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December 2, 2023

Robservations: First time can be the charm … the age-old coaching question … and the Coach/GM two-touchdown tandem

We begin today by referencing that noted football maven, Jimi Hendrix, who memorably inquired in 1967: Are You Experienced? 

A question of that ilk was circulating in recent weeks, during an extensive search that led to the unveiling of the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ 48th Head Coach — Corey Mace. 

Mace, who spent the past two CFL seasons as the Toronto Argonauts’ Defensive Co-ordinator, is immersing himself in a head-coaching role for the first time. 

Skeptics may wonder: Wouldn’t it be more of a risk-averse move to hire someone who has experience at the top of the coaching chain? 

The counterargument, localized and accentuated for your reading pleasure, is this: A first-time Head Coach has guided the Roughriders to their past three Grey Cup championships. 

Moreover, a first-time Head Coach has been on Saskatchewan’s sideline in each of its past seven Grey Cup appearances, dating back to 1976. 

When Saskatchewan first won a championship, back in 1966, Eagle Keys was the victorious Head Coach. He had previously served in that capacity for Edmonton. 

Thereafter, the Roughriders won Grey Cups under John Gregory (1989), Kent Austin (2007) and Corey Chamblin (2013). 

The team also appeared in the championship game under the direction of first-timers John Payne (1976), Jim Daley (1997) and Ken Miller (2009 and 2010). 

Moreover, a rookie Head Coach (Craig Dickenson) guided the 2019 Roughriders to a 13-5-0 slate — and the team’s highest victory total since it went 14-2-0 under Keys in 1970 — along with top spot in the West Division. 

Also worth noting is Mace’s tendency to robustly rebut the “experience is everything” theory. 

He made a seamless, immediate transition from playing to coaching upon retiring from the gridiron wars and joining Dave Dickenson’s Calgary Stampeders staff in December of 2015. 

Over Mace’s five seasons as the Defensive Line Coach, Calgary went 61-23-2 and advanced to three Grey Cup Games, including the Stampeders’ victorious effort of 2018. 

Next stop: Toronto, where the Argonauts fielded a championship team in 2022 — Mace’s inaugural season as a Defensive Co-ordinator. 

The Argonauts followed up in 2023 by going 16-2-0. The 16 victories tied a CFL single-season record that was initially established by Edmonton in 1989. 

Calling the shots for that Edmonton team was Joe Faragalli, who had debuted as a CFL Head Coach with the Roughriders of 1981. Following that season, Papa Joe was named the league’s Coach of the Year. 

Faragalli had joined the Roughriders after being a member of Hugh Campbell’s coaching staff in Edmonton from 1977 to 1980. 

Edmonton reached the Grey Cup in each of those four seasons, winning it all in the latter three. 

Under Campbell, Edmonton would ultimately win an unprecedented five consecutive CFL titles. 

Gluey Hughie, by the way, was a first-time Head Coach at the professional level. 

 

THE AMAZING MACE 

Overall, teams for which Mace has coached are 88-32-2. Winning percentage: 72.5. 

Factor in three Grey Cup championships — as a player (2014), Defensive Line Coach (2018) and Defensive Co-ordinator (2022) — and you have a career that is synonymous with success. 

“We wanted someone who was a proven winner and someone who came from a great pedigree,” Jeremy O’Day said on Friday. “That was important for me.” 

O’Day, the Roughriders’ General Manager and Vice-President of Football Operations, added that he sought to hire “someone who wants to establish a winning culture and understands what that looks like.” 

What does that look like? 

“I’ve always kept a list of things that I liked or didn’t like,” Mace told reporters during his introductory media conference. 

“Obviously, with the things that I’ve liked, there’s a reason that I believe they’ve worked, and there are some things I would probably add to that. 

“Now, I’m not going to give you all of those, because I feel like there’s a competitive advantage, but what I will say is that you’ve got to be fluid. I can have an idea of exactly what all those intangibles look like, but you’ve got to understand and have the pulse of the locker room and a relationship with (the players) to see if that truly fits. Maybe you have to adapt and adjust from that standpoint. 

“Accountability is one (staple) in every organization. It’s a matter of being firm on that. Honestly, it’s the biggest stars on the team that take it sometimes, and it sets the tone, truthfully. 

“Hopefully, you never have to hold anybody accountable for doing anything that they shouldn’t be doing, but football is a fast-moving sport and guys sometimes find themselves in slumps. You have to handle it in a certain way. 

“When the guys start holding themselves accountable, you know you’ve got something, so that’s going to be the end game.” 

 

YOUNG IDEAS 

It can be stated, unequivocally, that Mace is the 12thor 13th-youngest Head Coach in the Roughriders’ post-Second World War history. 

Don King and Lindsay Holt — coaching cohorts in 1945 — have complicated everything. 

At the time of that arrangement, King was 26 and Holt was 28. 

Does two people sharing one job count as one coach or two? Hmmmm … 

If you consider the Head Coach an entity, as opposed to accounting for both individuals who form a partnership, the answer would be one. 

Let’s go with that, then, and therefore conclude that Mace is the team’s 12th-youngest field boss over a period that encompasses nearly 80 years. 

The youngest, Fred Grant, was only 22 when he took over as a playing coach on Oct. 8, 1947. 

Then comes the youthful King/Holt tag team. Average age: 27. 

Ken Preston was 29 when he was hired — again, as a playing coach — in 1946. 

Two other player-coaches — Glenn Dobbs and Frank Tripucka — were 31 when they assumed the reins in 1952 and 1959, respectively. 

Harry (Blackjack) Smith, who guided the Roughriders to the 1951 Grey Cup Game in his single season with Saskatchewan, was 32 at the time of his appointment. 

Ken Carpenter, at 33, was introduced as the team’s Head Coach on Dec. 11, 1959. He stepped down in late October of 1960. 

George Terlep (hired on Jan. 24, 1958) and Chamblin (Dec. 15, 2011) were both 34 when the announcements were made. 

Frank Filchock was 36 when he began a five-season stay as the team’s chief strategist. (He was also a playing coach in 1953.) 

Now, we bring you the Roughriders’ two 37-year-old appointees — Mace and Jim Eddy. 

Eddy, who was promoted from an assistant’s role on Feb. 22, 1977, was 37 years 295 days old (young?) at the time. 

Mace was 342 days past his 37th birthday when his arrival in Riderville became official on Thursday. 

The Roughriders’ oldest Head Coach? 

More complications, unfortunately. 

Cal Murphy was at 66 years 260 days when he succeeded Daley on Nov. 27, 1998. 

Murphy noses out Miller (66 years 114 days), whose ascent was announced on Feb. 6, 2008. 

But here’s the thing: Miller began a second stint as the Head Coach on Aug. 19, 2011, when he was 57 days shy of turning 70. 

Cue the confusion. 

Miller was 146 days younger than Murphy when Chapter 1 began, but — BUT! — more than three years older at the dawn of Chapter 2. 

With the personal odometer at 59 years 246 days, I am aging all too rapidly just trying to sort this out, so … er … (deep breath) … next item! 

 

“MIND-BOGGLING, BABY” 

Mace, who hails from the Vancouver area, is the fourth Canadian-born Roughriders Head Coach since the formation of the CFL in 1958. 

(Notice how conveniently the time frame was adjusted for the purpose of avoiding the Holt-King thing. It’s an art, really.) 

Mace follows Daley (1996 to 1998), Murphy (1999) and Bob Dyce (who held the position on an interim basis for the final half of the 2015 campaign). 

Dyce is now the Ottawa REDBLACKS’ field boss. He, Mace and Mike O’Shea (Winnipeg Blue Bombers) give the CFL three current home-grown Head Coaches. 

“I take extreme pride in that — as I hope any Canadian would, to be quite frank with you,” Mace said when asked about coaching in the CFL as a Canadian. 

“You look around the league and the other coaches who hold that title as well do a great job. There are (also) some excellent, excellent (assistant) coaches in different organizations who are waiting for their opportunity who are also Canadian. 

“Being a Canadian Head Coach of an organization like this is mind-boggling, baby, and I am very proud.” 

 

LINE DANCING 

What do Mace and O’Day have in common? 

While employed as linemen in the CFL, they both caught a touchdown pass from a legendary quarterback. 

As a rookie offensive lineman with the Argonauts, O’Day hauled in a five-yard TD toss from Doug Flutie in a 66-25 victory over the host Blue Bombers on Sept. 7, 1997. 

Fast forward to Oct. 26, 2012, when Mace (customarily a defensive tackle) lined up in a short-yardage formation with the Stampeders’ offence and snared a one-yard TD pass from Bo Levi Mitchell in a 41-21 victory over the B.C. Lions. 

According to the Calgary Herald, Mace punctuated his second CFL touchdown with a “funky dance.” 

That major pulled Mace into a tie with O’Day in terms of all-time touchdowns. 

O’Day’s second score became part of the record on Nov. 5, 1999, when he snared a five-yard payoff pitch from the Roughriders’ Steve Sarkisian in Vancouver. 

 

ROLL CREDITS … 

  •  Nice people who deserve a plug: Carol Hoeving, Dwayne Hoeving, Shawn Hoeving, Kristin Hoeving, Malia Melissa Hoeving, Corey Mace, Petra Mace, Maleena Mace, Micah Mace, John Mace, Virginia Jacobsen, Mike Jacobsen, Tausha Mace, John Lipp, Michele Roland Semenchuck, Antonio Pipkin, Gary Field, Barry Taman, Kelly Brezinski, Emma Brezinski, Greg Veillard, Aaron Anderson, Mick Kern, Lila Haroldson and Melanie Bedard.