Jeremy O’Day has helped turn a blank canvas into a work of art.
In 2012, O’Day — then the assistant general manager of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders — was given a leading role in designing the football operations area at new Mosaic Stadium.
Five years later, the results are impressive. The Roughriders are now based in an opulent home loaded with the latest equipment and surrounded by tributes to the franchise’s fans and its past.
In O’Day’s mind, the new digs live up to his expectations.
“You’re kind of hoping that everyone likes it as much as you do,” says O’Day, who’s now the Roughriders’ assistant vice-president of football operations and administration.
“You’ve been through the whole process and got to decide everything. When someone comes in and says, ‘Why did we do that? Why didn’t we do that?’ that could bother you a little bit. But for the most part, it’s amazing — because I’ve been at the old place.”
O’Day has been a Roughriders employee since 1999, when he signed with the team as a free agent. He spent 12 seasons on Saskatchewan’s offensive line before retiring as a player and moving into the front office.
When it was announced that a new stadium was to be built, the Roughriders had a chance to create something special — and O’Day was given the job.
“The old stadium was very functional; it just was out of date,” he says. “Here, the opportunity is to be able to start fresh, to make sure we had room and space and all the equipment that we want.”
And they wanted a lot.
“A lot of our players have come from big schools where this is what they get,” O’Day says. “We wanted to make sure they were coming to an environment that felt like it was first class and professional.
“We’ve established a culture of making sure that they have everything they need. Now, they have the physical building and equipment that they need.”
After being tapped to help design the Roughriders’ facilities in the new stadium, O’Day visited pro and college football programs across North America.
He took hundreds of pictures, talked to dozens of people and got myriad ideas. After Regina’s P3A Architecture and Kansas City-based Populous were chosen for the Mosaic Stadium job, O’Day developed a PowerPoint to lay out exactly what the Roughriders wanted.
Team employees from specific areas were consulted — for example, equipment manager Gordon Gilroy was asked for his input on the equipment room — as the wish list was composed. It then was presented to Populous.
“We said, ‘These are the things that we want in our area,’ ’’ O’Day says. “They were really the masterminds of everything because they’ve done so many in the States. They were able to see our area, break it down and make sure that the flow of our area was going to work.
“(The Roughriders’ hierarchy) was just awesome,” he adds. “They said, ‘Create a wish list with everything that you’d like and put it all in there. Then, if we have to pull back and take some things out, we can do that at the end.’ But they didn’t pull anything back. We got everything that we wanted.”
The Roughriders spent $19 million on their 67,360-square-foot area — done for the club by PCL, which also built the stadium — and that space includes roughly 48,000 square feet for the football operations department.
“We learned a lot from other teams’ mistakes and from talking to other teams about how they did things,” O’Day says. “I don’t want to say we did everything perfectly, but I know there’s not a lot that I personally would change.”
A tour of the Roughriders’ facilities begins in a lobby outside the football operations department.
The walls feature a ceiling-to-floor picture of Roughriders fans and pictures of four Grey Cup trophies — one representing each of the franchise’s CFL titles.
Through one door is the team’s video department. Through another is the Hall of Excellence, which features a collection of pictures showing players from years gone by and plaques indicating the team’s division and league titles over the years.
To the left is a horseshoe-shaped hallway that leads to the offices of the assistant coaches and co-ordinators. There’s also a conference room — the “war room” — that’s connected to the office of head coach/GM Chris Jones.
O’Day and John Murphy, the Roughriders’ assistant vice-president of football operations and player personnel, have offices on this floor.
This level also features meeting rooms for the offence and defence as well as every positional group. All of the rooms can be used for watching video and feature whiteboard walls for diagramming.
Each of the meeting rooms has a picture and brief bio on one wall of a Roughriders legend who played that position. There also are framed pictures of three other stars from franchise history.
The idea is to motivate the players who use those rooms and show them that they too can be feted.
“You can walk into this room and say, ‘I’ve got a shot at being on that wall,’ ’’ O’Day says as he surveys the linebackers’ room. “If you walk into the quarterback and running back room (and see Ron Lancaster and George Reed on the wall), you’re like, ‘I’m 25. If I play every game until I’m 45, maybe I can make it.’ ’’
The biggest meeting room on this floor is the auditorium, a 2,100-square-foot room that features 120 theatre-style seats in five tiered rows.
Each seat has a table that stores away and a power supply for recharging tablets.
The room also includes two projectors and a front wall that doubles as a whiteboard.
“There’s no other room in the whole building, except the locker room, where you can bring everyone together to meet and have the space for everyone,” O’Day says. “Maybe it’s that first team meeting where you say, ‘Hey guys, welcome to the 2017 Roughriders football team.’
“Most places you’re at, you’re pulling in chairs or guys are standing. Here, everyone’s going to be in here — and it’s going to be awesome.”
Down the hall from the auditorium is the 5,400-square-foot training facility.
Aside from stacks of weights and training machines, the room features a strip of artificial turf four yards wide and 22 yards long on which players can do explosive drills.
The room also features a reinforced black wall at which players can throw heavy balls without fear of marking it up — unlike the white walls at the team’s previous training facility.
Back down the hall from the fitness room is the grand staircase, which the players can take to get down a level to the locker room.
The staircase features several lightboxes on two walls, forming a large, wraparound picture of a group of players huddling at midfield before a game.
“I love it,” says O’Day, who wasn’t so sure when the idea of the staircase was raised by Populous. “I was like, ‘The players just need stairs to go up and down.’ (The designers) were like, ‘No, we’re going to make it grand.’
“When it was all done and designed, I was like, ‘Wow. That looks sharp.’ ’’
Down the stairs and to the left is the players’ lounge, where the Roughriders can eat meals, play video games and hang out. One wall features plaques with the names of the Roughriders’ all-stars, award winners and Plaza of Honor inductees.
Players’ significant others were consulted about the lounge since it also will be a place where they can wait for their husbands/boyfriends/fathers after games.
Turning right at the bottom of the staircase leads to the Roughriders’ equipment room.
On a wall outside are 100 small cupboards, into which Gilroy and his staff can put laundry, towels and (conceivably) mail for the players.
The cupboards bear every uniform number from 0 through 99 — but the Roughriders’ retired numbers are blacked out; those cubby holes aren’t available.
Inside the equipment room are huge new washers and dryers, an area for fitting equipment, and space-saving storage units that O’Day likens to an accordion. Gilroy can spin a wheel and the unit opens a hallway to specific equipment.
Across the hall from the equipment room is the coaches’ locker room, which features 20 stalls (up from 12 in its predecessor) and numerous other upgrades.
Through another set of doors is the Roughriders’ locker room, a 4,450-square-foot monstrosity that features an open concept.
It contains 72 permanent lockers, all of which are bigger and wider than the ones at old Mosaic Stadium.
Each locker features a “jewel box” (a green-lit storage bin for the player’s helmet), a bin for shoulder pads (featuring a power hinge that swings the door up and out of the way) and a lockable cupboard (with a power outlet for the player’s electronic devices).
The lockers also contain a forced-air system into the shoulder pad and shoe boxes that should help eliminate odours.
The room is the Roughriders’ inner sanctum.
“The idea is to make (the players) want to be in here as much as possible and make it special for them,” O’Day says. “We wanted it to be as functional as possible. It creates an environment for success and there are no excuses for not having something.
“Obviously, it looks nice and it’s everything that we wanted, but it’s going to come down to putting the players in the room who are going to make it work.”
Nearby is a room that O’Day pushed for: A barber shop where players can cut each other’s hair. The room will feature an old-style barber chair, a traditional barber pole — and a glass jar filled with the blue liquid in which barbers soak their combs.
Near the barber shop is a room that contains three sunken hydrotherapy tubs. One is a hot tub, one is a cold tub and one features an underwater treadmill for rehabilitation work.
Through another set of doors is the training room, which is significantly larger than its predecessor.
The space includes training tables, taping tables, two doctors’ offices, a “quiet room” for those dealing with concussions, an X-ray room, and oodles of storage areas.
Everything on this floor connects via a central hallway, delivering on the promise of flow made by Populous.
Now, with the facility virtually complete, the Roughriders are enjoying the reactions of their players as they filter in. Others around the league also are noticing the team’s new facilities.
“Even coaches who have nothing to do with our organization already know all about our facility just because of word of mouth,” O’Day says. “It’s the envy of the league now. Everyone’s going to compare their facilities to what we have.”