Thursday, December 18, 2008

Richie Hall Named Eskimos’ New Head Coach

Be honest… did you really think we would get through an entire offseason without any bad news? I know the Jason Clermont signing may have lulled you into a false sense of security but come on, we all know by now that the offseason in Riderville is full of intoxicating highs and apocalyptic lows.

Richie Hall has at long last realized his dream of becoming a head coach. You’d think being passed up 7 times in 4 years would discourage a guy, but not Richie. Like many, this is a day of mixed emotion for me. Obviously as a Rider fan, this is not great news. We are losing one of the top defensive coordinators in the league - to a division rival no less. And you can’t help but be somewhat hurt at Richie choosing Danny Maciocia over the Riders. In football, as in life, it hurts when you are dumped in favour of a portly midget with the IQ of a can of lima beans. But you can’t help but be happy for Richie. He’s been among the top coordinators in the league for many years and on top of that is one of the classiest guys in the league. If anybody deserves a head coaching spot it was him. Richie is engrained in Rider history like few others. So congratulations Richie, you will be missed.

Of course now that you are a member of a rival organization I hope all the bad things in life happen to you and no one else but you.

Hall inherits an Eskimo team that has fallen from greatness and has wallowed in the West basement for 3 years. I think he will have a very positive impact on the franchise. They will be able to draw on his defensive wisdom to improve their questionable defense. And hell, as long as Richie is smart enough to run the ball more than 3 times in a game he’ll be a monumental improvement over his predecessor.

Hall’s departure of course leaves many questions surrounding the Rider defense. Will our defense, which has carried this team for years, experience a drop-off without the mastermind that built it? Who will be chosen as Hall’s replacement? Will Richie be able to convince our defensive free-agents to follow him to Edmonton? Is there any chance Hall will push Maciocia to trade for former Grey Cup MVP James Johnson? My fingers are crossed on that last one (and for those of you keeping track at home, yes James Johnson is back on the hatred list).

Speculation is running rampant that many of our players will follow Hall to Edmonton. Names like Lloyd, Lucas, and McKenzie have been tossed around. Also it appears the Esks are very interested in Scott Gordon… Gordon? Seriously? Have at er’ Richie. He must feel strongly that the Esks need more safety blitzes and clearly Gordon is among the best in the league… well perhaps “most experienced” is more appropriate than “best”. I could see 1 or 2 guys following Richie, but the mass exodus some are predicting is just absurd. The same predictions were made when Shivers and Barrett left and never really materialized.

You know, the one good thing about all this is that if Omarr Morgan somehow manages to make the team again next year, at least Edmonton won't try to test him. Richie will make sure it's clear that they must stay away from there. "Listen Ricky, I don't know what you thought you saw for the last 4 years, but I'm telling you that running a crossing pattern against Morgan just isn't going to work! He's too good!"

By the sounds of it Tillman planned ahead and already has replacements for Hall and Mike Gibson in mind but any announcement will have to wait until Ken Miller gets back from vacation.

CFL Ins and Outs

In: Andrew Harris (free agent signing)
Out: Tyrone Williams (officially released)
Andrew Harris is being likened to Stu Foord… a standout RB in junior who the Lions are snatching up rather than risking him going into the draft. Interestingly enough, one of Harris’ former teammates on the National Champion Vancouver Island Raiders recently joined my touch football team. Considering the available alternatives of hanging out with the Rider Prophet and hanging out with Wally Buono, I have a feeling Mr. Harris will soon come to realize that he made the wrong choice.

In: Davis Sanchez, Ben Cahoon and Scott Flory (re-signed)
Long-term planning is evidently not Jim Popp’s strong point. Currently his “long range plan” is to build a team around a core of aging veterans the majority of whom he just signed to 1 year extensions. Sure, the Als will be a decent team next year… but what happens in 2010 when old age security kicks in and every good player on the team retires?

In: Khari Jones (hired as QB Coach)
With Jones joining the Ti-cats, Casey Printers is now the 5th best QB on Hamilton’s roster.

In: Claude Harriot (signed contract extension)
The Argos describe Harriot as their best defensive player down the stretch last season. As recently as 2 years ago, that would have qualified as a huge compliment. This year, however, all that means is Harriot managed a slightly less embarrassing performance than his teammates.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday Morning Sentimonies: You’re Welcome

Ever since Jason Clermont was released on Dec 4, teams across the league (except Hamilton) were clamouring to sign what is easily the biggest name on this year’s free-agent market. With offers from 2 teams and phone calls from 3 others, Clermont had many good options in front of him (well he had a couple good options and then Toronto and Winnipeg).

So while Rider Nation held their breath to see if the long awaited homecoming would indeed materialize, one man decided to actually do something about it… that man was me. While Clermont was mulling over the latest offer from the Riders, I stepped up to the plate and made an offer no true Regina boy could refuse… a free case of beer. I made the offer Thursday afternoon and the deal was official by the end of the day… the beer no doubt being the thing that cinched Clermont’s decision (signing a 2 year plus an option contract).

No need to thank me. Just doing my part to help out. Well actually you should be thanking me and this being the Christmas season and all, I would graciously accept tokens of your appreciation. Such as a case of beer.

Now all the intangibles that come along with Clermont like being a Regina native, a former Ram and an all-round good guy are nice, but the most important part of this signing is that in Clermont we get an elite level player who will have a big impact on our offense next season. When you look at the prospect of Fantuz and Clermont lining up together, it’s hard to believe that just a few short years ago, we were forced to rely on Jason French, Dylan Ching and Patrick Thibeault as our Canadian receivers (man those were some rough years).

Some people didn’t feel this signing was necessary or even a good idea so let’s address those misguided fools (who are hopefully in the minority) with another edition of Everyone Is Stupid But Me (aka Addressing Uninformed Opinions)

Uninformed Opinion #1: We have no need for Clermont given our current depth at Canadian receiver.

False: While we do have a number of very promising prospects, I would contend that none of them are as good as a former Rookie of the Year, 2 time Most Outstanding Canadian, and 2 time league all-star. I’m not sure what led people to think we have better options than Clermont on our roster. Was it Chris Getzlaf’s many awards and 1000 yard seasons? Adam Nicolson’s track record of not getting cut in favour of Clermont? David McCoy’s wealth of game time experience? … oh wait.

Uninformed Opinion #2: Clermont’s best days are behind him.

False. Clermont is only 30 so he’s got a few good years left in him. And if you use the logic that his injury-filled ’08 season is a sign of a declining career then I can assume that you feel Wes Cates, John Chick and Andy Fantuz are also pretty much done.

Uninformed Opinion #3: We needlessly spent big money on Clermont when we should have been using that money to sign our linebackers.

First off, while Clermont received a decent contract it can hardly be considered “big money”. Second, the Clermont signing has no affect on our negotiations with our linebackers. The money for this signing will likely come from letting DJ Flick leave via free-agency. I will miss Flick as he is a character guy and a talented receiver but when you have the chance to sign an elite Canadian who plays the same spot, the decision is easier than making the playoffs in the NFC West.

In other news, that Omarr Morgan rumour I told you about last week, turned out to be false. Seems the Washington Huskies have filled their DB coach spot. You see this is how the offseason goes for me. Thursday I posted an update on Clermont and the Morgan rumour. By that night, the Morgan rumour had been debunked and Clermont had signed (rendering most of my post irrelevant and outdated - hard to believe, I know). Same thing happened last year when I guaranteed we would not draft Teale Orban… within hours he was a Rider. No matter what I post, something will come up right after I post it that screws everything up. Honestly if you want to guarantee we get a brand new stadium in Regina, all it would take is for me to post that there’s no chance in hell it will happen and within hours Brad Wall and Pat Fiacco would be at the ground breaking ceremony.

CFL Ins and Outs


In: Paul McCallum (re-signed)

Looks like this time Chinigan is packing up the whole family and moving them to Vancouver, possibly out of his overwhelming shame of being associated with Regina. It could also be that he can no longer afford to maintain two households during the season, largely due to the fact that he had to take a pay cut on this contract since the Lions removed "Jason Clermont's Spokesman" from his title.


In: WR Chris Dunlap, FB Mike Giffin, WR S.J. Green, CB Cortney Grixby, LB KaMichael Hall, DE Rodney Hardeway, WR Andrew Hawkins, RB Chris Jennings, T Ryan Karhut, QB Chris Leak, QB Ricky Santos, DB Chris Smith, RB Brandon Whitaker (signed contracts for 2009)

If you’re asking yourself “what’s notable about these signings?”, the answer is nothing (unless you believe that Ricky Santos is the heir to the Calvillo throne). It's just that other than the Clermont story, there’s been very little CFL news this week and by including this fairly long list of signings it makes it look like this post has more content that it actually does… welcome to the offseason.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jason Clermont Update… and other random musings

Well the race to sign Clermont is heating up. Calgary and Saskatchewan have submitted formal offers and Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto have been in contact (seriously, what is wrong with you Hamilton?!?!). The Riders have reportedly offered $115K a season which, barring an extremely lucrative offer from the others, should be enough to get Clermont in green and white.

But before you all start heading out and ordering your #82 Rider jerseys, I feel I should inform you that Clermont has contacted me in regards to my touch football team’s offer of a beer after every game (seriously). While no commitments were made, I felt there was some genuine interest from both sides. So Jason, if you are reading this, I’m willing to up the offer to 2 beer after every game. And failing that, if you sign with the Riders I will hand deliver you a case of beer. And yes, I acknowledge that the beer clause is binding!

As for the rest of you, don’t let it be said that the Rider Prophet never did anything for the Riders.

In other Riders news, I had an interesting rumour passed my way. Seems there is some speculation (and it is purely speculation at this point) that Omarr Morgan is being considered for a coaching position with the Washington Huskies. Former Rider Steve Sarkisian was recently hired as their head coach and Sarkisian and Morgan were roommates back in their college days at BYU. Sarkisian is in need of a DB coach and Morgan’s name has been tossed around. I guess Sarkisian feels his DB’s need to learn how to play 9 yards off a receiver. This marks the first time where I would actually be happy if another team lured one of our players away. No disrespect to Morgan, he’s done a lot for this franchise, but it seems his best days are behind him. Let me add that if Sarkisian is looking for defensive coaches I think James Johnson would make a great assistant to Morgan. Just saying. I’ll keep you posted as I learn more.

CFL Ins and Outs

Out: Mike Gibson (hired as Hamilton’s new Offensive Coordinator)
This seems like a logical move for Gibson. He goes from coordinating our O-linemen who are a bunch of jokers to coordinating Hamilton’s offense which is a joke. Good luck Mike… you’re going to need it.

In: DL Caesar Rayford, DB Donald Brown, K Sean Whyte and WR Rufus Skillern and Greg Hetherington (signed contracts for the 2009 season), DL Justin Shaw and LB Josh Bean (agreed to terms on new deals).
Out: Tyrone Williams (asked to retire)
At first I was excited at the prospect of Williams becoming a free agent… then I realized he’s 36. Plus he's obviously expendable in BC now that the defensive force that is Justin Shaw has committed to returning to the fold in 2009 (I know, who?)

In: Anwar Stewart (re-signed)
Out: Jeff Keeping, Elijah Thurmon and Mike Vilimek (released)
Okay let me get this straight… last year the Als were so over the cap that they lost a draft pick. So far they have done no major salary dumping and now their answer is to release 3 players who didn’t play a single down last season and spent all season on the 9-game? The sad thing is despite this ridiculous logic, the Als are still the best run team in the East.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Monday Morning Sentimonies: To Clermont Or Not To Clermont

For the past few years, it seemed as if the rules of the new salary cap didn’t apply to the BC Lions. While all the other teams were busy making painful cuts and trades to trim down their payrolls, the Leos were maintaining a roster full of all-stars with relative ease. While many were making allegations of creative accounting and doctoring of the books, I was offering a more likely explanation that turned out to be right (why haven’t you people learned to just accept that I am always right?).

Flashback to 2006, the CFL had just announced the impending implementation of a Salary Management System (SMS). Just prior to the cap taking affect the Lions signed a huge number of front loaded contracts to secure the core of their team without the bulk of those contracts counting towards the cap. It was a wonderful system and allowed BC to field arguably the best team in the CFL while still complying with the new salary system. But like all good things, it had to come to an end.

Here we are heading into 2009 and now all of those front loaded contracts are starting to expire. That means that BC’s payroll will soon reflect the number of all-stars on the roster and swell to well beyond the cap level. In order to continue abiding by the SMS, big changes are needed in Wally-world. Buono is wasting no time in getting those changes underway.

Last week, he released Charles Roberts, Otis Floyd and of course Jason Clermont (who I will get to in a minute). There is also word that Tyrone Williams and Barron Miles could also be on the chopping block. Now when a former all-star linebacker, a big bad defensive tackle, the best safety in the CFL bar none, and one the top Canadian receivers in the league suddenly become available, GM’s around the league are going to take notice (well except Hamilton, who seem to have no use for talented players). It’s clear however that Buono is indeed human and the rules that the rest of the league are following do indeed apply to him (he was just able to delay their effects longer than the other GMs). Let’s not forget that Buono is doing all this payroll cutting despite the fact that Cameron Wake is widely expected to be NFL bound. Can you imagine how many more cuts would be required if Wake decided to stay? I mean people have always joked that Wake’s talented enough to be a one man defensive line but that may have to become a reality if BC hopes to afford his contract.

While I think Williams and Miles would be worth a serious look should they shake free, all the talk this week in Saskatchewan has been about Jason Clermont. It seems like a perfect fit. Clermont is a Regina native, is beloved for his years as a Regina Ram and lives here year-round while peddling crappy condos in the offseason. Now that he’s available people are insisting Tillman do whatever it takes to sign him and create the super Canadian slot duo of Clermont and Fantuz. Unfortunately things aren’t that simple.

Clermont is a perennial all-star and 2 time Canadian of the Year, as such he will command a respectable salary and be highly coveted on the free agent market. Winnipeg, Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton are already expressing some interest (as I mentioned before, Hamilton, who should be making every effort to sign him, is currently not in the mix given that they have no use for talented players). As we all know, the term “fair” best describes the offers Eric Tillman makes as opposed to “lucrative”. Also, we are fairly deep when it comes to Canadian receivers and slots in particular. But in the words of ET, “We can always get better”.

The way I see this playing out is Tillman will make a very respectable offer to Clermont (as he should) and a couple other teams will make bigger offers. It will then be up Clermont to decide whether it’s actually worth the extra money to head out East and play for a crappy team as opposed to getting decent money and staying at home with a legitimate contender. For the record, my touch football team has offered to buy him a beer after every game if he’ll sign with us but as of yet we haven’t heard back from his agent. My gut tells me that the long awaited homecoming will indeed happen (but that is no more than a gut feeling at this point - let’s not forget that Tillman is the idiot that passed on him twice, and would have no problems doing it a third time). My only recommendation is that Clermont’s contract include a clause whereby my Rider shareholder discount would apply to any real estate I purchase from him.

As a regular feature during the offseason, I’ll be keeping you up to date with rosters moves across the CFL with Ins and Outs

In: Bryan Chui (re-signed), Etienne Boulay (re-signed), Keith Godding (free agent signing), Erik Galas (free agent signing)
Boulay has now managed to ride the coattails of winning an arbitrarily contrived award (Gibson’s Finest Canadian Player in 2007) into a stint with the NY Jets and a contract extension with the Alouettes (who apparently don’t even know what position he’ll play)… he must have one hell of an agent.

In: John Comiskey (re-signed)
As soon as I think of a humourous comment to make about this signing you’ll be the first to know.

One last note, Sunday marked the NFL’s regular season debut in Toronto. About the only good thing I can say about the game itself is at least Toronto fans were treated to a game of the quality they’ve come to expect from their local sports teams.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Second Annual Rider Prophet Awards

Ladies and Gentlemen: It’s time to present the Second Annual Rider Prophet Awards. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, this year’s winners will receive a selection of the coupons found in my daily junk-mail and a handful of mints that I managed to sneak out of Boston Pizza.

Let’s get right to it…

Best Player Name
This year the award goes to Calgary’s Charleston Hughes which is a hilarious name given how close it is to Charleston Chews. And you know it seems kind of fitting… one is a candy that I’m not that fond of and actually think is a bit disgusting, the other plays for a team I’m not that fond of and also find a bit disgusting.

Quote of the Year
We have our first 2-time Prophet Award winner. Mike Abou-Mechrek once again gets the award for Quote of the Year.

While gems like this make him a perennial contender: (When asked about home-field advantage) … "Sleeping in your own bed, eating your own meals, not getting beer cans chucked at you -- you know, home-field advantage stuff."

It was this quote that cinched it. When asked who he would be if he could be anyone in the world he responded…
“Scott Schultz, so I could play with my man boobs”

Play of the Year
When handing out this award, I like to look for a play that captures the essence of a team’s entire season. This year I had to wait until the final game of the regular season but I was not disappointed.

With the score tied in the dying minutes of the 4th quarter, the Argos were faced with 3rd and 10 in their own end against the visiting Riders. Rather than making the safe choice to punt the ball away and force the Riders to drive the field for the winning points, the Argos inexplicably called a fake punt and direct snapped it to the fullback. Well at least they tried to direct snap, the snap was atrocious, was bobbled and led to a loss of yards and a turnover on downs. It was pure hilarity.

You can see the play at the 4:11 mark of this video.

Botched Call of the Year
While it was admittedly a fairly good year for officiating across the CFL, the referees were not without their foibles. For this year’s award winner we take you back to the Banjo Bowl. Michael Bishop threw a touchdown pass to Gerran Walker and we were all cheering… but wait, it seems the referees were too busy gawking at the inbred Bomber fans to make the correct call, and ruled it incomplete. The worst part was that Ken Miller had already used up his 2 challenges to fix 2 other blatantly missed calls in the game, so we couldn’t even review the TD catch. Needless to say this led to me hurling such profane language towards the television that it would have made George Carlin (God rest his soul) blush with shame.

The Commercial I Didn’t Get Sick Of Seeing Even Though TSN Made Me Watch It 54,297 Times Award
Probably the worst part of being an avid CFL watcher is being forced to watch the same 3 commercials during every commercial break of every game in the entire season. This award, new to our prestigious ceremony this year, is meant to honour those advertisers who at least make an attempt to produce commercials I don’t begin to hate before I’ve even finished watching it once.

This year’s winner is…

Actually Holiday Inn has had some quality commercials for the past few years. Now if only company’s like Wendy’s, Tim Hortons and Ford would quit airing crap (well I’ll take Ford off the list given that I don’t think they’ll be doing much advertising in ’09).

Fans Choice Douche-Bag of the Year
Well you, the fans, have spoken and with 52% of the vote you have chosen Rob Murphy as your Douche-Bag of the Year. Murphy becomes the second BC O-lineman to be recognized for his outstanding achievement in the field of douche-baggery, joining last year's winner, fellow tackle Jason Jimenez. Murphy earned himself this dubious title by repeatedly placing opponents in choke holds and liberally punching, all while inexplicably avoiding being disciplined… or even flagged for that matter.

Most Insulted Sports Figure
Marcel Bellefeuille jumped out to an early lead and looked like a shoe in to repeat. That is until Aug 23rd when Michael Bishop became a Rider. Within mere days he jumped out to an insurmountable lead in this award category and never looked back. I served up Bishop insults almost as often as he served up turnovers (I tried to keep up but it proved impossible).

To his credit, Bishop was man enough to accept his award his person and pose for this commemorative photo

*Note: As you can see in the photo I tried getting Bishop to look at the camera but Barron Miles happened to walk by and Bishop instinctively couldn’t take his eyes off him.

Note: Jason Clermont has been released by the BC Lions. More on that on Monday.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Taking The High Road

Well the results are in and for the second year in a row I have been snubbed in the Canadian Blog Awards and will have to settle for a participant ribbon. Now I could sit here and throw a DeAngeles-style hissy-fit and whine about how I should clearly be the winner based on my sheer blogging superiority as well as all the records I’ve broken this year… but I won’t stoop to that childish level. I don’t need a silly award to know that I’m a fantastic blogger. So rather than crying like a little girl about not winning an award, I am going to take much more mature approach… and create my own awards out of spite.

The 2nd Annual Rider Prophet Awards will be handed out on Thursday. Find out whether Marcel Bellefeuille can repeat as my Most Insulted Sports Figure and who you chose as the Fan’s Choice Douche Bag of the Year. All this and many more arbitrarily contrived awards are just days away.

Now onto some CFL news…

The big news in the days following the Grey Cup has been coaching. Do you realize that when the 2009 season starts, Wally Buono will be the only head coach left from the 2007 season? That’s right, in just 2 short seasons, 7 of the league’s 8 teams have changed head coaches. Last year, Saskatchewan, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto changed head coaches. During the season Hamilton and Toronto changed head coaches. And in the coming weeks Winnipeg, Edmonton and, you guessed it, Toronto will be looking for new head coaches.

Winnipeg’s vacancy is a result of Doug Berry getting unceremoniously axed… becoming the first coach I know to sign a contract extension and then manage to be fired before it could be publicly announced. It takes a special level of incompetence to manage that. Mike Kelly (the Eskimos receivers coach) has been chosen as Berry’s replacement and may even take over control of roster moves from Brendan Taman. This can only be seen as good news for Bomber fans and bad news for any GM looking to acquire Winnipeg’s first round pick in 2010.

Toronto is just a mess plain and simple. Whoever they name as coach will become the 4th head coach they’ve had in just over a year. Their problem is their philosophy with regards to recruitment. For years, the Argos have felt they need to acquire only high-profile big name players to impress their Toronto fan base rather than build a solid talent base. This has led to such impressive acquisitions as David Boston, Bethel Johnson, Ricky Williams, Mike Vanderjerk and the list goes on and on. That’s why I’m guessing that they will pass on quality candidates such as Richie Hall and Mike Benevides in favour of another NFL name: Jim Fassel… that is if Fassel is even interested. Word is he’s also being considered for the soon to be vacant Oakland Raiders job. Man what a terrible spot Fassel is in. I mean when you’re only options are Oakland and the Argos you know you’ve just about hit rock bottom. Actually hitting rock bottom I guess would mean your options are the Detroit Lions and Hamilton Ti-Cats.

In Edmonton, their head coaching spot is vacant because Danny Maciocia has stepped down in order to concentrate exclusively on his duties as GM. I for one will miss Maciocia and his comical face contortions on the sideline. I will also miss his blatant disregard for running the ball. No firm word yet on who will be named as his successor though some names being tossed around include Chris Jones, Greg Marshall, Benevides, Noel Thorpe, Doug Berry and our own Richie Hall (Richie, Please don’t leave us for Maciocia - that’s like the highest level of insult possible).

As a Rider fan I don’t like any of these moves. I was quite content to let these 3 teams falter along with incompetent coaches and the fact that they might actually be improving is somewhat concerning. The good news is Toronto is still a mess, Maciocia will still be heavily involved in holding the Esks back and Winnipeg… is… well Winnipeg and they don’t concern me all that much.

One final bit of news for you, Noel Prefontaine, Kamau Peterson, Mike Labinjo and Belton Johnson have all re-signed with their respective teams. I’ll do my best to keep you informed of other signings as the offseason progresses.