December 3, 2023

Rob Vanstone: Charismatic coach wows the crowd at introductory session with season-ticket holders

Listening to and observing newly appointed Saskatchewan Roughriders Head Coach Corey Mace, Bill Forrest was transported back in time a mere 70 years. 

In 1953, a 10-year-old Forrest attended his first Roughriders home game. Glenn Dobbs was then in his third and final season as the Green and White’s featured quarterback. 

The Roughriders’ signal-caller of the day was so phenomenally popular that Regina had been dubbed Dobberville. 

Mail that was simply addressed to “Dobberville, Saskatchewan” inevitably found its way to the desired location and recipient. 

From the moment Dobbs arrived in Regina, on a wintry day in 1951, he was a magnet for the fans. His charisma, along with the team-record-shattering 28 touchdown passes he threw in 14 games during the 1951 season, was a winning formula as the Roughriders advanced to the Grey Cup for the first time since 1934. 

Having experienced that era, Forrest sat down at Mosaic Stadium’s Harvard Studio 620 Lounge on Saturday and enjoyed Mace’s introductory meet-and-greet with season-ticket holders. 

In Dobbs-like fashion, Mace elicited a standing ovation simply by entering the room. Then he wowed the crowd while being interviewed on-stage by the CFL team’s Director of Communications, Arielle Zerr. 

That being done, Mace cordially chatted with fans while I had the good fortune of meeting Forrest. 

So, Bill, how do you like the new coach? 

“I think he’s smart, personable and community-minded … just a nice guy,” Forrest responded. 

“But I hope he’s not too nice.” 

Football is, after all, a physical sport — not that Mace, a former defensive lineman, requires any reminding. 

“We’re going to love on each other and be as one,” Mace said when asked to outline his definition of an ideal team culture, “but we are going to go around and smack some people, too.” 

Cue a rousing ovation. 

“There are a few things that I believe are key recipes to winning football games,” Mace said during a 15-minute question-and-answer session. 

“Being a smart team and a team that doesn’t take dumb penalties and stuff like that, that’s one thing.” 

More applause. 

“We’ll take that,” Mace continued, acknowledging and appreciating the robust response. 

“Above all, these guys are going to fly around. It’s going to be fast and it’s going to be physical. 

“I tell our guys all the time: ‘You can be a (force) within the rules of the game.’ The extracurriculars, that’s not what we’re about. We’re going to dominate you within the rules of the game. 

“So we’re going to be fast and physical, and this is going to be a tight-knit group.  Everything I believe and that I’ve heard — and that I’m pretty sure I know you guys to be — that’s what this football team is going to be. 

“They’re going to be a family. They’re going to work hard. It doesn’t matter what the temperature is. If anything, it’s going to put them head and shoulders above anybody else in the league. 

“That’s what you guys can expect — a team that really represents what the community is.” 

Another linchpin of Mace’s coaching philosophy is to empower the players to be the best representations of themselves. 

“Nobody, including everybody in this room, has low expectations on themselves,” Mace said. “But it’s a lot easier to just say something and set goals for yourself. It’s another thing to put the work in. 

“Holding guys accountable to what they want to be, it really pushes each other. It makes each other compete to be the best version of themselves. 

“And if they do that, it’s actually very selfless for the greater good of the team. So everybody’s going to be the best at their job to make sure that this team is the best it can be for itself. 

“That’s going to be the culture. It’s always going to end with relationships for me.” 

Forrest’s relationship with the Roughriders dates back to the days when he attended Connaught School in Regina and got his first up-close-and-personal glimpse of the superstar quarterback. 

“Glenn Dobbs used to drive his kids to school every morning,” Forrest recalled, “and there would always be all sorts of people around him.” 

As Forrest shared that recollection, Mace was the modern-day version of Dobbs, interacting with all the fans who lined up for an introduction or a chat. 

“Corey Mace has that sort of charisma,” Forrest observed. “He brings that into the fold. 

“Now, respect isn’t something that you get automatically. It’s something that is earned. 

“This is a good start.” 

So good, in fact, that Forrest renewed his season ticket on Thursday. 

At that point, the hiring of Mace had not yet been made official. Hearing earlier in the week that Mace (who spent the past two seasons as the Toronto Argonauts’ Defensive Co-ordinator) and Buck Pierce (the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Offensive Co-ordinator) were the finalists in the head-coaching search was enough to compel Forrest to pay his latest visit to the Roughriders’ ticket office. 

“I heard it would be one of those two guys and I thought, ‘Those are good guys,’ ” said Forrest, 80. “You’ve got to say, ‘We’ve got a good one here.’ It’s going to come. 

“I like what he said about (quarterback) Trevor Harris, too. He’s a good person … and I hope the people around him are the same.” 

Intuition and experience tell a dedicated, diehard fan that the answer will be in the affirmative.
“Seventy years,” he concluded, “gives you a little perspective.”