Friday, February 29, 2008

On This Day In Roughrider History

In my never ending quest to impart my vast array of Rider knowledge to you, the reader, I'm introducing a new feature to the blog that will focus on noteworthy events in Roughrider history.

Whether you know it or not today marks an important day in Roughrider history that we only get to mark once every 4 years...

It was on this day back in 1952 that Rider fans mourned the death of Ruffie the mascot goat. Ruffie died during measures to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease.

Tragic indeed. At least we can take solace in the fact that Ruffie's probably head-butting angels and eating discarded tin cans in that big football stadium in the sky.

So, on this Leap Year Day, we remember that brave little goat who went the way of other Rider icons such as The Flame as the victims of public safety concerns. Let's just hope Gainer doesn't meet an untimely fate as someone tries to get a quarter for his tail.

Mascots that have nothing to do with our team name, a proud part of our Roughrider heritage.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Survivor: Rider Quarterback Edition

At the request of my good friend CRF, here are my thoughts on the quarterbacking situation in Saskatchewan.

Let me start off by saying that I do not endorse Survivor nor do I recommend people actually watch the show. It just seemed to be a fitting theme for today's post - after all, both Survivor contestants and Rider QBs are Americans that are sent off to an obscure, far away location to compete for a prize that only one can win. I guess the only real difference is that if you actually win on Survivor, people where you're from will probably know about it. Now then, on to business...

Ever since Eric Tillman traded for Steven Jyles, speculation has been running rampant in Riderville over what will happen with our QBs. With Jyles on the roster we now have 5 QBs under contract which is one too many given the standard CFL roster. So we know 1 of them has to go. What we don't know is which one it will be.

So who will be moved? For starters, I believe we can exclude Jyles and Tate from the list. We just paid a hefty price to bring in Jyles, and Tate was very highly coveted by both Tillman and Austin and they haven't given up on him. So that leaves Joseph, Crandell and Durant. All 3 have strengths and weaknesses...

Kerry Joseph:
Pro - Athletic quarterback known for making things happen with his legs. Con - Uncertainty as to how he will perform without Kent Austin's guidance.

Marcus Crandell:
Pro - The most accurate passer of the three.
Con - Injuries have piled up over the years.

Darian Durant:
Pro - just barely
Con - not as far as we know

All logic would dictate that Crandell would be the one to go. Joseph is the reigning league MVP, the offense is built around his mobility and Crandell is a seasoned veteran who would be highly coveted across the CFL. However, with Tillman making the decisions I wouldn't be so fast to rule out Kerry Joseph. Let's not forget that the re-negotiation of Joseph's contract has not been going well (ask Fred Perry what that does for your job security). Plus, Tillman never hesitates to ship off a veteran he feels has peaked (Joseph was just named league's Most Outstanding Player and won a Grey Cup, he has nowhere to go but down, right?). That said I don't think it's a strong possibility... it's just not out of the question.

It seems likely that Marcus Crandell will be the QB on the move, but where he's headed is up for debate. Given the uncertainty surrounding Anthony Calvillo's football future and Marcus Brady's ability to play quarterback, Montreal could be a potential destination. Former Winnipeg head coach Dave Ritchie used to say that you lose one game for every rookie in the lineup, and Ryan Dinwiddie is living proof of that, so the Bombers could be in the market for a seasoned veteran to carry the team when (not if) Kevin Glenn gets hurt. Plus Brendan Taman handles draft picks like they were live grenades. There is also an outside shot that Toronto might be interested, which would seem to be a good fit; trading Crandell to Toronto would allow both the Argos and the Riders to get almost ten years younger at the backup quarterback position.

Now, the question is "What will Eric Tillman be able to get for Crandell?" Well, let's look at recent history to see the going rate for quarterbacks in the CFL. Two years ago, Calgary GM Jim Barker sent a first round pick to Winnipeg for the rights to Jason Gesser, who lasted one season on the Calgary roster. Barker wasted a first rounder on Jason, and all he had to show for it a year later was second gessers. Last year, Eric Tillman gave Edmonton a third round pick for the rights to Drew Tate, who may or may not have been willing to come to Canada. As it turns out, Tate did venture north, at which point his career went south. Actual roster quarterbacks seem to go for much more, as evidenced by Tillman shipping third stringer Rocky Butler to Hamilton last year for Wayne Smith and DJ Flick. Smith and Flick went on to start for the Riders while Hamilton realized that Rocky would never be able to make use of his greatest strength - that being the Ti-Cats defense - and subsequently released him. The most recent quarterback move once again featured Eric Tillman, this time shipping CFL all-star Fred Perry to Edmonton for the depth chart diving Steven Jyles.

Clearly quarterbacks are at a premium in the CFL. Gone are the days when rosters were loaded with legends such as Damon Allen, Doug Flutie, Matt Dunigan and Tracy Ham while future stars such as Khari Jones, Jeff Garcia, Anthony Calvillo and Dave Dickenson were relegated to backup and third string roles. The reality in today's CFL is that marginal players such as Buck Pierce and Michael Bishop are viewed as legitimate starters while the roster of backups features revered names such as Ryan Dinwiddie, Stefan Lefors and well, Damon Allen.

Dave Dickenson was recently released from his contract with BC, and was subsequently sought after by multiple teams in search of a legitimate backup. Let's face it, if even Dickenson can ignite a bidding war when there are questions as to whether he will make it through the ensuing press conference without suffering a head injury, there has to be a pretty decent market out there for Marcus Crandell.

There is another possibility all together. The arrival of Steve Morley points to an all Canadian line this year which opens up an import spot elsewhere on the roster. There has been talk that we are considering an import safety. Hmm... we are considering an import safety at the same time we are contemplating Joseph's future... coincidence? Maybe not. I mean, how many CFL teams can boast an NFL caliber safety? I mean, I know it was only the Seahawks, but still...

For now all we can do speculate on what Tillman's next move will be. It's kinda like waiting to here the winners at the Oscars... except in this case people actually care about the result.

Monday, February 25, 2008

NFL in Toronto

This one again goes out to long-time Rider Prophet fan Steve who wanted to know my thoughts on the NFL coming to Canada.

It was recently confirmed that the Buffalo Bills will play 8 games in Toronto over the next 5 years. Whether we like it or not, the NFL is coming to the Great White North. The question is, what effect will this have on the CFL? Allow me to explain.

When the CFL launched its American expansion in the 90's, our league did the honourable thing by avoiding established NFL markets (obviously a foray into Green Bay would have spelled the ultimate demise of the Packers, and the last thing Larry Smith needed at the time was thousands of angry cheeseheads coming after him). By contrast, the NFL is launching its Canadian invasion in Toronto, a market that is widely thought to be the key to the CFL's media exposure and advertising dollars. That's right, rather than picking one of the many viable Canadian markets that is not currently occupied by a professional football franchise (such as Gimli or Grande Prairie), the NFL has decided to tackle the CFL head on. Which, as we all know, is a 15 yard penalty under Canadian rules.

Will these 8 NFL games be devastating to the league? No. While it's hardly a "positive thing" for the CFL as the NFL commissioner would have us believe, it's not going to hurt us short-term. The games are even supposed to be held in December so as not to conflict with the CFL season.

Hamilton has already voiced their disagreement with the situation and another group is joining them in expressing their displeasure... Buffalo Bills fans. Who can blame them for being pissed? Their season ticket packages will not include tickets to Toronto games so they get 7 home games for the price of 8; they are not given first crack at tickets, and ticket prices (of which Buffalo enjoys the lowest in the league) have been grossly inflated. Can you imagine the outrage if they moved a Rider home game to Saskatoon, didn't include it in the season ticket package and jacked the price up? Anarchy would ensue!

Well, not really... knowing the hardcore nature of the Rider Nation, fans would head to Saskatoon and patiently wait in the parking lot all night for tickets to go on sale. Once they slowly came to the realization that the game was sold out due to the large demand from those who chose to remain warm in their homes while purchasing tickets online, then anarchy would ensue.

But I digress...

I am actually surprised Hamilton decided not to cross-promote the Buffalo games by offering an incentive to their season ticket holders. I mean the prospect of offering something of value with their season tickets should have been very appealing since, let's face it, having to watch Hamilton play 9 times is more a punishment than a benefit. I can picture the marketing campaign now - "Buy Bills tickets and get 9 Hamilton games for free".

Speculation on which other NFL team will make the trip to Toronto has already begun. While no decisions have been made, I will tell you this... A major consideration in which team it will be is the ability to have the players clear customs. So that pretty much rules out any chance of the Bengals coming north. I actually hope the first game features Dallas, then we would get to see the headline "TO to TO".

While an 8 game schedule over 5 years is not immediate cause for alarm, the bigger concern for the CFL is that this trial run could be a stepping stone to an NFL team moving to Toronto permanently. What if after 5 years the Bills end up setting up shop up north?

Personally, I have no idea why they would want another sub-500 team in Toronto, maybe they need something to fill the gap in the Blue Jays off-season or take the pressure off the Maple Leafs' never ending failures but nonetheless the interest appears to be there.

Roger Goodell is trying to present the NFL's interest in Canada as beneficial to both leagues. I tend to see the NFL in Toronto benefiting the CFL in the same way that a cow "benefits" from the opening of a new McDonalds restaurant. Let's face it, if given the opportunity, the NFL will chew up the CFL and spit it out faster than a bulimic at a 4th of July hot dog eating competition.

If you have topics that you would like the Rider Prophet to comment on just send me an email. Quite frankly given how little CFL news there is right now, if you ask me to comment on your grocery list, I'll probably devote an entire post to it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Au Revoir Reggie Hunt

After six seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, all-star linebacker Reggie Hunt is moving on to Montreal after signing as a free agent. Hunt had become a fan favourite here in Saskatchewan, but his pending departure seemed inevitable after a 2007 season that was fairly mediocre by Hunt's standards. As a result Eric Tillman offered Hunt a reduced salary to return next year whereas Hunt was looking for an increase. There was some speculation that there was more to Hunt leaving than just money. Well that speculation is plain wrong, and if you want proof of that look no further than the fact that Reggie "Le Reaper" Hunt (as I will now call him) stated that he will continue to live in Regina in the offseason.

While I'm glad Reggie will continue to be a resident of our fair city, I hope he realizes that things will change drastically now that he is not a Roughrider. His neighbours may not be so quick to offer to clear his driveway in the winter, people who pass him on the street may not be as quick to offer a kind word and so on. And does Reggie honestly think that his offseason job in Human Resources at Sasktel won't be affected? I mean when he was a Rider I'm sure requests for time off were granted without a thought and occasional slips in productivity could be forgiven because, come on, this is The Reaper were talking about. But now days off may be few and far between and any minute slips in output will surely be documented on his personnel file. Just imagine Reggie's surprise when his boss call's him into his office for a meeting.

"Look Reggie, you've been a valued member of SaskTel for awhile now. But lately your production has been slipping. As you know it's a tight budget year in Human Resources, and given your years of service you are high on the pay scale. We've decided we need to let you go and bring in someone younger, faster and cheaper. Reggie... we're replacing you with Anton McKenzie."

In other Rider news, Eric Tillman was once again busy wheeling and dealing as another trade was announced. This trade, however, is not likely to incite the hateful reaction the last trade did. The Riders sent Nathan Hoffart to the Argos in exchange for Canadian offensive lineman Steve Morley. Is this a good trade you ask? Well let me break it down for you... Both players are former 1st round Canadian draft choices (Hoffart 7th overall in '05 and Morley 1st Overall in '03). The difference is that since the draft Hoffart has been injury prone and has only 1 reception and very few games to his name. Morley, on the other hand, was busy trying out and playing in the NFL in addition to some CFL experience. Toss in the fact that we have an abundance of Canadian receivers and you quickly realize that this was a good trade. While I mean no disrespect to Hoffart and wish him all the best, I'm just saying that I would gladly take a player who caught the eye of the NFL over a player who's biggest accomplishment so far is spending more time than anyone with Ivan Gutfriend.

Now let's get you caught up around the league with CFL Ins and Outs

In: Tony Tompkins (free agent)
Out: Timothy Strickland (released), Steve Charboneau (retired)
When Jim Popp is scouting players, he looks for people that will be a good fit with the team dynamics. To Popp signing Tompkins was a no brainer... he's an underperformer who is used to playing for a coach who has no idea what he's doing. He'll fit in perfectly in Montreal.

Out: Pat Woodcock (released)
I'll admit that when I first read the headline "Eskimos cut Woodcock" I assumed that the article would be about northern indigenous people making artistic carvings. It turned out the article was actually about a washed up team releasing an even more washed up player. My mistake.

In: Zeke Moreno and Richie Williams (sign extensions)
Now I was really surprised by this announcement. Not because it's a bad move. Moreno was a defensive force last year and Williams showed glimmers of greatness. No, I was surprised because thus far the Ti-Cats business plan has apparently been to trade away any remotely talented player who didn't decide to leave on their own. This seems to fly in the face of that policy.

Out: Marc Boerigter (released)
I think Adam Rita might have finally clued in to the fact that signing old veterans that have been cut by other teams (i.e. Darrell Mitchell, Troy Davis, Robert Edwards, and Boerigter) is not a good way to build a championship caliber team. To be fair though Dominique Dorsey was cut by the Bombers and he turned into a Special Teams Player of the Year nominee. I guess that just proves that if you throw enough shit at a wall something is bound to stick.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Finally some good news in Riderville

After enduring what seemed like an endless barrage of bad news, Rider fans were finally treated to some good news. It was announced that potential free agents Matt Dominguez, Eddie Davis, Chris Szarka and Corey Grant have all re-signed with the Riders. The news regarding Davis and Dominguez was particularly welcome as both were expected to test the free agent market. As for Szarka, his return was never really in doubt, which led many to wonder why it took so long for him to re-sign... Turns out it takes longer to sign your name with only three fingers.

We also found out that Kerry Joseph was not offered a contract by the New Orleans Saints and last year's Most Outstanding Player will be back in green and white in '08. Now this is not so much a sigh of relief as it is a confirmation of what I already knew. I said from the start that there was never any danger of Joseph going to the NFL. Joseph making the NFL was about as likely as Britney Spears being named Mother of the Year.

So rest easy Rider fans, the sky is not falling. Most of our championship team will be back next year.

Now let's bring you up to speed on the rest of the CFL

In: Dan Goodspeed (re-signed), Tom Canada (re-signed), Matt Sheridan (re-signed), Sebastian Clovis (trade with BC)
I don't know how Winnipeg managed to re-sign their big 3 free agents (Goodspeed, Canada and Sheridan) when they were rumoured to be in cap trouble before the signings, but there's probably a simple explanation: The Bombers must have hired a Winnipeg resident to do their accounting. It's a well known fact that Winnipegers have trouble with math once they run out of fingers to count. So the accountant is telling them there's plenty of money to spend when in reality there's nothing at all.

In: Tyler Ebell, TJ Acree (trade with Edm)
Adam Rita must have realized that he was running dangerously low on running backs with only 4 left on the roster and moved quickly to address the issue.

In: Tony Miles (free agent), Michael Botterill, Chris Thompson (trade with Edm)
So allow me to summarize: back in '05 Hamilton traded an all-star O-linemen (Dan Comiskey) and a league leading running back (Troy Davis) to Edmonton. A few years later what do they have to show for it? A fullback (Jeff Piercy) and 2 back-up players from the worst team in the West. I haven't seen this degree of roster mis-management since the Florida Panthers traded Roberto Luongo for what amounted to 2 prospect players.

In: Tay Cody (free agent), Jeff Keeping (free agent), Jojuan Armour (...well actually he changed his mind)
See if you can keep up with this: Tay Cody, while under contract to the Hamilton Ti-Cats, signed a contract with the AAFL. Then after being released by Hamilton, he signs with Montreal. Confused? Me too. My working theory is that he just loves writing his name. Then we have Jojuan Armour, who had agreed verbally to a deal with the Alouette's only to change his mind and sign with the Stamps (reportedly for less than what the Als were offering). Armour knew that after the disaster that was the 2007 season, he just had to get away from Hamilton... and apparently Montreal just wasn't far enough.

In: Joe Smith (re-signed), Rob Pikula (trade with Winnipeg)
It appeared as though Smith was poised to jump to the NFL after a few workouts down south. The workouts went well and Smith was offered an NFL contract. Sources say he was about to sign, right up until he read the fine print and realized that he would have to play for the Houston Texans. Can't say I blame him for choosing to come back to BC.

In: Brock Ralph (trade with Hamilton), Jordan Younger (trade with Toronto),
Garrick Jones (free agent), Dario Romero (free agent)
Sources say that one of the factors involved in the Brock Ralph trade is that Ralph's son needed specialized medical treatment that is only offered in Alberta. So the Eskimos get a sweet deal on Ralph because his kid is sick, fresh off getting a sweet deal on Fred Perry because he owed a bunch of money. What's next, Cam Wake needs to be moved inland because he's developed an allergy to the ocean? Seriously if they receive any more charitable donations they will be forced to register as a non-profit organization.

In: Richard Karikari (free agent), Jojuan Armour (free agent)
Calgary is apparently employing the lesser known strategy of improving your defense by signing players from the only other defense as futile as your own. Of course this is a big improvement over their last plan which was to improve the defense by pumping more money into the offense.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentines Day Picture

Well today is that Hallmark-created, over-commercialized holiday we refer to as St. Valentine's Day. What a magical day this is. I mean if expressing your love for someone once a year on a pre-designated day by buying them the same box of chocolates every other guy in town bought their significant other and attaching a card containing a message of love written by someone you've never met isn't romantic I don't know what is...

By the way if you are reading this and going "Oh my God that's today?!" I suggest that once you finish reading this you immediately run out and make a vain attempt at doing something romantic for your significant other. If you are reading this and saying "Oh my God that's yesterday?!", it's probably too late... though this likely explains the mysterious foul mood your partner has been in.

Now, many of you may recall the troubles I had with being mistaken for Santa. What you may not know is that the Rider Prophet, on occasion, has been mistaken for that little imp of love, Cupid. Allow me to clarify this misconception.

- Cupid is the symbol of St Valentine's Day, Prophet is the symbol of Rider Pride
- Cupid carries around a bow and arrow, Prophet carries around a microphone and camera
- Cupid shoots arrows that make people fall in love, Prophet fires off jokes that make people fall on the floor laughing.
- Cupid has little wings and flies around. Prophet recently realized that no matter how much he drinks, he will never achieve this.
- Cupid is the god of love. Prophet is a god at love.
- Cupid is frequently pictured wearing a diaper or nothing at all... Prophet cannot recall being pictured wearing a diaper.

Monday, February 11, 2008

You traded Fred Perry for what?!

When Jim Hopson hired Eric Tillman as the new GM of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the response from the Rider Nation was decidedly mixed. Many supported the hire, but there were easily just as many that disregarded Tillman's past Grey Cup success and chose instead to focus on the struggles that accompanied his time in Ottawa.

During the following offseason, Tillman went to work putting his stamp on this team. He hired a rookie head coach who was most recently seen blowing up at his players on the Toronto sidelines before being unceremoniously fired. In terms of personnel, gone were popular veterans such as Andrew Greene, Nate Davis, Jackie Mitchell, Omarr Morgan and Davin Bush. A relative unknown in Henri Childs was acquired at a rather steep cost of a first round draft pick. Eric still had his share of supporters at this point, but even the most staunch of these must have been having some concerns.

Then, lo and behold, the rookie coach turned out to be a prodigy, the released veterans turned out to be overvalued by their loyal fans, and Henri Childs turned out to... well, he sucked. But as they say, two out of three ain't bad, and in this case it was good enough to deliver us to the promised land - a Grey Cup victory. The Rider Nation was virtually unanimous in the opinion that perhaps it was time to trust Eric. The Cup win came about two weeks too late for Tillman to claim his spot as Premier of Saskatchewan, but the leeway the fans were prepared to give him as they snacked on some tasty blackbird rivaled diplomatic immunity nonetheless.

It's not even three months since James Johnson became Ryan Dinwiddie's go-to receiver, but it has already been a turbulent off-season for our demigod of a GM.

Ole Miss came calling and lured Kent Austin back home. But that's okay, Eric did everything he could to keep him, and after all... Tillman was the one that had the eye to know Kent would be a great coach in the first place, so surely he could replace him.

One of the team's most popular players, Corey Holmes, was released to save some much needed salary cap space. Again, everyone was fine with this - after all, Corey was getting older, had quite clearly lost a step, and was coming with a price tag that far exceeded what he could contribute on the field.

Matt Dominguez, Reggie Hunt and Eddie Davis, three of the team's great leaders over recent seasons, are on the verge of going to free agency due to disagreements between the players and Tillman over their value to the team. Some eyebrows begin to raise, but remember the motto: In Eric we trust.

Fred Perry is traded to the hated Edmonton Eskimos for Stephen Jyles… Haters across the Rider Nation long for the days of the Henri Childs trade.

Diplomatic immunity is a wonderful thing, but apparently it only has a best before date of 2 1/2 months after being granted. Because Eric's immunity disappeared like a line of coke in front of Lindsay Lohan. Needless to say, there were some choice words uttered about the trade that were too politically incorrect even for this forum.

I have come up with 2 theories to explain this trade. The first is that Eric Tillman has gone completely mad with power. He's already got the hair to pass for a crazy guy, and he may have taken things one step farther by moving an all-star for a backup. The second theory is that Tillman is a master strategist and this move is just one small part of a plan so complex and intricate that none of us could ever hope to comprehend it even if he drew us a picture.

I have decided to believe in theory #2. Not only does it make it easier to cope with this move, it also seems to make some sense. No disrespect to Perry - I love watching him play - but it says something about his value around the league when this is the best offer we can get. Trust me, Tillman shopped Perry around and took the best offer he got. Free agency is but days away and I think it will be a very busy week for the Riders, so let's just wait and see this master plan unfold.

Now here's the latest Ins and Outs from around the CFL. With free agency still days away, the transactions page looks a lot like a Marcel Bellefeuille playbook - way more outs than ins.

In: Hayden Epstein (signed by Edmonton) - Now I laughed when I saw this story but if the name Epstein doesn't ring a bell for you, here's a quick history lesson. Epstein was a kicker brought in by the Eskimos in '05 because Fleming was brutal. His biggest claim to fame will always be having a game winning field goal attempt against the Riders blocked by Omarr Morgan. So apparently Maciocia's plan is to replace a kicker with a long history of sucking with a kicker with a shorter history of sucking. Well, they always say continuity is key.

Out: John Williams (traded by Toronto to Hamilton) - Williams becomes the 4th running back to be dumped by the Argos. Which made me wonder how many RB's they could possibly have left... the answer is 4!? (well actually it's more like 3.5 since Dominique Dorsey is one of them). All those running backs and still the 2nd worst ground game in the league. I can practically hear Adam Rita's disappointment... "We auditioned 8 running backs, and that was the best one.”

Out: Chris Brazzell (cut by Winnipeg) - This guy's stock is dropping like it was a Nortel share. In just over a year, he went from being Winnipeg's #2 go to guy behind Stegall to fighting for 5th spot on the Bombers depth chart. Hard to believe this guy was once a 1000 yd receiver and even started briefly for the Dallas Cowboys. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Out: Tay Cody (released by Hamilton, along with 5 others) - I guess the Ti-cats decided it wasn't worth the trouble to keep Cody from jumping to the AAFL where he signed a contract last month. Obviously Cody isn't a long-range thinker. Putting your career in the hands of a league whose recruitment strategy centers around signing players not good enough for the worst team in the CFL isn't what most would consider a smart move.

Out: Chijioke Onyenegecha (cut by Winnipeg) - After ending '07 on a positive note with a Grey Cup appearance and, more importantly, a Rider Prophet award for Best Player Name, this is not the start to the new year Chijioke was looking for. Here's hoping someone picks him up because I just love hearing "I Gonna Getcha" when I watch football.

Out: Trevor Gaylor and Tony Tompkins (cut by Edmonton) - Edmonton released two players this week that over the past few years have been very hot and cold... and that might be a generous way of putting it. I can hear you asking "But Rider Prophet, what's funny about this roster move?" Well if we're talking about this move specifically, then the answer is nothing. But something about the joke that the Edmonton Eskimos have become is more than enough to make me laugh! (Maybe in light of the Perry trade this comment is unfair... nevermind, Maciocia is their coach, it's definetly fair).

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ken Miller Come On Down

After an exhaustive search, featuring as many as 12 candidates, Eric Tillman announced Wednesday who he chose to succeed Kent Austin as the Riders' head coach. It's none other than our Offensive Coordinator Ken Miller.

I realized that despite the fact that Miller has been with the team for a year now I still knew very little about him. So I decided to do a little research, and I must admit I was quite surprised by what I found. Apparently, Ken Miller is a biology professor who is famous for his opposition of creationism and even wrote a book on how belief in God and evolution are not mutually exclusive. Wow! All this and a football coach, pretty amazing! At least until you consider that both Ken and Miller are common names and that this is probably a different Ken Miller than I was looking for... or is it? Everyone always marveled at the intelligence of Kent Austin, but I have to think that even he couldn't compete intellectually with our new fearless leader, football coach by day/accomplished biologist by night, Ken Miller!

Seriously though, here's what I do know about Dr. Miller. He is 66 years old, was once a high school biology teacher and has his Masters degree in education. In terms of football, he coached high school and university football in the states from the mid 60s to the 90s. (I wonder what it was like to coach football in black and white). In 2002, he arrived in the CFL where he served as an assistant coach for the Argos for 5 years. Last year, he joined the Riders as our offensive coordinator. He has been a part of 2 Grey Cup winning teams; '04 with the Argos and '07 with the Riders. He enjoys long walks on the beach, the musical stylings of Tito Puente and "Choose Your Own Adventure" books (okay these last 3 may not be true, but I figured this story was pretty dry so I took some creative liberties).

Normally, an offensive coordinator in Saskatchewan managing to avoid the media for an entire season would be the equivalent of the Toronto Maple Leafs playing hockey in May - it's theoretically possible, but no one actually expects it. But Ken Miller managed to achieve a level of anonymity during the 2007 season not seen from a Roughrider since the days when Colin Scrivener was responsible for generating a push up the middle. This makes me cautiously optimistic about Miller as head coach. Personally, I think he was not given enough credit for his work with the offense last year, plus he's worked alongside Kent Austin for the past 4 seasons and I'm a strong believer in osmosis. Besides, if you're looking for guys to show you how to run a team, you could do a lot worse than Kent Austin (see Popp, Jim and Maciocia, Danny).

Once news of Miller's promotion broke, coaches from around the league were quick to phone with their congratulations. In a Rider Prophet exclusive, my sources were able to obtain a transcript of the messages those coaches left on Dr. Miller's machine:

"Ken, this is Danny Maciocia. I think we can all agree that I know a thing or two about coaching, so I'd like to give you some hints. The key to being a successful coach is a good poker face. Never let your facial expressions convey to the other team what you're really thinking. No matter what happens - good or bad - you must take it all in stride. That's right, in stride... just like Milt Stegall was in full stride that time that Kevin Glenn... sorry, I'm just getting a little choked up here... that time Kevin Glenn hit him from their own 10 yard line on the *sob* last play... (unintelligible weeping)"

"Hi Ken? Wally Buono here. Congratulations on the new job, I just have a few words of advice as you begin your CFL coaching career. First, the glasses don't play well on TV, get rid of them. Just squint, it makes people think you're really concentrating. Second, remember these words of advice: "If there's no film of the hit, you must acquit!" If you happen to find out later that video evidence actually does exist that contradicts your position... just pretend it doesn't exist and deny, deny, deny! Finally, never punt on first down, no matter how good of an idea it seems to be at the time. By the way, I'm worried about your cholesterol bud, keep an eye on that."

"Ken Miller, this is Danny Barrett calling. Now, as for as being a head coach is concerned, you need to make sure that every player wants to be a part of what we're trying to do here, and that's the key. You know, someone asked me this morning if I thought you were the right guy for the job in Saskatchewan, and I told him Eric Tillman was exactly right. He made the decision that had to be made for himself and for all of the great great fans in Saskatchewan."

"Marc Trestman here, congratulations Ken. Hey since we are both entering our first season as a head coach in the CFL, I was thinking we should get together for coffee. I think there's a lot we could learn from each other. I could tell you about all the pressures you face in the first few weeks on the job and you could teach me how 3 down football is played. What do you say?"

Monday, February 4, 2008

CFL News – When the saints go marching… out

After one of the most memorable seasons ever, the Riders are currently experiencing one of the most gut-wrenching off-seasons in recent memory. Fresh off the sting of loosing Kent Austin to the NCAA, Rider fans faced another rough week.

Joseph has visions of Sainthood
Much to the surprise of Rider Nation, it was reported that last year’s most outstanding player Kerry Joseph was frustrated with contract talks with the Riders and is scheduled to work out for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. I can hear you screaming “Oh no! First the Coach of the Year, Now the league MVP! We’re screwed!!”… Calm down or I’ll be forced to slap you. Let’s look at this a little further. Joseph is 34 and has no NFL QB experience. The Saints already have Drew Brees, a Pro Bowl QB still in his 20s. Given that Joseph has played in the NFL before, the minimum salary the Saints would have to pay is pretty high for an unproven guy on the wrong side of 30. Joseph is currently trying to negotiate a pay raise with the Riders (one he is more than deserving of by the way). So a) this is probably just a way for Kerry to improve his bargaining position and b) the Saints aren’t likely to sign him. So I for one will not worry about Joseph going to the Saints… unless of course they try him out at safety.

Living Saint Released
In Saskatchewan, Corey Holmes was as close to sainthood has you can get. So it was a sad day when Tillman announced that “Mr. Everything” had been cut. While there’s no denying that this was a smart move for the Riders it sits about as well in my stomach as a cheeseburger in Corey’s belly on game day. I was really hoping I’d get to see Holmes do the Carlton instead of his patented TD dance just once. Oh well. Best of luck Corey!

St. Germain Retires
Okay, I’ll level with you; I don’t really consider this big Rider news. It just fit well with my saint theme. No disrespect to Val and his great CFL career but he was a Rider for half a season and his departure leaves us short an old back-up lineman… hardly a crushing blow. Though I’m sure the $100 in cap room this opens up would no doubt sway Joseph to re-sign here if added to our last contract offer.

Now to bring you up to speed on other news here’s a list of the Ins and Outs in the CFL

In: Dave Dickenson (signed by Calgary) – The Stamps decided that the best way to protect Henry Burris’ fragile ego was to sign a QB who (when healthy) is way better than Hank… Awesome! Even though Dickenson’s best days are behind him and he’ll be a back-up in Calgary, the mere fact that when Henry looks over his shoulder there will be something resembling a threat will be enough to make him choke like Tony Romo when dumb blonds that he’s sleeping with watch him play.
Out: Davin Bush (cut by Winnipeg along with 3 others) – I actually like Davin but last season he did not turn in a performance befitting his abilities or grossly inflated salary. He was once again held back by injuries, which he has been very prone to over the years. If he could ever get groin replacement surgery I think he'd be set. He pulls that thing more than ... well you know.
In: Milt Stegall (playing one more season in Winnipeg) – Sources say Stegall was leaning towards retirement but the news of Davin Bush being cut made him reconsider. The thought of once again being able to burn Bush repeatedly to pad his TD total was too much to resist.
Out: AJ Gass (retiring) – He may be retiring but you will still be seeing him on the Eskimo sidelines next season. Gass is making the jump from playing to coaching. I think this is a great move by the Eskimos. With a decade of experience under his belt, there is much that young players can learn from Gass such has how to effectively kick someone while they are down and how to remove an opponent’s helmet and hurl it downfield while avoiding suspension.
In: Jarious Jackson (resigned by BC) – Jarious might think his career got a boost now that he’ll be competing for the starting spot. Problem is, being one of the top QBs in B.C. only means that you’re guaranteed to get hurt and an unknown 3rd stringer will step up in your absence and steal your spot.
Out: Old Running Backs In Toronto (released) – Having already cut Troy Davis, the Argos completed their purge of old running backs Friday by releasing John Avery and Robert Edwards. Someone must have finally looked at the ‘07 stats and realized the Argos had the 2nd worst run game in the league. Besides if stockpiling former big-name stars that are now washed up was an effective way of building a successful franchise, the NY Rangers would have built an unstoppable NHL dynasty a long time ago.