April 10, 2014

Pedersen: Riders sharing the love internally


There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on with the Saskatchewan Roughriders right now.

And I like it.

Remember that old quote from 33rd U.S. President Harry S. Truman which goes like this:  “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit”?

That’s pretty much what’s going on with the Saskatchewan Roughriders right now and it’s also what led to off-season contract extensions for head coach Corey Chamblin and GM Brendan Taman which will take them both through the 2017 CFL season.

Trying to find someone to take credit for the current flush state the franchise is enjoying is a nearly impossible task.  Having spent the weekend at the team’s Florida free agent camp and seeing how the operation works from the inside – thanks again to the Riders for that by the way – you truly see why they’re the CFL’s marquee outfit.

Off-Season Power Rankings

Even after their 101st Grey Cup conquest, the Saskatchewan Roughriders were not placed in the top spot in the CFL.ca off-season power rankings. Why?

» Find out here

For instance when I asked Coach Chamblin for an assessment of the talent pool in Florida, he said it’s the best group the team has had in his three years on the job.  For that, he pointed the finger at Assistant GM Jeremy O’Day who was standing nearby.

When I questioned O’Day about this, and how they went about finding such an impressive group of players, he pointed the finger at Brendan Taman and said he’s responsible.

This was getting really annoying, really quickly.  But I struck up a conversation with Taman about who really is responsible and he immediately pointed the finger at Director of Player Personnel Craig Smith.

That was an easy one.  I planned to have “Smitty” on my radio show from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL that evening and I was sure he’d take the bait.

When asked about the skill level and character of the 57 players in attendance, Smith tabbed it as “spectacular” and that they’re very comfortable with the notion they’ve found replacements for the gaping holes in their roster.

And when I asked Craig who can be thanked for unearthing this talent, he pointed the finger at everybody!  “It’s the greatest organization I’ve ever worked for,” Smith smiled triumphantly and then laid figurative bouquets at the feet of everyone from President Jim Hopson pretty much right down to the ball boys.

I give up!  Don’t these guys know that when you point the finger, three of them are pointed right back at you?

That’s how it works for Canada’s Team right now and it didn’t take long for the upper management to take notice.  They scurried to keep this group together long-term.

“Absolutely!” said Rider chairman Roger Brandvold at Wednesday’s news conference announcing Taman’s extension.  

“And one of the things that’s most exciting for us – and we’ve talked about this for a long time – we have to get stability.  You look at professional sports – in any sport – and you look at how most franchises are successful.  A lot of times it’s because they’ve got a strong GM who’s been in place and a strong coach who’s been in place for a long time.

“We haven’t had that luxury for a while.  Seeing the success Brendan and Corey have had, and also the way they manage, which is very important to us, gives us that stability.  We’re very excited about it.”

This week’s announcement was about Taman so let’s give him his due.  Frankly, having watched as he truly started to assemble this tree of football support just a few years ago, it’s rewarding to see how his plan came to fruition in 2013.

“I like Brendan’s approach.  I really do,” Brandvold continued.  “You listen to his speech and he talked a lot about the people around him and how everyone has a key role.  Well that’s our organization in total.  Everyone has a key role, we have key people, and it’s an organization that’s built together.”

Of course Hopson pretty much sits atop it all and if you’re looking to dish out credit, he should be first in line.  But on Wednesday he wasn’t interested in talking about himself.  Again, this day was about Taman.

“It’s a day that we’ve worked hard for the past few months,” Hopson admitted.  “Once we extended Corey we knew we had to do this.  I wouldn’t have supported extending Corey without doing the same for Brendan.  Brendan always puts everybody before himself.  He even wanted to extend Darian Durant first but I said this has to be the priority.  This is about as excited as he gets but he’s pretty excited.”

Frankly I was surprised there wasn’t some crowing from the deep, dark corners of the Rider Nation who hate to see anyone’s contract extended.  We heard it last spring when Taman’s deal was extended through 2015 but that Grey Cup win seems to have filled everyone’s pipe.  They’re not saying it, but I’m sure the naysayers are thinking four year extensions were unheard of in the 80s and 90s.

“It isn’t how it used to be,” Hopson asserted.  “This isn’t just about the fact we have the resources and are able to spend them.  We’ve been very diligent with what other GMs are being paid and what the going rate is.  

“Roy Shivers’ contract was one page while Brendan’s is 18-pages so we’re very careful in putting these things together.  I look at the age of these guys and their commitment and I think we’ll consistently win.  Will we win every year?  That’s pretty tough but we’ll be in the hunt every year.”

One more note about the Riders’ attitude heading into the 2014 season.  A rather large chip is growing on their shoulder since many CFL observers think the team will struggle due to the 19-or-so players they’ve lost from last year. They don’t like the predictions and forecasts and are reluctant to give up the title of being the league’s #1 team.

“They are,” Hopson laughed.  “I see today on CFL.ca that we’re picked in the power rankings as #2 behind Calgary. Corey will read that and think ‘defending Grey Cup champions are #2?’ That kind of drives him and I’m glad it’s Calgary because that even fuels it more.”