December 5, 2023

Rob Vanstone: Nerdy nuggets about every Saskatchewan Roughriders Head Coach

Give someone the title of “Roughrider Historian” and, well, this is what can happen. 

I couldn’t resist. I simply could … not … resist. 

Following the recent appointment of Corey Mace as the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ newest Head Coach, I felt compelled to dive into the files and learn more about his predecessors. 

It was a nerdy exercise, admittedly, but such is my nature. So here, without further preamble or even the slightest inclination to apologize, is an elongated eruption of field-boss factoids … 

Fred Ritter (1910-13): After coaching the Regina Rugby Club to back-to-back Western Canadian titles, Ritter left the team to become an assistant coach at Princeton. He returned to Regina in 1915 and managed the local senior rugby side. 

Frank Townsend (1914, 1919): In Year 1 under Townsend, Regina won a third consecutive Western Canadian championship. He called the shots again in 1919, when play resumed after the First World War, and again led Regina to a Western title. 

Hick Abbott (1915): Edward Lyman (Hick) Abbott was accomplished in rugby and hockey circles. After coaching the Regina Rugby Club to a Western title, he served overseas. He was killed in action on Aug. 18, 1918. In 2014, he was enshrined in the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame. 

Heinie Rogers (1916, 1925): The team won all three of its regular-season games, plus a provincial title in 1916, during Rogers’ two stints as the coach. He also managed the team in the early 1920s. 

Jerry Crapper (1920-21): Crapper coached the team to a Western title in Year 1. As a player, he helped Regina win a provincial championship by returning a fumble 99 yards on Oct. 28, 1912 against Saskatoon. That team-record distance stood alone until Steve Johnson took off on a 99-yarder of his own on Aug. 18, 1984 against the host Calgary Stampeders. Crapper and Johnson shared the team record until Omarr Morgan registered a 108-yarder against Edmonton on July 15, 2009. 

Jack Eadie (1922-23): Coached the RRC/Roughriders in their first Grey Cup appearance — a 54-0 loss to Queen’s in 1923. 

Pete Dolan (1924): Dolan played against the RRC/Roughriders in the 1923 Grey Cup Game, suiting up for Queen’s. 

H.C. (Doc) Blackwood (1925): Blackwood was named the Head Coach on Sept. 21, 1925, but never served in that capacity during a game. By the time the 1925 Roughriders made their on-field debut, Rogers was calling the shots. 

Howie Milne (1926-28): A versatile star for the Roughriders for most of the 1920s, Milne was in charge of the team during the 1928 Grey Cup game. He entered the SaskTel Plaza of Honour in 1992. 

Greg Grassick (1929, 1934): A 1988 Plaza inductee, Grassick is also in the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame (as is Milne). Grassick was unable to make the trip east for the 1929 Grey Cup Game, so Al Ritchie handled the coaching in the national final. 

Al Ritchie (1929-32, 1933, 1935, 1942): “The Silver Fox” is a legend in local hockey and sporting circles. He coached the Regina Pats to Memorial Cup championships in 1925 and 1930. 

Curt Schave (1933): Schave coached the Roughriders during the 1933 regular season, after which he and Ritchie shared the duties. On Sept. 21, 1931 at Saskatoon, Schave had rushed for 225 yards — a Roughriders single-game record that endured until George Reed erupted for 268 against the host B.C. Lions on Oct. 24, 1965. 

Dean Griffing (1936-38, 1940-41, 1943): After starring at the University of Kansas, Griffing ventured northward and also became a legend on this side of the border. He entered the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1965. In 1987, he became a charter member of the Plaza of Honour. 

Leo Schweinfurt (1939): Although Griffing was advertised as the Head Coach leading up to the 1939 season, Schweinfurt handled those responsibilities for a 6-6 Roughriders team. 

Lindsay Holt (1945): After Regina was represented on the rugby pitch by military teams during the Second World War, the Roughriders as we know them returned in 1945. Holt and Don King were co-coaches in addition to playing for the team. Also of note: Holt was the Saskatoon Hilltops’ first Head Coach. 

Don King (1945): After playing for and coaching with the Roughriders, King became an official — one of the best. He officiated Canadian professional football games for 25 seasons, beginning in 1948. He was assigned four Grey Cup Games. 

Ken Preston (1946-47): Named a playing coach with the Roughriders on Aug. 15, 1946, Preston stepped down as the field boss on Oct. 15, 1947. He is best remembered for the 20 seasons (1958-77) he spent as the Roughriders’ General Manager. 

Fred Grant (1947-50): Grant was only 22 when he took over the coaching from Preston for the latter portion of the 1947 season. Grant starred for the University of Alabama before heading to Canada. 

Harry Smith (1951): Nicknamed Blackjack, he guided Saskatchewan to first place in the Western Interprovincial Football Union and a Grey Cup berth in his only season with the team. 

Glenn Dobbs (1952): Dobbs took over as a playing coach after throwing 28 touchdown passes for the 1951 Roughriders. In so doing, he quadrupled the team’s previous single-season record for TD tosses (seven, by Jack Hartman in 1950). 

Frank Filchock (1953-57): With Washington on Oct. 15, 1939, Filchock threw the first 99-yard TD pass in NFL history — to Andy Farkas. Twelve such plays have ensued, the most recent being a 99-yarder from Eli Manning to New York Giants teammate Victor Cruz on Dec. 24, 2011. 

George Terlep (1958-59): Terlep’s foremost contribution to Roughriders history occurred after his dismissal on Sept. 30, 1959. He soon became the GM with the Ottawa Rough Riders and, in that capacity, brought Ron Lancaster to the CFL. 

Frank Tripucka (1959): Tripucka, a star Roughriders quarterback for a considerable portion of the 1950s, was also the first starting signal-caller in Denver Broncos history. The Broncos, who debuted in the old American Football League, eventually retired Tripucka’s uniform number (18). He cheerfully consented for the number to be unretired when Peyton Manning joined the Broncos in 2012. 

Ken Carpenter (1960): Carpenter still holds the Roughriders’ single-season record for touchdowns (18 in 1955). 

Steve Owen (1961-62): In 1962, Owen became the second winner of the Annis Stukus Trophy, awarded to the CFL’s top coach. “Stout Steve” was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966. (The other Pro Football Hall of Famer with a tie to the Roughriders is former Cleveland Browns receiver Mac Speedie, who played in Saskatchewan in 1953 and 1954. His bust was unveiled in Canton, Ohio in 2020.) 

Bob Shaw (1963-64): With the Chicago Cardinals, Shaw led the NFL in touchdown catches (12) in 1950. Five of those majors were scored in one game. With Calgary in 1952, he amassed 1,094 receiving yards (then a Canadian pro football record). Another Shaw tidbit: He was an assistant coach for the Baltimore Colts, champions of the NFL in 1958. 

Eagle Keys (1965-70): The most successful Head Coach in Roughriders history, as evidenced by a 68-25-3 regular-season record and three Grey Cup appearances (including a landmark victory in 1966). 

Dave Skrien (1971-72): A year after winning the Annis Stukus Trophy, Skrien coached B.C. to its first Grey Cup victory, in 1964. 

John Payne (1973-76): The Roughriders were 40-23-1 under Payne, who faced Edmonton in the Western Conference final in each of his four seasons as Saskatchewan’s chief strategist. 

Jim Eddy (1977-78): As an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys, Eddy was a part of Super Bowl-winning teams in 1994 and 1995. 

Walt Posadowski (1978): The Roughriders went 4-6-1 under Posadowski after he replaced Eddy during the 1978 season. Posadowski was triumphant in his final game as Head Coach of the Roughriders, who won 36-26 in Edmonton on Oct. 29, 1978. 

Ron Lancaster (1979-80): Lancaster celebrated his first CFL head-coaching victory on his 41st birthday (Oct. 14, 1979). The win was at the expense of an Edmonton team that was coached by his close friend and former Roughriders teammate, Hugh Campbell. 

Joe Faragalli (1981-83): “Papa Joe” is the only coach in Roughriders history to miss the CFL playoffs despite a winning record. The 1981 Roughriders went 9-7-0, which was good for fourth place in a strong Western Conference. The top three finishers advanced to the post-season. This was in the days before the cross-over, remember. In the East Division, Ottawa (5-11-0) and the Montreal Alouettes (3-13-0) advanced to the post-season in 1981. 

Reuben Berry (1983-84): Early in his tenure with the Roughriders, Berry coined the term “Saskatchewan Tough.” 

Jack Gotta (1985-86): Gotta was an assistant coach on the Roughriders’ first Grey Cup-winning team. He was later named the Coach of the Year with Ottawa (1972 and 1973) and Calgary (1978). 

John Gregory (1987-91): Post-CFL, Gregory coached arena football’s Iowa Barnstormers, whose roster included future Super Bowl-winning quarterback Kurt Warner. 

Don Matthews (1991-93): The Roughriders amassed 100 (yes, 100!) points over Matthews’ first two games as the team’s head coach. After taking over from Gregory in August of 1991, Matthews guided Saskatchewan to victories over Edmonton (44-41) and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (56-23). 

Ray Jauch (1994-95): Although Jauch was formally the Roughriders’ Head Coach in 1994 and 1995, he debuted in that role on Oct. 17, 1993. While Matthews was in hospital recovering from an appendectomy, Jauch served as Interim Head Coach as Saskatchewan defeated the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-10. Jauch was also the Roughriders’ Offensive Co-ordinator at the time. 

Jim Daley (1996-98): Daley was entering his second season as the Roughriders’ Head Coach when the financially troubled team held a telethon in 1997. The team didn’t merely survive. It also represented the West in the 1997 Grey Cup Game after registering upset playoff victories in Calgary and Edmonton. 

Cal Murphy (1999): En route to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, Murphy coached with teams that won nine Grey Cup championships. 

Danny Barrett (2000-06): Barrett has been an NFL assistant coach with the Miami Dolphins (2016-17) and Houston Texans (2018-present). A Running Backs Coach throughout his tenure in the NFL, he was also named the Texans’ Assistant Head Coach earlier this year. 

Kent Austin (2007): With Austin in the spotlight, the Roughriders won Grey Cup titles in 1989 and 2007. Both championship games were played at the Rogers Centre. Austin threw for 474 yards and three TDs as Saskatchewan outlasted Hamilton 43-40 on Nov. 26, 1989. He was the Roughriders’ Head Coach when the team next won a title — by defeating Winnipeg 23-19 on Nov. 25, 2007. 

Ken Miller (2008-10, 2011): Miller worked for John F. Kennedy’s campaign in 1960, when JFK was elected the 35th President of the United States. Turning to football … under Miller in 2009, the Roughriders snapped a 33-year first-place drought. 

Greg Marshall (2011): Marshall’s one victory as the Roughriders’ Head Coach was on July 24, 2011, when the Green and White bounced the host Alouettes 27-24. Miller returned to the sideline on Aug. 19, 2011, after the Roughriders’ record slipped to 1-7-0. 

Corey Chamblin (2012-15): Chamblin’s first and final victories as the Roughriders’ Head Coach were against Hamilton. In his regular-season debut, Saskatchewan won 43-16 in Hamilton on June 29, 2012. On Nov. 24 of the following year, Chamblin guided the Roughriders to a 45-23 Grey Cup victory over the visiting Tiger-Cats. 

Bob Dyce (2015): Dyce, who replaced Chamblin on Aug. 31, 2015, won his first and last games as the Roughriders’ Head Coach. The first game: A 37-19 victory over Winnipeg at historic Mosaic Stadium. The last game: A 30-24 overtime victory in Montreal. 

Chris Jones (2016-18): Jones is one of three individuals to be named the CFL’s Coach of the Year to punctuate his final season with the Roughriders. The others: Owen (1962) and Austin (2007). 

Craig Dickenson (2019-23): Since 1977, only two people have coached Saskatchewan to first place in the West — Miller (2009) and Dickenson (2019). The 13 victories in 2019 were the most by the Roughriders since they went 14-2-0 under Keys in 1970. 

Corey Mace: Mace leads all Roughriders Head Coaches in NFL interceptions (one). As a member of the Buffalo Bills, he intercepted Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne on Nov. 29, 2009. Other Roughriders Head Coaches with NFL playing experience: Smith, Filchock, Carpenter, Shaw, Tripucka and Austin. Although Dobbs did not play in the NFL, he starred in the old All-America Football Conference, which was absorbed by the NFL in December of 1949.