Monday, January 28, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The Dickenson Era Begins

The Riders needed to move quickly to fill their vacant Head Coach spot and Friday they did just that by announcing that Craig Dickenson was hired… well I guess promoted since he was already in the building. Thus begins a new era for the Riders and I think we are all anxious to see how he will do. I think we are all also anxious to start using clever wordplay based on the fact that Dick appears in his name that we have been saving up for a week now… oh? Is that just a me thing? Well never the less more on that later.

Dickenson was the front runner from the moment Chris Jones left. The fact is that it was pretty slim pickings at this time of year and he was far and away the best option available to us… unless you seriously thought that Craig Reynolds could sell Rider Nation on Steve McAdoo (sadly some people did).

While the coach was not a surprise, the length of his deal was… to me anyway. Dickenson got a 3 year term. Now this is pretty standard (can’t recall a new HC getting less than a 2 year deal) and I believe that Dickenson is a good choice but given the circumstances I’m still surprised. The length of the contract tells me that O’Day thinks that Dickenson would still be his guy even he was given the chance to talk to other coaches. I always thought LaPo was O’Day’s preferred choice. It was speculated back when O’Day was in the running for the GM role when Jones was hired that LaPo would be his coach if hired. By giving Dickenson a 3 year deal he is essentially closing off that option. While surprising, I see this as a sign of just how confident O’Day is in this hire. Time will tell if his confidence is justified. Even when GM’s hire coaches that turn out be disasters they always think it’s a good idea at the start. I mean at the Greg Marshall news conference no one at the microphone was saying "this is will likely end very badly and very quickly"

Dickenson has two big advantages in my mind. One he represents continuity and familiarity for the players. We spent 3 years building a strong core and maintaining that core going forward will be important. Jones was beloved by the players and so the risk of losing guys like Jefferson, Antigha and Edem in free agency is real. Dickenson as coach may help convince those guys to stick around. His second strength is that as ST Coordinator he has years of experience talking to players on both sides of the ball. He’s well respected by the players as a result… good starting point for a new HC.

He next big task is hiring a D Coordinator. He essentially has 3 options: Jason Shivers, Mike Benevides, Jerry Glanville. Based on the direction the organization has been going with O’Day and Dickenson, I think Shivers is the favourite at this point. He offers more continuity and rather than recycling a guy like Benevides, he’s a young up and comer with possibly a higher ceiling.

Overall I like the Dickenson hire. I think he will do good.

Now for what you really came here for… immature word play based on the word Dick appearing in his last name (spoiler alert, this will be a recurring theme this season).

Note: if this is not what you came for please stop reading at this point

T-Shirt Idea:
Hey Calgary
IS BIGGER brother to dave

Hopefully we have the short guys like Thigpen and Christion Jones stand next to the Head Coach on the sidelines so our Dickenson can look bigger by comparison.

Eagerly anticipating our Dickenson standing tall on the sidelines.

Other teams were interested in our Dickenson but they can only look, not touch.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Monday Morning Senitmonies: The Great Coaching Debate

The Riders’ search for a head coach is only a few days in and already it has caused great debate. We don’t do thing the easy way around here. We have already been denied permission to speak with Ottawa OC Jaime Elizondo and Winnipeg OC Paul LaPolice. Both coaches were given permission to speak to other teams back in December so clearly it’s the timing of the matter that is the issue here. The Riders have yet to ask permission to speak to me… in fact they have repeatedly asked that I stop speaking to them.

First thing is first. Ottawa and Winnipeg are well within their rights to deny us permission. They don’t owe us anything. It’s not good business to hurt yourself to improve your competitor so don’t give me the fairness BS. We asked, they said no, done deal. No hard feelings. That’s business.

Now, while those teams clearly should not give a damn about the Riders feelings in all of this, they should give a damn about their employees in this. For instance, reports are that LaPo is LaPissed that permission was not given. So do the Bombers care they the Riders are PO’ed about not getting permission? No. But should they care about LaPo? Hell yeah. While they are well within their rights to deny permission, it may not be wise to do so if the end result is holding back one of your employees from a promotion. Do I suddenly think LaPo will sewer their season out of spite? No but I’d be lying if I didn’t dream of a Banjo Bowl where he screws over the Bombers and takes off his jacket to reveal a Rider shirt (I watched a lot of wrestling back in the so, what can I say). But an unhappy employee is not ideal and it also won’t help future recruitment if you get a rep for holding coaches back.

I honestly can’t believe this isn’t all covered in contracts by now. How hard is it to spell out a deadline for out clauses for inter-CFL movement? To me if LaPo signed a deal saying prior to Jan 1 he can interview for promotions but after that it is club discretion then he’d have no reason to be pissed. But if there’s no deadline then it seems like he’d have a legit gripe. Jan 20 is late but not unreasonably so. He seems to think he has a case but that's between him and Kyle Walters to sort out. I suggest pistols at dawn.

All the drama aside, all signs point to Craig Dickenson being the next HC (and I pray in his first game against Calgary he tells his brother to win with some class).

In: WR Kamar Jorden (contract extension)

In: K Hugh O’Neil (contract extension)
Out: LB JC Sheritt (retired) DB Neil King (released)

In: LB Adam Bighill, OL Stanley Bryant, OL Michael Couture (contract extension)
Out: LB Ian Wild (released)

In: RB Sean Thomas Erlington (contract extension)

In: OL Nolan MacMillan, DL Nigel Romick (contract extension)

In: OL Ryan Bomben (contract extension)

In: WR Earnest Jackson (contract extension)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Chris Jones: He Gone

There are 5 stages of grief they say. Tuesday I had only two and I went through them in a matter of seconds: 1) shock and awe… as in aww S#&$!!!!! 2) grave concern… and by concern and mean we are screwed (only screwed wasn’t the word I was using).

It was a bomb that went off across the prairies when the news broke that Chris Jones was leaving to accept a coaching job with the Cleveland Browns. Look anyone who has paid any attention to Chris Jones’ career path cannot be completely surprised by his sudden departure. He bolted for Toronto while still under contract to Calgary. He bolted from Edmonton for the before the last speck of confetti had fallen in the Grey Cup. Deep down we all knew this wasn’t likely to be a long term relationship but the timing of this all is devastating. We just parted with our assistant GM (who would sure come in handy about now). We are now a month past when every other team was hiring coaches. We are month away from free agency with no GM, Head coach or defensive coordinator. Chris Jones leaving is a real steamer… a Cleveland steamer if you will (I’m sorry… I really that I was better than this but I’m not).

Many will point a finger at Craig Reynolds and blame him for the out clause in the most recent contract extension that allowed Jones to bolt. Look, the fact is that out clause was likely in his contract prior to the extension and is pretty standard. Side note: Chris Jones’ new title “Senior Defensive Specialist” is clearly a made up title meant to comply with the wording of the out clause. My guess is that the wording was such that he could have an out for a head coach, coordinator or other equivalent senior coaching opportunity. So I don’t fault Reynolds for the out clause. The lesson learned here though is that if one man is essentially 75% of your football operations that maybe there needs to be stricter parameters around the timing of exercising the out to avoid having to replace 3 key positions at a time when the best candidates have already been poached by your competitors. But its too late now. He gone. I don’t fault him for wanting to make a jump to the NFL and as much as some people love to hate him, he did a hell of lot to turn a shitty football team (circa 2015) into a contender during his tenure. Of all his roles I truly think we will miss Chris Jones the D Coordinator most. He’s one of the best in the league and won’t be easy to replace (plus its not like we can expect our offensive to compensate for a drop in defensive performance at this point).

Where too from here? Well that’s where it gets complicated.

At GM, likely O’Day gets promoted and with Paul Jones as assistant we are in pretty good hands. We could try to poach John Murphy back from the Argos before he officially inks his contract there but that’s highly unlikely at this point.

Coaching is complicated for 3 reasons. #1 the cap on coaching salary and positions. The max is 11 coaches and we have 10 on staff still. Short of additional firings at least one the HC or DC roles will need to be filled internally. #2 Timing. We missed the coaching hiring frenzy and this late in the offseason getting permission to speak to other coaches is no guarantee. #3 Current staff. Fact is Steve McAdoo is still here. Much to the chagrin of many he wasn’t a package deal with Jones to Cleveland. So hiring an offensive head coach (such as Marc Trestman and Paul LaPolice who top the speculation list) is difficult because they will bring their own offensive philosophies that likely won’t jive with McAdoo’s (whatever that is). So do you fire him and try and find an entire new coaching staff this late in the offseason? Can you afford it from a cap perspective?   So the general gist of all this is that we are screwed.

Here (in no particular order) are options out there for us to consider:
As head coach
·       Promote Craig Dickenson to Head Coach and hire a new DC. Dickenson has been in the consideration for other HC spots so its not a stretch. He brings continuity.
·       Marc Trestman. Obviously a multi-time Grey Cup champ who is currently unemployed should warrant consideration. But Trestman is currently on a paid vacation thanks to Argos and after a tough personal year may decide to stay that way. Plus the above mentioned complication regarding our current offensive staff.
·       Paul LaPolice. LaPo has been closely linked to O’Day as his candidate of choice if/when he becomes a GM. The Bombers have said they won’t stand in his way. He’d be a great choice but there would need to be some serious thought as to how our current offensive staff would fit into his philosophies and what he would do for a DC.
·       Noel Thorpe. Not sure if Ottawa would give permission but he’s a top tier D Coordinator and ready to be a head coach. It’s worth at least exploring.
·       Steve McAdoo. Can you imagine how much the province would explode?!? Can you imagine how much I would explode?!?! Seriously let’s all pray that despite him being the Assistant Head coach that he’s not even on the short list.

As D Coordinator:
·       Promote Jason Shivers. No one is really able to fill the big shoes (and wide array of black Rider paraphernalia) left behind by Jones but Shivers would be the most logical if looking internally given how long he has been working under Jones. Jones himself thinks Shivers is ready.
·       Mike Benevides. You’ll note I did not mention him in the HC discussion despite his previous experience. That’s intentional. Benevides as HC would be a step back but in terms of a late hire, he’s a pretty good DC option. That said his D in Edmonton was not that good (hence his current availability). But beggars can’t be choosers at this point.
·       Jerry Glanville. Did good things in Hamilton. He makes Paul McCallum seem young by comparison but still seems to have the energy of a man half his age.

Regardless of how this all shakes out it seriously downgrades the Riders’ prospects for 2019. The only ones coming out ahead in this deal (aside from the other West division teams) will be alcohol companies. Might take a lot to drink this season pretty. The Riders will need to move fast so we should have an idea very soon about where we stand.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Los CFL Draft Mexicano

If you thought the CFL Draft was exciting just wait until you experience the CFL Mexican draft. Its 2… or 3… or 4… honestly they haven’t seemed to settled on a number yet and will probably just continue until every team passes or they realize they accidentally drafted a donkey (who I bet could be turned into the greatest kicker we’ve seen in years). I’m hoping the draft coverage is just all the regular panel in sombrero’s and fake moustaches with the Mexican hat dance song on repeat.

All jokes aside, I’m not as against this experiment as many are. Do I think there is an untapped plethora (big word for a Monday) of all-star calibre talent waiting there to be scooped up? No. Do I think the CFL will suddenly become the second biggest thing next to soccer in Mexico? No. But there may be handful of good players. And if even a couple make it an active roster (no guarantee) it could draw additional audience to the CFL… and that grows revenues. And isn’t that the commissioner’s job?

There is definitely risk here but its called a risk/reward scenario not super safe bet/huge payoff scenario. It may also take a few years for the full value of this experiment to be fully realized. But I like that the CFL is trying. Trying to grow the game, trying to expand its fan base, trying to make money. American expansion is widely acknowledged as a huge failure but it gave the league a much needed cash injection at a critical time. This experiment is far less risky and far less permanent that that was. So what’s the harm in trying? It may fail but it may not. Trying absolutely nothing new though, that is more likely to fail.  

Timing is far from ideal with the CBA still unsettled and the veteran players that are the core of this league still in limbo. I do think that should be a bigger priority. But while I will crack many a joke at this whole Mexican thing, I will not dismiss the idea completely. Just imagine the merchandising options if some dude named Paco makes the Riders. I mean Mexico seems to be all in on the Rider poncho thing already (those things are everywhere) but Rider sombreros, Rider tequila, 3 foot chimichangas at Rider games. Count me in.

I’ll have full draft results breakdown later in the week. The Rider pick 6th. The positive is that most people will know only slightly less about the Mexican prospects than the Canadian ones.

NFL Watch:
LB Sam Eguavoen (Ssk) – signed with Miami
WR Jordan Williams-Lambert (Ssk) – signed with TBD
LB Alex Singleton (Cal) – signed with Philadelphia
WR Bryant Mitchell (Edm) – signed with Arizona
OL Rykar Matthews (Ham) – signed with New England

K Lirim Hajrullahu (Ham) – tryout with Seattle

CFL Ins and Outs

In: K Justin Medlock, LS Chad Rempel (re-signed)
Out: DB Chris Randle (released)

In: DL Danny Mason (re-signed)

Monday, January 7, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Heading South

While the fans (and players) wait for the new CBA to be signed and whatever Los CFL Mexicano turns into, the big CFL news over the past week has been the mass exodus of players heading south. Now this is nothing new, it happens every year. The top CFL players (and some who are far from it) get NFL interest and many end up signing a deal.  It just seems like this year there are more than usual. By my math (which is questionable at best so please don’t audit me) 9 CFL players signed in the NFL last year. This year 9 have already signed (10 if you include Eguavoen who we released to sign somewhere that has yet to be made official). And I expect more signings before its all said and done.

It’s a double edged sword for the CFL, the good news is that it means the talent level in the CFL is really good (many of us have know this for a while). Also the number of NFL deals should help attract other NFL hopefuls north. The bad news is that some of our best players will be gone for some or all of next season. The other good news though is that most of NFL signings are coming from the Stampeders. F&%& the Stamps (deep down I know that Hufnagel will find a way to carry on as if nothing happened but let me have this momentary joy for now).

Most of the signings so far have not been surprising. Eguavoen and Thurman are elite level LBs. Duke Williams is a talented receiver with NFL size. Ty Long has elite level diving skills. One name that surprised the hell out of me was Tevaughn Campbell. Look I get that he has top level speed which is likely what attracted NFL interest but I have yet to really see that he knows what to do with it. I mean as recently as last year he intercepted a pass and proceeded to give up a safety. As a U of R alumni I wish him well but colour me skeptical on this one.

One person who is most likely not headed south is Chris Jones. A report surfaced last week from Jason La Canfora that Chris Jones had been identified as a person of interest in 2 head coach searches… and you all know that Rider fans are known for dealing rationally with rumours. The reality is that while Jones may appear on a list of 10-20 people of interest, he has yet to be and is unlikely to be interviewed. The fact that he is on NFL radars may be worth monitoring in future years but for 2019 I think its much ado about nothing. Do you honestly think that an NFL team would hire a head coach with zero NFL experience and only position coach experience in college almost 20 years ago? People will draw the comparison to Trestman but he had an extensive NFL resume (including being a coordinator) prior to coming north. So while I might be jinxing things by doing this, I’m going to go ahead a say that Jones is safe.

NFL Watch:
LB Sam Eguavoen (Ssk) – will be signing shortly with someone
DL Jake Ceresna (Edm) – signed with NY Giants
WR Marken Michel (Cal) – signed with Philadelphia
DL James Vaughters (Cal) – signed with Chicago
DB Tevaughn Campbell (Mtl) – signed with NY Jets
WR Diontae Spencer (Ott) – signed with Pittsburgh
WR Duke Williams (Edm) – signed with Buffalo
LB Jameer Thurman (Cal) – signed with Chicago
K Ty Long (BC) – signed with LA Chargers
DB Mercy Maston (Edm) -  signed with Philadelphia

OL Dakota Shepley – tryout with Chicago, Indianapolis
DL Avery Ellis (Ott) – tryout with Detroit

CFL Ins and Outs

Out: WR Kenny Shaw (released)