April 8, 2024

Jim Hopson was “a tremendous person and an unparalleled leader”

Members of the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Football Operations staff didn’t work for Jim Hopson as much as they worked with him.

He felt like an ally to coaches and general managers alike.

“When I think about Jim, I include him in my experience with the Riders,” Ken Miller, a key member of the Roughriders’ organization from 2007 to 2011, says from Asheville, N.C.

“It was one of the richest blessings in my life to be in that organization at that time. It seemed like we were building and getting better.

“I told Jim on several occasions that the good things that were happening with the Riders were directly a result of his leadership. I firmly believe that and I thank God that I had the opportunity to be part of it, particularly at that time.”

Miller joined the Roughriders as the Offensive Co-ordinator in 2007 and helped the team win the Grey Cup that year.

With Miller as the Head Coach, the Green and White appeared in Grey Cup Games in 2009 — when the Roughriders won the CFL’s West Division regular-season title for the first time in 33 years — and 2010.

“During Jim’s tenure there, he got the entire organization to turn a page and write a new chapter and really open up new avenues, new ideas, new procedures and new personnel to develop an organization that really was substantial and very strong,” Miller says.

“I think he changed the culture of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.”

That has been a frequent refrain since the sad news first circulated that Hopson — the Roughriders’ President-CEO from 2005 to 2015 — passed away on Tuesday, at age 73, after a three-year battle with colon cancer.

It was Hopson who promoted Brendan Taman to the General Manager’s role in 2010 and added Vice-President of Football Operations to his title after the 5-13 season of 2011.

Hopson’s endorsement of Taman, as controversial as the move was at the time, set the table for the reconstruction of a team that ultimately celebrated a landmark home-field Grey Cup victory.

“When we won in 2013, I was so happy for everyone in general, but especially for Jim,” Taman, who is now the Ottawa REDBLACKS’ Director of Pro Personnel, says from his off-season home on Vancouver Island.

“Jim stuck his neck out for me (after the 2011 season) and gave me a chance and it wasn’t the most popular choice. I wanted to reward him for his loyalty.

“There were 10 other guys he could have hired to do that job and the team would have been fine, but he went out on a limb for me and I wanted to repay him.

“When he showed me that loyalty and backed me, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to work my butt off for him and for everybody in the organization.”

That sentiment was reinforced by the knowledge that Hopson, in turn, would do everything he could for the team.

“He always said that, ‘If you need anything, within reason, you’ll get it,’ ” Taman recalls. “He put us in the best position to win games and that was always his bottom line.

“I always enjoyed my time with him and I will always be grateful to him.”’

After Hopson endorsed Taman, the team’s next major move was the appointment of Corey Chamblin as Head Coach on Dec. 15, 2011. Chamblin named Craig Dickenson the Special Teams Co-ordinator on Feb. 1, 2012.

That was the first of Dickenson’s eight seasons with the Roughriders.

He also co-ordinated the special teams from 2016 to 2018 before being the Head Coach when the team hit the field in 2019, 2021, 2022 and 2023.

“Jim was a giant of a man and a giant in the community,” Dickenson, who recently joined the Calgary Stampeders as a Senior Consultant, says from Great Falls, Mont. “He led with dignity, grace, charm and integrity.

“Jim had answers and he found solutions. He was a doer and he made people around him feel like they mattered — like they had value and that they were appreciated.

“People forget about the wins and the losses and, at the end of the day, they remember how they felt around you.

“Jim made sure everyone felt valued and important and he empowered those around him to do more, to be better, and to work harder.

“He was a tremendous person and an unparalleled leader. His grace and dignity shown through until the end of his life and his legacy will live on through the lives of the people he touched and influenced.

“Rest in peace, my friend, and thank you for making a difference in my life and in the lives of so many others.”