Sometimes when you know, you know.
For Jeremy O’Day, that moment came when time ceased to exist when he spoke with Corey Mace.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ general manager had a call with Mace for an initial interview for the team’s head coaching job and the conversation took on a life of its own.
“The first night, the first interview was five or six hours long. At the end of it, it felt like it was an hour long,” O’Day told reporters in Regina on Friday, a day after the team had announced Mace as its new hire.
“He may not say the same,” O’Day said, laughing as he gestured to Mace, “But it felt like it was going fast. At the end of the first interview, I could tell that he was ready to be a head coach.
“Obviously, there’s more process to that. We wanted to bring him into the building, get to meet him in-person and that was a lot of the same. When he came for his second interview, in-person, we were up pretty late. We were up pretty late talking ball and talking about what we want the team to look like. It became really clear that Corey was the clear candidate to be our next head coach.”
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“Today’s the day!”
Welcome, Coach Mace! pic.twitter.com/rSBfjPI2Ze
— Saskatchewan Roughriders (@sskroughriders) December 1, 2023
The 40-50 minutes that Mace spent with Regina reporters on Friday gave a similar vibe.
As that played out, he started to show his vision for the team.
If there was any uncertainty on the Riders’ quarterback situation, Mace did his part to clarify it. He said that Trevor Harris was the first player he spoke with after getting the job. Harris suffered a fracture in his leg in his fifth game of the season and didn’t return to action. The Riders saw a promising start to their 2023 campaign go south. Their 3-1 start was lost to a seven-game losing streak to close out the year and left them out of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
“I FaceTimed Trevor (on Thursday). We had a great conversation,” Mace said.
“I think the trajectory of the season for this organization changed a little bit obviously when he got hurt. He’s been an outstanding quarterback in this league for many years. He possesses all the skillsets to be a winner.
“Playing against him or having a coach against him, he creates some problems for you defensively. And I know, he understands how to manipulate that. But I think having him and, you know, his leadership and experience within the locker room, I think will certainly not only galvanize the guys, but I think the relationship that Trevor and I build together, he’s going to be an extension of my voice on the field.”
Further to that, his coaching staff will have a similar function. While he wouldn’t go into specifics on it, he said he has a staff in mind. O’Day said that part of that lengthy conversation that won him over included a vision for the coaches that would work under him.
Through the entire media session, Mace’s passion for the game and a general charisma provided an excellent glimpse into what O’Day dealt with through the interview process, which the GM said involved about 12 candidates that mixed between in-person meetings and Zoom calls. It was heavily reported that the job came down to Mace, the Toronto Argonauts’ defensive coordinator the past two seasons and Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ offensive coordinator Buck Pierce. O’Day said his decision was less about offence-versus-defence and more about fit.
“It was more just the totality of the process and right from the first impression to the last impression that was the reason why (he chose Mace),” O’Day said. “(There were) lots of good candidates, there were lots of conversations that happened and we did a lot of due diligence on the candidates. But again, through the process, it became clear who the guy was.”
Mace’s enthusiasm for the game and for taking his first head coaching opportunity in Regina, where football is revered, shone through in everything he said.
He told a story of how as a kid growing up in Port Moody, BC, former Roughrider linebacker Brooks Findlay gave him an autographed football card. That lit the fire on Mace’s football dream. He spent three years with the Buffalo Bills before playing defensive line for the Calgary Stampeders from 2010-2015. From there, he went into coaching, working as the Stamps’ d-line coach from 2016-2021, then following Ryan Dinwiddie to Toronto to work for the head coach as the Argonauts’ defensive coordinator the last two seasons.
He recalled being on a vacation in Mexico with his wife a few years back and taking a boat to a small island and sure enough, there were people on that boat wearing Roughriders gear.
“I was thinking, ‘How is this possible? There’s green everywhere,'” Mace said.
“You understand it, certainly being here. You understand it as a visitor coming here. And you understood it when you get to know people from the province of Saskatchewan, what this logo and what this team means to this community, I take pride in that. As much as I know that the community takes pride in this team. I will never lose sight of that, I promise you and I’ll do everything I can to really provide that sentiment to the gentleman who are going to don the jerseys on behalf of your team.”
Mace’s next steps involve finding a place to live — he made a plea for a good realtor while talking with media — and settling into his new role. From the kid that grew up loving the game and feeling a connection to that Riders’ logo on a player’s football card, to the adult that’s now in the heartland of the CFL, trying to lead his team to a Grey Cup, Friday felt like a win for Mace and the Roughriders’ organization.
“I’ve been in other organizations where everybody’s moving on in the same direction, we all have the same message,” Mace said. “That’s something certainly, I want to address in this building. I want us all to have the same vision.
“I can’t wait to hop on the phone and just talk with the players on the roster. That’s the No. 1 thing for me. I’m big on relationships.”