January 9, 2024

O’Leary: Dickenson, Stamps open to change in 2024

Danielle Del Valle/CFL.ca

After an uncharacteristic 2023 season, the Calgary Stampeders just might have an uncharacteristic start to the new year.

On the heels of posting their worst record since 2004, Dave Dickenson and the Stamps aren’t taking their standard approach to the off-season. Free agency? The Stamps might dive into the market. New coaches on Dickenson’s staff? He’s open to it all.

In conversation on Monday, a sense of openness was abundant from Dickenson. While the Stamps posted a 6-12 record, they salvaged their season and pushed their playoff streak to 18 seasons, before bowing out to the BC Lions in the Western Semi-Final.

For Dickenson, who has amassed a 79-43-2 record over the last seven seasons and has been a part of the Stamps’ wildly successful organization for 15 years now, squeaking into the playoffs isn’t close to satisfying.

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“We’re open to getting better in all positions,” Dickenson said on Monday from Nashville, TN where the CFL is holding its annual president and general managers meetings. Coaches and GMs are also at the American Football Coaches Association’s annual convention, where over 6,000 coaches at multiple levels of the game gather to learn from one another and network.

“Everyone’s talking certain (positions), but we’re looking, we have to. Then we have to coach better and we have to find ways to keep improving because if we don’t, that’s not how you get back to playing the type of football that we want to play. We were 6-12 last year, so we need to we need to be a better team from top to bottom.”

Normally smaller movers in the free agent market, Dickenson said that’s not necessarily going to be the case in 2024, as he shifts into his second season as the team’s GM. There’s still just over a month for teams to try to extend the contracts of their pending free agents, which makes for a cloudy picture of what the actual market might look like when it opens on Feb. 13. It’s something he and the Stamps are watching closely.

“I think when you didn’t have your best year, I think you should be a little more active,” Dickenson said. “We’ll see how many of the guys that we’re targeting make it free agency and we’ll see if we can find a deal.”

Dickenson is using these days in Nashville as an opportunity for some exposure to fresh coaching faces and ideas as well. He lost quarterbacks coach Marc Mueller to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, when former Stamp and now Saskatchewan head coach Corey Mace made him his offensive coordinator.


“I do have a couple of young coaches on my staff that I believe can coach quarterbacks,” he said. “Then the other side is whether or not you want to bring in some new thoughts, new blood?

“I’m here at this convention, maybe it’s some guys that are new to the CFL. Quarterback play is certainly different in Canada, but is it good to provide someone that has a different feel or has been around different things? I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do but I thought it was best for me to come down here with an open mind and talk to as many people as I can and broaden my network of coaches as well.”

If this year’s off-season work results in the Stamps getting back toward the top of the West Division standings, it’ll be worth it for Dickenson. The 2023 season had him experience almost 50 per cent as much losing as he has in his career as a head coach. The day-to-day work of serving as head coach and GM becomes a lot more enjoyable when you’re winning.

“It was not the most enjoyable year but we just kept grinding, kept pushing. I never felt like anybody on our team didn’t show up and work and put it out there,” he said.

“In our league you can you can stay alive longer than other leagues if you’re having a rough go, so we just kept grinding. Even heading into the playoff game we felt like our team had a chance to beat anybody. It just didn’t happen.”


Dickenson made the trip to Nashville with a heavy heart. News of former Stampeders’ punter Burke Dales’ passing hit home for him. Dickenson spent three years with Dales while he played for the Stamps. Dales’ family announced his passing on Sunday. He was 46.

“Burke was a really good person, a guy that was a great teammate. I enjoyed coaching him and getting to know him and (this is) a big loss. I don’t think you’re going to find too many guys that didn’t really enjoy having him on the team,” Dickenson said.

“That was sad, sad news to hear and I just want to acknowledge him. He’ll be missed.

“You look back on your teammates, who you played with, who you coached and I think Burke left a very positive mark basically on most, if not all (people). He’s just a really just a great teammate and a great guy and a guy that I certainly wish we had around longer.”

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