December 1, 2023

“I knew it was meant to be”: Saskatchewan’s the place for Corey Mace

Corey Mace and Jeremy O’Day, who are now inextricably linked as leaders of the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ football-operations staff, briefly but unforgettably crossed paths as players. 

O’Day’s 14th and final season on the CFL gridiron was the first in the professional three-down ranks for Mace, who initially suited up with the Calgary Stampeders as a defensive tackle in 2010. 

He celebrated another first on Oct. 17 of that year, registering one of the two touchdowns he would score in a Calgary uniform. 

That play unfolded during the fourth quarter at historic Mosaic Stadium, where a blitzing Milt Collins dislodged the football from Roughriders quarterback Darian Durant. 

At the time of the hit, Mace was jousting with Saskatchewan’s perennial All-Star centre — O’Day, who is now the team’s General Manager and Vice-President of Football Operations — at the line of scrimmage. 

Oh, so conveniently, the fumbled ball landed in proximity to Mace, who soon embarked on an unimpeded, 60-yard scamper down the left sideline and toward the north end zone. 

“I tell you, that was a lonnnnnnnng run,” Mace said on Friday morning after being formally introduced as the Roughriders’ 48th Head Coach. “I was pretty tapped after that.” 

Watching from the sideline, disconsolately, was the Roughriders’ backup quarterback of the day — Ryan Dinwiddie. 

Dinwiddie, in his current capacity as the Toronto Argonauts’ field boss, announced on Dec. 30, 2021 that Mace had been appointed the Boatmen’s Defensive Co-ordinator. 

Dinwiddie and Mace proceeded to guide Toronto to a championship, the clincher being a 24-23 Grey Cup victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Nov. 20, 2022. 

That down-to-the-wire game was played, fittingly enough, at Mosaic Stadium, where Mace ecstatically took his some of his first steps as a CFL Head Coach after arriving in Regina early Thursday evening. 

It almost seems scripted. 

“My wife and I think very much like that,” Petra Mace’s proud husband said with a smile. “I’m certainly a believer that things are already designed for you. 

“It was very special that day (in November of 2022) for myself and my teammates but, with the fact that we’re looking at it full circle, I knew it was meant to be. 

“I’ve seen a lot of signs that this was the job.” 

That is why Mace, during a multi-stage interview process that also involved President-CEO Craig Reynolds and Assistant GM Kyle Carson, emphatically and repeatedly declared: “I want this job.” 

And so it came to pass — this time, without a blitzing Milt Collins, or the slightest evidence of a fumble. 

O’Day, whose job it was to stand in Mace’s way on the field of play, ultimately cleared the way for him to attain his goal of becoming a Head Coach. 

“He was just so excited to get the opportunity to come here and meet in person,” O’Day said during a Friday media conference at Mosaic Stadium. “And then, once you meet him in person, he’s contagious. He’s genuine. He’s honest. 

“Part of my job is to put myself in the shoes of the players. Being a former player and talking to an individual, you think, ‘Is this a guy who you would follow or run through a wall for?’ It became clear that I would, for sure. 

“We had a pretty long list of things that we wanted in a Head Coach. A lot of times, when you’re going through it, you’re trying to figure out what’s wrong with somebody instead of realizing the 100 things that are right. 

“It just became clear.” 

Hence the offer of a job and the unhesitating acceptance. 

“J.O. called me and said, ‘Hey, I’m in the team meeting room and I’m standing at the podium and I can’t unsee you,’ ” Mace, who turns 38 on Dec. 22, said in a congested Mosaic Stadium media room. “I said, ‘Hey, don’t you start talking to me like that unless you mean it!’ 

“It was elation. It was celebration. Quite honestly, it’s still sinking in. In the interview, I tried to put myself in this situation. I put myself here before and it’s living up to everything. 

“It feels amazing.” 

Emotionally, Mace has experienced the other end of the spectrum. 

Over six years as a player with the Stampeders, he twice suffered a serious injury in Week 1. There were season-enders in 2011 (ruptured Achilles tendon) and 2013 (torn labrum). 

“It’s the gift and the curse of this game, right?” Mace said. “A lot of surgeries for this guy right here, so I spent a lot of time with the clicker (poring over game video). 

“Even in my time as a player, I tried to be the guy to take the younger guys under my wing. I took pride in that and in seeing their success when we’d work on something and they’d do something great. 

“As my career was kind of on the back nine, I had enough awareness to see that ‘this obviously isn’t going to last incredibly long.’ I tried different things that had nothing to do with football and it just did not sit well with me. 

“I love the relationships that you build. I could just be making it up, because I’ve never really worked anywhere else except at Safeway when I was a kid, but there’s the community of what you get in an organization. 

“It’s not just from the players’ standpoint, which I was lucky enough to experience in a locker room, but when you transition into the coaching aspect of it — which I was very fortunate to do right after my playing career — you see that it’s a different set of family on the coaching side, on the football-ops side. It’s very close-knit. 

“When you marry that into the locker room, it’s family. When you become selfless because you want the people around you to succeed, it’s special when they do, and I don’t know that you get that anywhere else. 

“To be able to be the leading voice of that and to push that in an organization, I want to see what that looks like.” 

Corey and Petra Mace are accustomed to being among the leading voices who speak up on behalf of, and in support of, others. 

As a player, and later as a Defensive Line Coach with the Stampeders, Mace spearheaded an annual holiday-season turkey and ham drive that helped families in need for nine years. 

In 2013, he teamed up with the Stampeders to launch Mace’s Faces, which allowed 15 young fans to attend each home game and meet with him afterward. 

Those endeavours, and myriad others, were acknowledged in March of 2015 when the Stampeders presented Mace with their Presidents’ Ring, which honours exemplary performance on and off the field. 

Mace and his wife now plan to immerse themselves into this community once they, along with their four-year-old daughter (Maleena) and one-year-old son (Micah), move to Regina. 

“This fan base gives a tremendous amount to this organization, so who are we — my family and I — not to give back?” Mace said. “Even if we can do six or seven initiatives, it isn’t going to measure up to what the fan base brings to us. 

“It’s important because of the way I was raised and it’s important because of how we want to raise our children … and I just think it’s the right thing to do.” 

That mindset has been ingrained by his father (John Mace), mother (Virginia Jacobsen), stepfather (Mike Jacobsen) and stepmother (Tausha Mace). 

“All four of them see it the same — about not only being a good person, but being great to those around you,” the Roughriders’ new chief strategist said. 

“Because my parents remarried, I have younger, younger siblings. They’re exactly the same, if not even more loving and giving. 

“I know for sure that both of my parents had a lot to do with it, because my dad and his family live in California, and my mom and the family out there live in Vancouver. Yet the kids, despite not growing up together, are exactly the same. 

“I spent a lot of time in Vancouver and a lot of time with my family in San Diego. It’s just who we were. 

“In harder times, people looked out for my family when we needed it as well, so I know that a little bit of love goes a long way.” 

Mace went a long way as a football player even though he did not take up the tackle version of the sport until age 13. 

“My dad played football on Vancouver Island for the Oak Bay Invaders,” Mace recalled, breaking into a chuckle. “He’s like an Al Bundy type. He’ll tell you, ‘I scored nine touchdowns in the provincial final!’ 

“Very early, I saw Barry Sanders run a football (for the Detroit Lions) and I said, ‘Wow … I’ve never seen anything like that!’ 

“The first player from afar who I fell in love with was Junior Seau. I moved down to San Diego at a young age, right in the height of Junior Seau’s reign with the Chargers. I just knew from there — that’s what I wanted to do. 

“Luckily, I was gifted with not the most svelte body, so I knew I had an opportunity in football. When my mother remarried to Mike, we moved from Vancouver out to the suburb of Coquitlam and I played football out there at 13 years old. 

“It had been near nine years that I was begging to play contact football and I finally got the opportunity to do it. Before that, it was just chucking my friends and crushing each other in the backyard.” 

Mace honed his considerable skills in B.C. at Port Moody Secondary School before heading to San Marcos, Calif. (near San Diego) and joining the Palomar College Comets. 

After two years of playing football for the community college, he joined the University of Wyoming and suited up for the Cowboys. 

As a senior in 2006, he earned second-team  

All Mountain West honours. 

The Blue Bombers took notice, selecting Mace in the second round (11th overall) of the 2007 CFL Draft. 

He opted to sign with the Buffalo Bills and spent three years in the NFL, playing in five regular-season games over that span.  

Most notably, he registered an interception in a 16-3 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 29, 2009. 

By then, the Argonauts owned his CFL rights, which were subsequently shipped to Calgary on Aug. 21, 2010 for a future Roughrider, linebacker Tristan Black. 

Mace signed with Calgary eight days after the deal and soon enjoyed a resounding debut with the Stampeders as they downed Edmonton 52-5. 

Eleven days henceforth, he paid an introductory visit to the erstwhile Taylor Field and — here’s another full-circle moment — registered his first CFL sack, felling Durant. 

The game evolved into a classic, with Saskatchewan winning 43-37 in overtime on the strength of 500 passing yards from Durant, who found Andy Fantuz 10 times for 255 yards. 

A month later, again in Regina, Mace’s fumble-return TD helped the Stampeders assume a 31-19 fourth-quarter lead and ultimately win 34-26. 

When the teams met yet again — on Nov. 21, 2010 at McMahon Stadium — the Roughriders upended the top-seeded Stampeders 20-16 in the West Division final. 

Mace rebounded from an injury-marred 2011 season to help Calgary reach the 2012 Grey Cup Game, won 35-22 by Toronto. 

When Calgary next played for a championship, it was on Nov. 30, 2014 in Vancouver. Playing in his home province at BC Place — yes, another full-circle moment! — Mace registered a sack to help Calgary defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 20-16. 

“That was my very first Grey Cup, and it was in front of my family,” he said, “and, truthfully, that was the last game that I played.” 

The following January, the Stampeders announced that Mace had signed a contract extension, but a fractured foot (suffered in the pre-season) and a painful, persistent back issue prevented him from playing in a game of consequence in 2015. 

In December of that year, he was named the Stampeders’ Defensive Line Coach and remained in that capacity for six years. 

As an assistant coach, Mace became a second-time Grey Cup champion when the Stampeders defeated the Ottawa REDBLACKS 27-16 on Nov. 27, 2018. 

Ottawa’s quarterback at the time was Trevor Harris, who had thrown a CFL playoff record six touchdown passes in the 2018 East Division semi-final. 

Cue one more 360-degree experience for Mace, who is excited about having Harris — who signed a two-year contract with the Roughriders last February — start at quarterback in 2024.  

“I FaceTimed Trevor (on Thursday) and we had a great conversation,” Mace said. “I think the trajectory of (the 2023) season for this organization changed a little bit when, obviously, he got hurt (on July 15 versus Calgary). 

“He has been an outstanding quarterback in this league for many years and obviously possesses all the skill sets to be a winner.” 

That label is also affixed to Mace. 

The Stampeders and Argonauts boast a combined 88-32-2 regular-season record — good for a winning percentage of 72.5 — with Mace in place. 

Let’s not forget his two Grey Cup victories as an assistant coach and the overall championship tally of three. 

“I think I kind of have an idea of what the recipe of winning looks like, just being a part of it for the last few years, but you’ve got to have really good players,” noted Mace, who helped Toronto boast a league-best 16-2 record in 2023. 

“I think the foundation of that is excellent, with everything that J.O. and Kyle and everyone has done already. And, I’m telling you, talking with other coaches around the league and with other players, they understand that. Trust me when I tell you: The foundation is solid here. 

“I think it’s a marriage of what the locker room is and what the organization is. There’s the brotherhood that we’ll all share as an organization, but you’ve got to have talented players and these guys do a great job already of (facilitating) that. 

“I can’t wait to work with them moving forward.”