Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Is Wrong With The Riders

How could this happen? How could we go from the dominant team in the West Division for the past 4 years running (minus 2008 when dozens of broken fibulae and even more Michael Bishop turnovers ruined our season) to this bad in the blink of an eye? That is the question that fans across Rider Nation (or at least what’s left of it after the mass exodus caused by our losing streak).

Thing is this didn’t happen over night, it’s been 2 years in the making and is only now starting to come to a head.

When Roy Shivers was fired, this organization made a commitment to excellence at every level of the organization not just the mediocrity we’d grown accustom to. And they held true to that commitment. They didn’t just hire a GM, they hired the best GM available. He in turn hired the best coach available and together they assembled some of the best assistant coaches and players you could find. The result was unprecedented success both on and off the field culminating in a Grey Cup win in 2007.

There was a great deal of change following that year but the team held to its commitment to excellence. They hired an excellent coach to replace Austin and the team continued its string of unprecedented success both on and off the field culminating with what should have been another Grey Cup win in 2009. When you look at our roster and coaching staff in 2009 it’s truly amazing what we had managed to build in just 3 short seasons.

This is where things unfortunately start going off the rails. You see our excellent GM got himself in some trouble because he got a little antsy in the pantsy and was forced to resign. Now you would think at this point that we would stick to our commitment and hire an excellent GM as a replacement… well for reason I still don’t understand we inexplicably abandoned our commitment to excellence and hired Brendan Taman who, on his best days (which are few and far between), is nothing more than a borderline mediocre GM (for me that is the closest I will ever come to complimenting him, it may even be the nicest thing I’ve ever written about him).

The hiring of a mediocre GM set the wheels in motion for a steady free fall from excellence. As our once formidable and enviable set of assistant coaches (Lapo, Reed, Wiley) began being lured away to other teams, we began replacing them with coaches who were far from excellent (Jim Daley anybody?). Same thing on the player side. As the Chicks, Baggs, Williams and Davis’s of the world were leaving us, the Willie Byrds, Prechae Rodriguez and Dominique Dorseys of the world were being brought in.

This descent was masked by a pretty successful 2010 season. The Grey Cup run made us all forget how bad this team played down the stretch and how close we were to being eliminated in the West-Semi. Coach Miller managed to draw out the “Rider Magic” we’d grown accustom to one last time and all seemed right in the world. But under the surface our “excellence” had worn so thin that, unbeknownst to the masses, we were very near a breaking point.

Then 2 things happened that ended up being the straws that broke the camel’s back. First our last remaining excellent coach retired from coaching to take on a front office job. While there was little doubt that Miller was an excellent coach, you’d have a hard time convincing me that he qualifies as an “excellent” head of football operations. We yet again neglected our commitment to excellence in favour of an easier route. With the upper echelons of our organization now full of mediocrity it was no surprise that a mediocre coach was hired to replace our excellent one? Some of the brightest minds in both offense and defense were available but we opted for somebody that nobody else wanted. Again we completely ignored our supposed commitment to excellence. The transition from excellence to mediocrity in both the front office and coaching staff was now complete.

The second thing that caused this collapse was the departure of Andy Fantuz. While this was beyond the control of the organization as apparently Fantuz was so desperate to try for the NFL that he would have accepted a Big Mac as a signing bonus, it still had massive affect on us. Our culture of mediocrity had eroded the depth of talent on the team leaving us extremely vulnerable to departures. Obviously things would have turned out differently had Rob Bagg been healthy but if you look beyond that you can see where out failure to strive for excellence at all levels hurt us.

In the 2010 draft, we used the 8th overall selection on Jordan Sisco. We could have used it on the consensus best receiver available in the draft, Shawn Gore, who is now an impact player with the Lions. We could have selected Cory Watson (who has earned a starting role in Winnipeg and looking better each week) or Spencer Watt (who is also starting and has 2 career TDs already) or even Akeem Foster (who has scored a TD in every game this season). But no, we did the mediocre thing and went with Sisco who has had absolutely zero impact so far. This is just one example.

So if you want to know what is wrong with the Riders, the answer is that the organization has forgotten/ignored/turned a blind eye to the commitment it made in 2006 to excellence at all levels of the organization. Everything else is just a by-product of that.

The only way to fix these problems and get back to being the flagship franchise of the CFL is for the people at the highest level of the organization to realize this and re-commit themselves to excellence. Unfortunately this is something that will take time. While I’m not going to write this season off and start debating who we should take first overall in the 2012 draft (I still believe we have hope), I think we are being delusional if we don’t admit that as an organization we have fallen from the ranks’ of the League’s elite.


Anonymous said...

Don't know if the Riders were ever in "Elite" ranks of the League. I mean you won 10 games in 2009, 10 in 2010, a stupid penalty cost you the 2009 Grey Cup and mediocre offense cost you 2010 Grey Cup, in 08 when you won 12 games you were blown out by BC in the playoffs, hardly "Elite". In 07 you barely beat a team in the Grey Cup without a quarterback. Oh yeah that said guy is on your team now. Give you head a shake about being in the "Elite" ranks of the league.

3 Cups in 100 years is hardly "Elite".

Anonymous said...

Release Kornegay? What the hell? Release Taman, Berry, Marshall and Hall instead…promote Alex Smith to head coach, he taught me grade 9 history, the Run and Shoot offense in the Roman Empire (ha ha).

Rider Nation is in BIG TROUBLE, won't win a game this year.

Tim Miller said...

I'm going to go on the record and say we will win a game this year. Ha! Take that anonymous! Well-written article Tyler. I couldn't agree more. I feel sorry for Richie Hall. I'm going to throw in a shameless plug for our blog too because we're posting again: greenisthecolour.ca

Rider Prophet said...

Anonymous 1 - Give your head a shake! Outside of Montreal who are far and above the best team in the CFL, name a team that has been better than the Riders over the past 4 years? Who? ...

A few facts for you. Over the past 4 years
- The Riders have won at least 10 games in 4 straight seasons. No other team has done this.

- The Riders have won their divsion 3 of the past 4 years, a feat that only the Als have matched and no other team has come close.

- The Riders have won a Grey Cup in the past 4 years something only Calgary and the Als have done.

- The Riders have made more money and sold more merchandise than any other team by a ridiculously large margin.

So yes I consider that kind of success both on and off the field to be among the League's Elite. If you don't consider that elite than I have no idea how you would describe the other teams whose accomplishments pale in comparisson.

Rider Prophet said...

Anon 2 - Give your head a shake too. Kornegay made way too much money to be a mediocre wide side corner. On top of that he was a terrible tackler. I like the guy but his release doesn't suprise or anger me.

Also i think you are being a tad pessimistic with your "won't win a game" prediction. If Bart Andrus and Mike Kelly can coach a team to multiple wins than odds a re pretty good we can get one.

Hell, Jm Daley coached us to 5 wins for pete sake.

Ronbo the Riderfan said...

I think letting Tilman go was the worst mistake this team has ever made. He screwed up at an elite level but the drugs were a mitigating factor and the 'victim' was not hurt or angry.

A year of probation should have been enough punishment.

Anonymous said...

Ronbo, playing grab ass with a 16 year old girl should hardly be taken lightly, the drugs a factor…give me a break a grown MAN should know better, as far as I'm concerned he should not be working in the CFL period.

Oh the Riders are Elite…3 Grey Cups in 100 years, awesome! Big deal if you go to a bunch of Grey Cups but never win.

18 appearances 3 wins thats a winning percentage of a futile 16.7%

Hardly elite

The Riders have always been the team that just about does it, 1976…just about…2009…just about. I hope that this years team can shut me up and turn it around, being a life long fan, I have seen this story so many times, never mind the pain of the 1990's, what about 1977 to 1988, thats 12 seasons without any thing mentionable.

Go Riders, I hope they turn it around but all I'm saying is they took a big step backwards with the current regime…too bad, Tamen was nothing, nothing in Winnipeg and he will continue to be nothing where ever he lands.

Govind said...

Anonymous, Prophet was referring to the last four years as being elite, not the last 100. No kidding we haven't been elite over 100 years, Captain Obvious. That's why Prophet was referring to 2007 onwards. It should have been obvious. Now please read that over and over as reading comprehension does not appear to be a strength of yours.


Govind said...

Good breakdown of what's happend the last few years Prophet. I would add though that Eric Tillman has contributed to the problems of Canadian depth too. He made two brilliant moves in 2007 signing Rob Bagg and getting Getzlaf for almost nothing. But since then, our Canadian acquisitions have been spotty at best.
Shologan is the only impact guy we've drafted. Draft picks from 07-09 include names like Dave McKoy, Reggie Bradshaw, Mike Standyk, St. Pierre, Tamon George etc. We traded for the forgettable Sasha Glavic and Aaron Wagner.

Wow that list of Canadian WR we could have picked over Sisco makes me want to be sick.

Anonymous said...

Captain Obvious, how original Govind…bottom line is they won 12, 10 & 10 games over 3 years, finished 1st once…once in that 4 year period hardly dominating or elite…the Riders were lucky to win the west the last 2 years. The Als are the only elite team (dynasty), do you even know what a dynasty is?

I'm telling ya there are lots of problems with the Riders.

The players are not buying into the crappy game planing by the coaching staff, somebody should tell Berry that Durant is NOT a pocket passer, try designing a game plan around your talents' strengths not their weaknesses.

Als by 50 this week
Stamps by 40 next
and on and on and on…

PS How's the new stadium coming, the one here is looking great.

Rider Prophet said...

Thanks Gov, it’s reassuring that most people understood what I was getting at. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to try and argue that the Riders of the late 70s and early 80s were elite? Or how about the 90s? … No one ran a “Save the team Telethon” like us!

You make a good point about Tillman and Canadians. He inherited a team with some very good Canadians (O’Day, Makowksy, Schultz, Szarka, Mullinder, Hughes, McCullough, Fantuz, Congi) so it’s not like he had a lot of work to do there. He just ahd to hang on to what he had. To his credit he did add some quality Canadians such as Wayne Smith, Mike Abou-Mecherek, Rob Bagg, and Chris Getzlaf to solidify that Canadian content.

But as you point out other than Shologan, drafting really wasn’t Tillman’s forte. Your list of not so great draft picks is missing Jean Francois Morin-Roberge and of course Teale Orban. ET much preferred acquiring Canadians via trade. In some cases (e.g. Smith, Getzlaf, Boreham) it worked out. In others (e.g. Steve Morley, Jordan Rempel, Adam Nicolson, Obed Cetoute, Sasha Glavic, Aaron Wagner) not so much.

Yeah when I went back and checked and saw that Shawn Gore was still available when we picked Sisco I had the same reaction. The consensus top receiver in the draft was available and we passed to take freaking Sisco!!

Rider Prophet said...

Anon - Don’t give me that lucky garbage. Winning is all that matters. Not how you won. Ugly, pretty, dominating, just barely, leading all game or squeaking it out a last second victory… doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you won. I already said that the Als are the class of the league clearly but to try and downplay the Riders’ success over the past 4 years is pure ignorance. They have been the best team in the West by far over the past 4 years and that makes them an elite team.

Plus you can’t even say that in 2009 we were lucky since we finished 1st in the West and beat the Stamps by 10 in the West Final. Plain and simple we were the best team in the West, luck had nothing to do with it. Same thing last year, we beat the Stamps when it mattered most. Nothing lucky about, just playing your best football at the right time.

We all agree there are problems with Riders. No argument there.

We’ll get our stadium, don’t you worry

PS – How are those revenues and profits treating you? Our repeated string of record setting ones is looking pretty awesome.

Anonymous said...

Touche Prophet Touche…Like I said I hope the Riders will shut me up, it is frustrating to see a promising future go backwards, I just don't like what they have done this year from an organizational standpoint. If you saw Berry's question period on the Riderville website, he sure is making excuses but not providing any insight, ya know what they say about excuses, they are like assholes everybody's got one and some are bigger that others.

Enjoy the game this week.