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REGINA — Craig Dickenson thinks his behaviour in a rocky start ultimately gained the trust of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in his first year as their head coach.
The Roughriders went 1-3 out of the gates in 2019.
Week 5 was a bye week. Dickenson did not cut short the players’ time off to get in more work.
“We’d told them going into the season we were going to lay out the calendar for them,” Dickenson said Friday.
“They were going to get the time off that we told them they were going to get off and they were going to be able to plan. When we stuck to the course . . . they came back and realized ‘these guys are going to be true to their word and when they tell us something, we can believe it.'”
Saskatchewan subsequently went on a six-game winning streak en route to a 13-5 record.
“It’s tough when you struggle early because they want to believe you, but they want to see results,” Dickenson said. “Winning a few games after that helped.”
The Roughriders topped the CFL’s West Division and host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Sunday’s division final. The victor earns a berth in the Grey Cup game in Calgary on Nov. 24.
Dickenson is the West Division’s nominee for CFL coach of the year. He’s up against the East Division’s Orlando Steinhauer of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Steinhauer guided the Ticats to a league-leading 15-3 record. The winner will be announced Nov. 21 in Calgary.
Dickenson worked 24 years, mostly as a special teams co-ordinator on various CFL and NFL staffs, before the 48-year-old from Great Falls, Mont., landed his first head-coaching job with the ‘Riders.
Younger brother Dave, 46, has been the head coach of the Calgary Stampeders for four years. Dave won the CFL’s coaching award in his first season.
“I think my brother trusts the process,” Dave said. “He’s very organized. I think he understands how people work. He’s a good communicator and he’s got good football players.”
To be head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders is to be in the hot seat of a demanding CFL market. If Craig Dickenson felt stressed, he didn’t show it to his players.
“He keeps the mood pretty light and lets guys kind of be themselves,” offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte said. “Guys respect that and appreciate that and want to do their best for a person like that.
“He’s just such a personable guy that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, he’s got a way of relating to you.”
Dickenson was the Roughriders’ special teams coach for three season before his promotion. He continues to oversee special teams in addition to his duties as head coach.
So familiarity also gave Dickenson a leg up in getting buy-in from his players.
“We understood where he came from as a person and as a football coach,” defensive end Charlston Hughes said.
“We understood his mindset, so it was kind of easy to take him on as a head coach. He was meant to step up and take that role.”
Coincidentally, Mike O’Shea was a special teams co-ordinator for the Toronto Argonauts for four seasons before the Winnipeg Blue Bombers named him head coach.
“Everything is geared to the offence so the sexy hire is always the young up-and-coming offensive coach,” Dickenson said.
“I think it’s great we both got opportunities. The special teams background really trains you into dealing with the whole team.
“It helps you in situations sometimes that may come up in a game that may be special-teams related.”
DONNA SPENCER — CANADIAN PRESS