May 26, 2023

The Claire Doré story: “We just think of her as Coach”

Claire Doré has come full circle, just a few first downs away from Saskatoon’s Circle Drive. 

A recipient of two degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, Doré has returned to the campus of her alma mater for Coors Light Riders Training Camp. 

Doré, from Regina, is spending a month on the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ coaching staff as part of the CFL’s Women in Football program. Specifically, she is working closely with Roughriders running backs coach Andre Bolduc. 

“Claire’s awesome,” tailback Jamal Morrow said. “She brings the energy to the room each and every day and you can tell that she really loves the game of football.” 

For further confirmation, peruse her expansive resume. 

Last season, Doré was the head coach and special teams co-ordinator with two teams — the Balfour Bears (Regina Intercollegiate Football League) and Regina Victorias (Regina Minor Football’s all-female squad). She has coached at Balfour since 2017 and with the Victorias since 2018. 

Doré is the current running backs coach and run game co-ordinator with the Western Women’s Canadian Football League’s Regina Riot. 

She played for the Riot during its first seven seasons (2011 to 2017) before joining the coaching staff. 

Doré was still a player when she decided to expand her contributions to the sport by going into coaching. She debuted in RMF in 2016 as the bantam Eagles’ receivers coach and special teams co-ordinator. 

Her ascent was such that, by 2022, she had been named the head coach of Saskatchewan’s under-18 women’s team. She has added the role of special teams co-ordinator for 2023. 

Oh … and she was also the receivers coach with Canada’s senior women’s team in 2022. 

And that is just her coaching CV in football. 

A senior girls high school basketball coach since 1999, Doré has also mentored athletes in field lacrosse, soccer and team handball. 

So when that resume — which also includes a wealth of experience as a teacher — crossed Craig Dickenson’s desk earlier this year, it was impossible not to take notice. 

“She’s outstanding,” the Roughriders’ Head Coach said. “I heard a lot about her when we were doing our due diligence on hiring and she’s someone who I’ve heard a lot of good things about for a long time. 

“So when she applied for the Women in Football spot through the CFL, she was a clear ‘1’ candidate. We had a couple (of candidates) that we interviewed and she stood out as a woman who has, Number 1, coached a lot of football and, Number 2, has a lot of experience leading a group of people.” 

Now she is adding to that experience at the professional level — and loving every millisecond. 

“It certainly is eye-opening — just the sheer amount of material that is covered in a short amount of time,” Doré marvelled. “The efficiency of reps is quite incredible, along with watching these athletes practise and act like professionals.” 

Watching the Roughriders is hardly a novel experience for Doré, who has been a devotee of the team as far back as she can remember. 

“As a Rider fan and historically, it’s neat to feel that I’m standing right next to a guy I was watching on the field last year,” she said. 

“It’s also reassuring because, even though they’re exceptional athletes, when it comes down to it they’re people and I’m being treated so respectfully. 

“There are moments of awe when I think, ‘I can’t believe this is what I’m doing right now,’ but because everybody’s so open and personable, I don’t feel out of place. I don’t feel like I’m doing something unnatural. 

“This is a place where I feel very much at home and comfortable.” 

Doré is so at home in a football environment that long-time observers of the local sporting scene don’t even raise an eyebrow when they see her working with players, male or female. 

“I hope that when people see me, they see me as a coach and not specifically as a female coach,” she said. 

“However, I think for a lot of young women, it’s important that that element is recognized, because so many people before me didn’t feel like their opportunity would exist because they were female. 

“I hope I’m showing that is something that is being disrupted and that we will be viewed not based on gender in the future, but instead based on our merits and experiences.” 

Doré’s experience is such that there are 31 items listed under CERTIFICATES AND TRAINING on her coaching resume. 

Her background also includes five years (1991 to 1996) as a student and athlete at Campbell Collegiate and six years at the U of S, from which she received Bachelor of Science (Kinesiology) and Bachelor of Education degrees. 

While at the U of S, she was also the 2001 recipient of the Valerie Girsberger Trophy. The award recognizes a female athlete who combines sport with community involvement and academics in exemplary fashion. 

In addition to playing basketball at the U of S, Doré was a team captain in her final three seasons with the program. She graduated as the Huskies’ all-time leader in steals and assists. 

By now, it will not be even remotely surprising to discover that she also found time to coach — for two years as an assistant with the St. Joseph Guardians senior girls high school basketball team — in addition to excelling on the court and in the classroom. 

Now, all these years later, she has returned to Saskatoon, as part of the Women in Football initiative. 

“It’s neat to be back,” Doré said. “I see the things that have changed and I see the things that have stayed the same. 

“I walk into the office and there’s (U of S Huskies head football coach) Scott Flory. Well, we went to university together, so it feels like I’m at home again.” 

The home address, however, is in Regina, where Doré resides with Pam Grzyb and the couple’s 20-month-old daughter (Calliope). 

“None of this would be possible without the support of my spouse and my family,” Doré emphasized.  

“My spouse is at home single-parenting for three weeks, working full-time, taking care of the dog, and doing all the things that multiple people normally do, to allow me these opportunities. 

“I think those are the people we often forget to talk about but, without their support, so much of this wouldn’t be possible.” 

Support from KPMG is also crucial to the program, which was launched across the CFL in 2022. 

“Last year, we had Amanda Ruller here coaching us and this year we have Coach Claire,” Morrow said.  

“We just think of her as Coach. Anytime she talks, everybody listens and we respect what she has to say. 

“Coach Bolduc and Claire have a great relationship and they bounce things off one another. We really enjoy having her in the room.” 

The enjoyment is shared by Doré, who hopes her current capacity will serve as a springboard in addition to inspiring and empowering other female football coaches. 

“Selfishly, do I hope that there’s a spot for me on the coaching roster with the Riders? Of course — absolutely,” she said. “If not, I’ll be a fan in the stands in my end-zone seat soon enough. 

“This is something that I can add to my resume and continue to build that level of experience to increase my visibility as a coach and increase my usefulness as a coach. 

“Hopefully it allows me to open more doors and continue to find opportunities at the elite level.”