Monday, December 18, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Random Quasi-Coherent Christmas Thoughts

Just a week until Christmas. Or if airing your grievances is more your thing (and as Rider fans it should be) its just 5 days until Festivus.

I will leave you with a few random thoughts on the smattering of Rider news before the Christmas break.

-        We have made a couple re-signings with Lenius, Henderson and Brown all re-upping. Lenius can’t possibly have worse luck than 2023. A freak preseason injury derailed his season and he returned only to promptly get hurt again. Fully healthy he can be a difference maker.

-        I like Brown. I don’t think he’ll ever be an all-star be he’s a reliable guy at DT who can plug hole and cause some disruption. Perfect guy for a D-line rotation.

-        Henderson is a frustrating player. There are times he looks like a top end HB. And there are times he looks like a top end James Johnson impersonator. If he could ever play consistently, look out. He’s only 26 and essentially has 2 years experience as a starter at  a difficult position. I think he showed enough good things to earn a chance to re-earn his spot under Corey Mace.

-        The fact that we aren’t signing very many people tells me we have next to no cap money left and need to wait until the year rolls over to start spending again, (Hey inflation is making everything more expensive these days, even crappy football rosters).

-        Montreal appears to have the most left over cash to spend because they are busy extending a lot of big names (Fajardo, Sankey, Lemon).

-        Sam Emilus and TJ Brunson both worked out for the Arizona Cardinals. If you recognized that Brunson was a Roughrider then you must be a dedicated fan because I bet few would know his name offhand.  I’ll give my standard “Wish him all the best but selfishly hope he doesn’t get an NFL deal” in regards to Emilus.

-        I hope the fact that Micah Johnson is still doing PR appearances is a sign that we want him back. I mean, it would be weird for him to break his “only sign with the Riders in alternating years” streak but he’s a leader and still busts his ass at 35. I want him back.

-        The schedule came out and its not that great from a Rider perspective. Our home opener is Sunday night (yuck) and we follow it up with a bye followed by a Thursday home game. The home schedule does get better from there with the rest Friday or Saturday nights with the exception of one Saturday afternoon.

-        We play an amazing 4 Thursday games overall. My conspiracy theory is that CFL is trying to boost Thursday ratings in advance of renegotiating TV deals and the Riders tend give exactly that bump they are looking for.

-        At least we are back to the balanced schedule.

-        We should never play Winnipeg before Labour Day… it just takes a bit away from the September matchups. 

That’s it for now. Thanks for hanging with me through another down football year. Helps to ease the pain when you have people to share in your jokes and ranting.

Merry Christmas (to everyone except Micah Awe and Chris Edwards, screw those guys) and see you in 2024.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Tuesday Morning Sentimonies: Coordination

You might be asking yourself, why are your sentimonies only coming on Tuesday and not Monday as usual? I understand that my sentimonies bring a bright spot to your otherwise bleak Monday existence and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. So much like the old choose your win adventure books, I am going to let you select which excuse makes feel the best about the situation.

- I was doing selfless charity work for orphans.

- I am a Vikings fan and that sad excuse for a game literally put me to sleep so early in the day that I did not have time to write a post.

- I got caught up tracking private plane flight plans across north America hoping it would give a clue to the Riders’ free agency plans and lost track of time.

- I have a medical condition that legally I don’t have to disclose to you but totally explains all my tardiness.

- I was celebrating the Feast of Maximum Occupancy.
Now that that’s been settled, onto the sentimonies…

The coaching staff of the Riders is starting to take shape. We already knew Mace would be his own DC. It was one of the worst kept secrets that Marc Mueller would be the OC. And Kent Maugeri was retained as the Special Teams Coordinator.

Let’s start with Mueller. He’s at an interest spot in life. At 34 he’s still very young by coaching standards but he already brings 10 years of CFL coaching experience all with Calgary. He’s been a defensive assistant, RB coach, and QB Coach. He also called plays for a portion of last year. I’m going to skip talking about who he is. Obviously he’s the grandson of one of the 2 greatest Roughriders ever (just so we are clear, not George Reed… the other one). Also he had a pretty notable university career here at the University of Regina. Those all make for a nice story but they aren’t (at least I hope) why he got the job or what will make him a good OC.

The pros he brings is that he is a young coach (not a retread) who brings new ideas. He also spent a decade working under one of the most respected offensive minds in the CFL in Dave Dickenson. The cons is that he is relatively unproven as a playcaller. Dickeson finally let go of the offense enough to let Mueller call plays last season and you might recall that Calgary was almost as awful as us and Dickenson took back play calling late in the season. Now, in fairness to Mueller. There was a lot more wrong in Calgary than his play calling. Something just didn’t seem right across the whole team and quite frankly they did not have enough talent last season (particularly at QB). There’s a saying that you can’t make chicken soup out of chicken crap. Also, if you actually think that was Mueller’s offense and not just him actioning Dickenson’s plans then your impeccable judgment may qualify you to run CFL discipline. Also, regardless of any perceived knocks against Mueller I think we can all agree he’s more qualified than his predecessor. This will be Mueller’s offense and I’m excited to see what he can bring to the table. I don’t think Mace would have hired him if he didn’t have full faith in his abilities.

Maugeri enters his third year as STC… but really that was in name only. For the past 2 season, he was the Assistant HTC to Craig Dickenson. I will be interesting to see how much changes now that he’s fully in charge. I think Maugeri earned an extension as some good things have been happening on special teams. We turned a rookie punter into an allstar calibre player (and sadly one of the few highlights of most Rider games). Good things happened pretty consistently on returns and for the most part coverage was pretty solid. What I will be most interested to see is whether Dickenson (my theory) or Maugeri were to blame for the annual special teams slump. Consistently every season there is a period where specials teams go to absolute hell, for seemingly no reason. Then inevitably they right the ship and get back to playing pretty solid. I’m hoping with Mace now in charge there will be enough accountability to prevent that trend from continuing.

While this is a young coaching core and most new to their current role, it’s a well experience group overall. It will be interesting to see what names make up the assistants to round out the staff. I am keeping an eye on names like Nik Lewis, and Drew Tate offensively as well as Joshua Bell, Juwan Simpson and maybe even Charleston Hughes defensively

Monday, December 4, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: In Mace We Trust

The Riders have settled on a new coach… and in a refreshing change from the past few years, it was an announcement that was actually good news and not just trying pass it off as good news when in reality anyone with any redeeming credentials had turned them down. I am also sure that sports reporters were happy to report on a guy named Corey and not have to talk about what he may or may not have done to someone’s mom.

While all have their pros and cons that have been debated ad nauseum, I don’t think there was a bad choice amongst Mace, Pierce and Milanovich. That said, I think Mace is my preferred option of the 3. 

Word is that O’Day and Reynolds were waffling back and forth on who to choose until a lightbulb moment suddenly struck O’Day. He stood up and said “Craig, I’ve got it! When was the last time this team won a Cup?” Reynolds responded “2013”. “Yes, but who was leading that team?” Reynolds “Chamblin”. “Exactly!” O’Day exclaimed “The last time we won a cup was with a black coach named Corey. That has to be a sign” 

***By the way I know that 98% of you understand that the preceding exchange is purely fictional and for satire purposes but just so there’s no confusion for the remaining 2%, this didn’t actually happen.***

I don’t know him personally but Mace exudes leadership even from my vantage point. He seems like a leader who will set a high standard and hold people to it. That is about as polar opposite as you can get from his predecessor. Mace is a well respected play caller and certainly knows the X’s and O’s of football but at this juncture I think his leadership is the biggest asset he can bring. Dickenson was a nice guy and he knew football but he did not command that locker room. I have no doubt that Mace will. 

The next step will be to see what kind of staff Mace can build around him. He’s already confirmed he will be our DC. While nothing is official, Justin Dunk has all but confirmed that Marc Mueller will be his OC (I'm already dreading the next 11 months of Muller/Lancaster talk, just let him be his own guy). Toronto extended pretty much all of their offensive coaches so it will be tough to poach from there. Defensively, DB coach Joshua Bell is a guy I can see coming over to be key part of Mace’s staff. Some other names to keep an eye on Drew Tate, Nik Lewis and Juwan Simpson. They have connections to Mace and could appear in his staff as well. I had held out vain hope Mace could coax DeVone Claybrooks back into action but with Mace being DC that goes from vain hope to pipe dream.  I hope we can retain our D-line. I would love to see what Mace can turn the combo of Lanier, Robertson and Micah into.

Mace’s tenure got off to a bit of a rocky start. He didn’t even making it out of his opening press conference before making his first mistake. When asked what kind of team he would field he answered “a blue collar team”. Sorry Coach Mace but you now head up a green collared team. Blue was your old team. I’ll forgive your error on your first day but I won’t be handing out second chances freely if this continues.

Mace gives us some hope that things might be different… and not just because the coach claims they are.

One last thing I want to address…

I’m likely in the minority here but I think all the talk about a coach “getting the community” and “committing to it” is stupid. I want a coach that will win, pure and simple. I mean, I want some semblance of ethics but as long as we are avoiding legal issues and public embarrassment, no one will care what the coach does off the field if we win. The only thing that being “invested in the community does” is buy you some good will if you don’t win. 

Danny Barrett was invested in this community like few others but did that help him win a cup or save his job when he couldn’t? No. Kent Austin isn't exactly known a warm and fuzzy community member. But did we care when he won us a Cup? No. People like to harp on Chris Jones, but if we don’t get Ricky Ray’ed in the dying seconds of the 2017 East Final, Jones likely wins a Grey Cup and becomes a celebrated hero forevermore in Riderville. We only talk about his lack of community stuff because he didn’t win a Cup.

So I think it’s a great bonus that Mace is a stand up guy who is committed to this community but the only reason he should have this job is because he is a good enough coach to win a Cup. Maybe if we focused more on building a “winning culture” and less on “getting the community”, we’d have more Cups in our history. Fans are simple, win and we will love. We cheered Dwight Anderson for pete sake.