Even as a kid picking his team for football games in the park while growing up in Oakland, CA, Roy Shivers had an eye for talent.
“I knew who I wanted on my side,” said Shivers. “I knew who was in my neighbourhood. I know who was good.
“I knew who I was going to pick first. I’ve always had that ability.”
In a career than spanned over 32 years, Shivers left his mark on the CFL as an assistant coach, a scout, a director of player personnel and the league’s first Black general manager. His contributions have earned Shivers his induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as part of the 2022 builders’ class.
Shivers said being named to the hall is vindication.
“I thought I was pretty good at what I did,” said the 80-year-old who was born in Hally, AR, but moved with his family to Oakland as a child. “It’s nice to have recognition after a while.”
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Shivers recruited an impressive list of star players to the CFL, including receivers David Williams and Allen Pitts, linebacker Alondra Johnson, defensive backs Eddie Davis and Darnell Clash, running back Kelvin Anderson and quarterback Jeff Garcia.
“I got into coaching and I enjoyed it, but not as much as I did going on the road, recruiting,” said Shivers. “I love to watch players. I always said there is nothing like the naked eye.
“I knew a lot of guys that had played when I was coaching. Friends of mine would call and tell me about players. I had friends in the business that were coaching, working in personnel departments. They would give me leads on guys.”
After attending high school in Oakland, Shivers spent four years in the army before attending Utah State, where he was a star running back. He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL where he played seven years.
After retiring as a player, Shivers tried teaching.
“I taught for a year and that didn’t work out because of too much drama,” he said.
He began coaching at Merritt Junior College in Oakland, then the University of Nevada, University of Hawaii and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
His first job in Canada was with the BC Lions in 1983, where he coached special teams and had to make the transition to three-down football.
“I’m standing there watching the game and (head coach) Don Matthews is screaming punt team, punt team,” said Shivers. “I said man, it’s only third down.”
The move from player to coach wasn’t always easy.
“I had a hard time adjusting to the coaching part because if I told you something, you should be able to do it,” said Shivers. “If I told a guy to do this, and he couldn’t do it, it was like, what is wrong with him?”
Shivers was named BC’s director of player personnel in 1986. He joined the Calgary Stampeders in 1990 as the team’s U.S. scout and became the team’s assistant general manager in 1991.
Calgary lost the 1991 Grey Cup to Toronto but beat Winnipeg in 1992 to win the title.
“The only regret I have is we should have won about six of them in Calgary,” said Shivers.
In 1995, the expansion Birmingham Barracudas hired Shivers as the CFL’s first Black general manager. The team folded after one season and Shivers returned to Calgary in 1996 as an assistant general manager.
In 1999 Shivers was hired as the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ general manager. He joined a team that went 3-15 the previous year and was badly in debt.
“It was good times,” said Shivers. “It was a tough situation. The team was so down and out. When I took the job everybody thought I was crazy; nobody else wanted it.”
In 2000, Shivers hired former CFL quarterback Danny Barrett as his head coach, a move criticized by some.
“When I got Danny to be the head coach they left out the key word,” he said. “They said, ‘You were going to hire a Black coach.’ I said, ‘Yes, a qualified Black coach.’
“He had a great mind for offensive football.”
Shivers spent seven years with the Riders before being fired midway through the 2006 season with the team struggling with a 4-5 record. The Riders had a 52-64-1 record with him as GM and made the playoffs four times.
With Eric Tillman as general manager and Kent Austin head coach, the Riders would win the 2007 Grey Cup.
“We were so close in Regina,” said Shivers. “I knew it was going to happen. As soon as we got run out of there somebody was going to come in with the talent we had and win the Grey Cup. That’s what happened.”
Overall, Shivers enjoyed his experience in Saskatchewan.
“I met some nice people,” he said. “There’s always some (jerks) in the bunch and I can give as good as I can take.
“I’ve got some good friends in Regina, people who really helped me out what I was there.”
Shivers returned to the Lions from 2008 to 2015 as part of the team’s player personnel department.
In his long career, what makes Shivers most proud is helping to make the league more accepting of Black coaches and management.
“I would like to think I did something to change it around,” he said.
“My father told me when I was a small kid growing up in the Sates, if you get your foot in the door, you bring somebody with you. That’s what I tried to do.”