January 23, 2013

Pedersen: Riders being praised for hiring of Cortez


Rarely has the hiring of a coach been lauded so far and wide across the Rider Nation as this week’s announcement that George Cortez is returning to the Saskatchewan Roughriders as offensive coordinator.

Even when Corey Chamblin was hired as head coach in December of 2011, the response didn’t quite illicit the level of excitement as the acquisition of Cortez. After all Rider fans didn’t know a whole lot about Chamblin at the time other than that he was a successful assistant coach in Winnipeg, Calgary and Hamilton.

However Rider fans know Cortez well.  It’s not so much because of his brief stint as the Riders’ offensive line coach in 2006 but moreso because of his four Grey Cup championships as offensive coordinator of the rival Calgary Stampeders. He was a Rider-killer.

Now, he’s on their side and the fans couldn’t be happier. In fact, whether it be callers to talkshows, message board posters or just buzz on the street, I haven’t heard one negative comment about this hiring.

Chamblin even said he never would have made this move for anyone else besides Cortez.  It had to be an uncomfortable conversation when Corey told Bob Dyce, the team’s O.C. in 2012, that he’s being bumped to a lesser role in 2013 and beyond.

And it brings about a bigger discussion. Reporters asked Chamblin if the fact Saskatchewan is hosting the Grey Cup this November played a part in the move.  As the theory goes, there’s added importance for this season because of the Celebration In Rider Nation in 2013.

But is there really? Should there be? Chamblin scoffed somewhat at the reporter’s question, saying he would have made this move no matter what the season or situation was.

And Cortez himself was asked if this position was more desirable given what lays before the franchise in the next 10 months. However he replied that he accepted this position because of his affection for the organization, this province and the talent with which he has to work.

Truth be told it wasn’t Cortez’s first choice, which is understandable. The veteran coach had his eyes on an another NFL opportunity (he was quarterbacks coach with the Buffalo Bills in 2011) but when it didn’t materialize, he gladly accepted Chamblin’s call and the subsequent offer.

So, back to the topic at hand.  How is this season any more important than any other? We’ve lived in this province long enough to know the fans’ expectations are that the team win a Grey Cup every year. We downplay those expectations but it’s true; in an 8-team league you should be in the running every year. That just hasn’t always been the case.

After all it’s not like junior hockey’s Memorial Cup where the host team gains an automatic berth into the four-team tournament every year. This year it’s in Saskatoon and the host Blades have emptied the cupboards to load up for the chance to win its first-ever title.

But not so in the CFL. The Riders’ chances of being in this year’s Grey Cup are no better than any other year. Granted, the Rider Nation plans on seeing its team compete for the Grey Cup on its own turf and the bar has been set high. The past two host teams, B.C. and Toronto, went on to win the title and Rider fans expect a three-peat. Believe me, so do the Riders.

But please explain to me how that’s different than any other year.