New Guy on the Block: Rookie head coach motivation for Riders

“He’s a nice cool guy, joking around. He’s a guy you can come talk to. The energy is high. He likes to have fun and we feel we all like to have fun but also working hard.”

– Riders receiver Naaman Roosevelt on Craig Dickenson

hris Jones picked up the phone, called Craig Reynolds and changed the shape of the Saskatchewan Roughriders 2019 season in a blink.

He was going to Cleveland of the NFL, leaving the Riders with empty holes in the Vice President of Football Operations, General Manager, Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator roles.

One man out. Four spots to fill.

Jeremy O’Day is now VP and General Manager.

Coach Craig Dickenson is now the leader of the locker room. If Jones was knows for a football mad, singular focused stern and stubborn coach, Dickenson is known for something else entirely.

“He’s a nice cool guy, joking around. He’s a guy you can come talk to. The energy is high. He likes to have fun and we feel we all like to have fun but also working hard,” describes veteran receiver Naaman Roosevelt.

But if there is one thing Dickenson is a stickler for, it’s the details. He’s a coach his players know want them to be prepared for as many situations as possible that could come at them in 60 minutes.

Ed Gainey has seen an immediate change.

“He’s a laid back fun loving guy and he treats us as professionals and we need to come in everyday for us to achieve our ultimate goal and that starts with doing all the little things right. We need to get into the meetings, paying attention in the meetings and translating it onto the field and competing when we get on the field to make each other better. It’s all about the little things.”

It’s that attention to detail that Naaman Roosevelt thinks will pay off for the Riders in the long term.

“He’s good at keeping it organized and he’s given us our schedule for the next couple of months just so we know what we’re doing here, what we’ve got for the bye weeks, which lets us know what’s ahead and I think that’s big to know what your expectations are and what’s coming in advance “

Roosevelt is excited to get the season started with a new head coach at the helm (

There will be no surprises with Dickenson. Most players now exactly what is expected of them for 2019 as Dickenson feels his way through his rookie season as a head coach.

But Roosevelt notes one major difference. Dickenson is making this team feel far more than just a defensive first philosophy.

“I feel like with Chris Jones it was more defence oriented. He was a defensive coach and for us now I think Coach Dickenson works for both of us. He gets the defence working, he gets the offence working. I think we do a lot more meeting times and a lot more walk throughs to just try to understand what we need to do on the field. I think Coach Dickenson did a great job giving us time to understand the game and understand what we need to do and get that communication down and it’s been going well.”

But it has to be noted, of the 11 coaching positions, the coaching staff remains stable. This isn’t a team that had to start from scratch with an entirely new coaching staff.

Dickenson was the team’s special teams coordinator and he retained offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo, while giving last year’s defensive backs coach Jason Shivers the defensive coordinator roll.

The stability among the assistants means the Riders feel much more comfortable that no major adjustments need to be made.

“It was big for us, especially as an offence,” says Roosevelt.

“We have almost all our offensive coaches back. We get another year with each and get an understanding, especially for the young guys. It’s difficult to have a whole new playbook and a whole new thing to learn. This is the first time I’ll have the same coordinator and quarterback returning for the second year so I’m excited to go so it should be good.”

Jason Shivers takes over the defence for the Riders in 2019 (Peter Power/

With Shivers running the defence, Gainey says he was underrated in the role he played for the defensive success in 2018.

“It helps guys have a smooth transition. Being that Shivers had a big voice last year it’s not that much of a transition. Guys are familiar with him and guys can relate with him and he knows how to interact with everybody individually.”

While many believe Jones’ departure will lead to a drop off in production from the defensive side, Gainey doesn’t see it.

“We might have a couple of people that are missing from last year but we got guys who are coming in and filling in those voids. We want to get after it, get our hands on footballs, create turnovers and if we do those things we get that much closer to wins.”

He adds the talk of change is overplayed because every team sees it every season.

“The change is 2019. It’s a new team. We’re moving forward. Shout out to Coach Jones for setting the foundation and getting these guys in the locker room and getting guys to buy into the system. Now we have to buy into Coach Dickenson. He was here with us last year as well as Coach Shivers. We’re all comfortable with our coaches and the defensive, offensive and special teams that we’re running. We’re just looking forward to creating that legacy and building what we came here to do in Saskatchewan.”

Dickenson starts his coaching career with plenty of doubters that he can carry on from Jones in a seamless fashion.

He could prove some of them wrong with a strong start on the road, beginning Thursday in Hamilton.