REGINA — Greg Marshall’s long-awaited first job as a CFL head coach has ended mere months after it began.
The struggling Saskatchewan Roughriders fired Marshall on Friday after a dismal 1-7 start to the season. Offensive co-ordinator Doug Berry was also sacked in the wake of Thursday’s 24-18 road loss to the Toronto Argonauts.
Riders general manager Brendan Taman said he saw how hard Marshall worked to be a head coach. Taman said it was a difficult decision.
“It was tough. It was really tough,” said Taman. “He took it like a pro, like he is, and he understands this is the business, but it’s disappointing to everybody in this organization that we didn’t succeed with Greg and it surprises all of us that we didn’t.”
Taman made it clear that Marshall’s dismissal was because of the team’s ongoing struggles on the field.
“As the season’s gone on, we’ve been going a road we didn’t want to go down and it’s continually gotten worse,” the general manager said.
Marshall was hand-picked for the job by Roughriders vice-president of football operations and former head coach Ken Miller. Miller led the Riders to back-to-back Grey Cup appearances – both losses to Montreal – before moving to the front office this past off-season.
Miller said he doesn’t know why the Riders never seemed to get in synch under Marshall’s watch.
“When you work with human beings, you know it’s not an exact science and certainly as Brendan has said Greg is a tremendous person. He’s demonstrated the fact that he’s a tremendous coach and it appeared that he had the attributes to come and be very, very successful here,” said Miller.
“I don’t know exactly why he wasn’t, just in these circumstances it didn’t work out for him or for us. But again, he was a tremendous choice and I thought he was going to be the coach here for a long, long time.”
Marshall was hired as the Riders head coach in January after patiently waiting 17 years for the shot. He applied for many head coaching positions – six or seven, depending on who you talk to – but was always bypassed.
That changed when the Riders came calling, and it appeared like a good fit: one of the CFL’s most respected assistant coaches taking over a club that had won the West Division title the last two years before losing hard-fought decisions to Montreal in the Grey Cup.
Marshall also spent nine seasons as a defensive lineman with the Ottawa Rough Riders before starting his coaching career at age 37 as Saskatchewan’s defensive line coach in 1994. Two years later he added the defensive co-ordinator’s job to his resume and remained with the Riders until 1999.
He subsequently had CFL coaching gigs with the Edmonton Eskimos (2000-04), Ottawa Renegades (2005), Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2006-08) and Hamilton (2009-10).
However, Marshall’s selection as Saskatchewan’s head coach wasn’t unanimous.
He was hired by Miller but Taman’s preference for the job reportedly was Corey Chamblin, the former Calgary secondary coach who replaced Marshall as Hamilton’s defensive co-ordinator. Also in the running was Scott Milanovich, the Montreal Alouettes offensive co-ordinator.
Marshall signed a three-year deal with the Riders and arrived with a reputation of being a players’ coach with a calm, laid-back demeanour. An imposing figure who stands 6-5, Marshall does possess a volatile sideline disposition.
The Riders were continually plagued by turnovers, bad penalties and missed opportunities in compiling a league-worst record.
The Riders dominated the game Thursday night against Toronto, registering more first downs (27-19), rushing yards (99-95), passing yards (384-169) and total yards (468-248) while holding the ball for over 33 minutes. But Saskatchewan committed four turnovers, had two long Tristan Jackson punt returns and an interception negated by penalty while rookie kicker Christopher Milo missed 2-of-3 field goals.
Despite all that, the Riders scored two fourth-quarter TDs to pull to within 24-18 and had the ball at the Toronto 22-yard line with 23 seconds remaining. Quarterback Darian Durant, who threw for 384 yards, took two shots into the end zone for the game-winning TD, but Toronto’s defence turned them away to preserve the victory.
Rabid Rider fans have flooded local radio call in shows to debate what’s wrong with the team. Some called for coaches to be axed, others suggested it was the players who weren’t stepping up.
Miller will step back onto the sideline to take over coaching duties and lead Saskatchewan into its next game, Sept. 4 at Mosaic Stadium against the high-flying Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He declined to say whether or not he was returning to job permanently.
“I’m not going to address next year right now,” said Miller. “Right now my primary goal is to get this team playing the way it needs to play, get this team into playoffs, win the dang Grey Cup. That’s what my goal is.