Roughriders. The six-foot-three, 300-pound former offensive lineman moved into Saskatchewan's front office as its football operations co-ordinator upon retiring as a player in February 2011.
O'Day began his CFL career in 1997 with the Toronto Argonauts, winning a Grey Cup in his first pro season. In 1999, he signed with Saskatchewan as a free agent and spent 12 seasons with the Riders.
The Buffalo, N.Y., native, who played collegiately at Edinboro University, started 202 regular-season games with Saskatchewan. He also appeared in 16 playoff games and three Grey Cups, winning in 2007.
O'Day, a married father of three children, won his third CFL title in 2013 as a member of Saskatchewan's front office.
Riders president Craig Reynolds said he also looked outside of Saskatchewan for a suitable GM.
"The reality is the best candidate was already working for us and I knew that,'' he said. "Jeremy is more than ready for this opportunity.''
Jones left for Cleveland a week after signing a contract extension with Saskatchewan. But he had an escape clause in the deal allowing him to take an NFL position.
Reynolds said Cleveland called him about Jones last Saturday.
"The Browns crafted that role with Chris Jones in mind so it's quite the opportunity for him,'' Reynolds said. "But I'm comfortable where we're now at.
"And we're not going to hold people back from opportunities.''
Saskatchewan improved steadily under Jones, registering five, 10 and 12 regular-season wins in each of his three seasons. Jones, a 51-year-old native of South Pittsburgh, Tenn., was named the CFL's coach of the year in 2018 after a 12-6 season, but the Riders lost 23-18 to the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West Division semifinal.
O'Day doesn't have the luxury of time to celebrate his promotion. Saskatchewan still must hire a head coach and defensive co-ordinator and CFL free agency begins Feb. 12.
O'Day said there's lots of interest in the Riders' head-coaching position. He has a definite idea of the type of candidate he's looking for.
But Saskatchewan's new head coach won't be able to hire his own staff. With the CFL's newly instituted football operations salary cap, O'Day said the Riders are "80 per cent secure with our coaching staff.''
Another priority for O'Day will be finding a top-flight quarterback with veterans Zach Collaros and Canadian Brandon Bridge both scheduled to hit the open market. Edmonton's Mike Reilly, Calgary's Bo Levi Mitchell and Ottawa's Trevor Harris - like O'Day, a former Edinboro player - top the list of big-name quarterbacks who could become CFL free agents.
O'Day wouldn't preclude either Collaros or Bridge returning in 2019.
"Obviously a big question is that position,'' O'Day said. "I'm not going to comment on any of the quarterbacks that are on other teams currently.
"But I think it's an interesting set of circumstances with how the CBA is lining up this year and the amount of free agents that we have at that position. My job is going to be to try and get the best quarterback we can.''
Success followed Jones over his 17-year CFL coaching career as he was part of four Grey Cup-winning teams. He also earned a reputation of being a players' coach, someone who enjoyed cracking jokes with his troops but could also be brutally honest with them.
Most of all, Jones' players understood he'd always put them in the best position to succeed. O'Day admits he has some big shoes to fill with both his players and coaches.
"A lot of the reason why they (players) loved Chris is he earned their trust,'' O'Day said. "I'm not asking because I'm sitting in the chair for the players to automatically jump on board, I'm asking them just to give me that opportunity to earn their respect and trust.
"You have to understand the coaches were hired by Chris and I'm asking the same of them that I'm asking of the players.''
O'Day said he learned plenty working for Jones.
"What I learned the most from Chris ... by far was how he handled personnel,'' O'Day said. "The type of players he wants, how he evaluates them, what he's looking for in each position, how they fit into the roster.
"You name it, from a personnel standpoint I think he has a huge passion for that and it's something I tried to absorb as much as possible.''
Fortunately for O'Day, he'll be able to lean heavily upon assistant GM Paul Jones, who joined the Riders this month after 21 seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos as well as time with Winnipeg and Toronto.
"There couldn't be a better guy ... to have him as my right-hand man,'' O'Day said. "He's had such success finding players and making sure that we've got the right players to win championships.''