I have a press pass for Saturday afternoon’s Roughriders/Tiger-Cats’ match at Taylor Field, but I doubt I’ll go. Our family, including my mother-in-law, is still in the process of sorting out our five truckloads of stuff that we moved from our old homes into our new place in Normanview. Saturdays are busy as well: my oldest two children have skating lessons and soccer games in the local recreational league. Who knows, the only roofing company in Regina that employs fans of acid jazz and trip-hop music may have found more work to do.
But even without those things in our lives, why would I want to spend four hours of my life being miserable? I have enough of that in my life.
That’s what I was thinking Friday night during the Riders’ last meltdown at the hands of the Calgary Stampeders. (TSN) They managed to score a touchdown, something they haven’t done for the equivalent of at least four games. But by now, who cares? The old Roughriders – dysfunctional, inept, loveable losers – are back, and a young generation that loved to chant ‘these aren’t your daddy’s Roughriders’ in the stands and on internet chat boards have discovered that when it comes to organizational dysfunction, old habits die hard.
And, the people who buy tickets and the merch and scream into the call-in shows while Michael Ball does his Comical Ali impersonation, aren’t fans, as the Roughriders see them any more. They are, in the words of 12 step programs everywhere, ‘enablers.’ Fans are only fans if they ‘support’ the team the way a family or friends of a junkie are allowed on the junkie’s life only if they turn the other way or support his/her habit of choice – be it alcohol abuse, drug abuse, gambling addiction, or whatever.
The biggest debate right now in Riderland is the status of Darian Durant, who took a heck of a blow during the meaningless game and said after the game that he had his bell rung. The Riders denied the concussion report, which means either Durant is dogging it, or the Riders are trying to minimize his injuries for whatever reason. My money’s on the latter: a football player doesn’t want to come off the field even if he’s hurt or appear weak to his team mates or opponents, while the Riders are playing Durant and the starters not to see what they can be doing next year, but because they desperately want another win to take the fans’ minds off of a disastrous season – and save their own jobs.
Whether the decision is being made by Ken Miller or CEO Jim Hopson is another question. But if DD is being forced to play while he’s badly hurt, the Riders will feel the repercussions in free agency, when players will look elsewhere than play for a team with such a cavalier attitude towards players’ health.
I remember 1988, when John Gregory put players on the bench who had their bells. “You don’t fool around with concussions,” I remember him saying … and given that we know more about concussions and their cumulative effects on the brain today more than 30 years ago, I don’t understand why Miller is saying that Durant isn’t hurt … unless he thinks that Durant’s performance is the only thing that can get the Riders victories, and keep his job.
The reality is, however, that Hopson isn’t going anywhere, and because of that, there is no assurance that the Riders will improve next year. The Roughrider board of directors (with the possible exception of Viterra CEO Mayo Schmidt, who had a cup of coffee with the Miami Dolphins in 1971 or 72) are made up people who think ‘third down’ is mentioned in the Kama Sutra. They see the Roughriders as a tourist draw for the city of Regina, and a cash cow. And is she being milked.
There’s 30 million reasons to believe Jim Hopson is so entrenched as Rider CEO he’d be immune to NATO airstrikes, let alone a disastrous season – that’s the Roughrider cash flow, in Canadian dollars.
The Rougrider board of directors, led by Roger Branvold, doesn’t seem to know or care that Hopson has hired eight people in the marketing and communications department of a football team that has only one full-time and two part-time scouts.
And, historically, the Roughriders only change their insular operational policy when they are forced to do so – meaning that the Riders have a lot of money to burn through and a lot of fan patience to use up before they look themselves in the mirror and think – just as they did in 1960, 1986 and 1999 — that maybe, maybe, they’re doing something wrong. And that comes only after they burn through not just the fans’ patience, but all their cash reserves and credit lines.
About the only way that the Riders could change direction right now will come from unofficial pressure from the Canadian Football League headquarters. The Riders were, since 2006, the biggest draw on TSN’s CFL broadcasts, and the CFL wants good ratings to show TSN the next time the television contract comes up for renewal (when is it? 2013? It wouldn’t surprise me if negotiations were already well underway). The Roughriders’ China Syndrome would probably make the CFL a less desirable television product – and consequently hurt every other team’s bottom line.
So, while the other teams in the CFL West will enjoy having a doormat to clobber for the foreseeable future (the Roughriders have only one opportunity, in the first weekend of November, to beat a western division opponent, playing the Eskimos at Commonwealth, or they will break a club record that’s stood since 1936) the CFL home office will want Riderland to get their act together. I would imagine that CFL commissioner Marc Cohon and Branvold have already talked about this. Unofficially, of course.
Which leads us to last week’s story about former head coach Kent Austin. There was some internet speculation that the Riders were trying to entice Austin from his head coaching gig at Cornell University, which is a joke: as a university employee, Austin gets free tuition for his children at an Ivy League institution (worth $500,000 in cash, not to mention prestige when entering the job market). Austin said in a prepared statement that he and the Riders didn’t talk about him coming back as Roughrider head coach. But what Austin left out was more interesting.
There’s nothing but my spidey sense, but I’d bet that (a) there was a conversation, and (b) Branvold did ask Austin – if not you, then who would you recommend? And given that Austin doesn’t have much use for Hopson (Austin sees Hopson as a glory hog – during the 2007 coach of the year event in Toronto leading up to the Grey Cup, Austin and Tillman had to sit in the back of the auditorium while Hopson sat up in front with the football people, instead of with the executives).
And I would bet that if asked, Austin wouldn’t say a word unless he knew whether or not the Rider board of directors would do with Jim Hopson.
The only alternative to that scenario would probably set the Roughriders back at least a half a generation. Once again the Riders have become the most insular organization in the CFL – not willing, or even being able to, recruit from outside its own sphere of influence because nobody wants to go to work in the mess Hopson has created unless they are going to get the opportunity to clean it up, and have Hopson on the sidelines instead of meddling in the clean-up. (prairie dog)
Last winter, the Riders interviewed probably the number one head coaching candidate in the CFL, Scott Milanovich, but he quickly withdrew from consideration when he learned he wouldn’t be able to appoint his own assistants. Greg Marshall was willing to let people above him tell him how to do his job, and that’s why Greg Marshall got the Roughrider coaching gig. For a while, anyway.
That would see the continuation of convoluted ‘I’m My Own Grandpa’ management structure, which allows everyone to think they have power, but have none of the responsibility. This will allow Hopson to play general manager and have a group of human shields – Marshall, deposed offensive co-ordinator Doug Berry, defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall, Taman, Jeremy O’Day and Miller. The only people I could see working under Hopson in that sort of structure – assuming the powerless general manager, Taman, and Miller are fired or resigning — would be either washout GM Tom Higgins, or Al Ford – people who are so proven to following orders from the top that they will not rock Hopson’s boat … and people who otherwise couldn’t get a good job in football (well, Ford, who ran the Riders into the ground in the 1990s, is a part time scout for the Als).
Maybe that’s why I’m not keen on going on Saturday. Hell, I’m old. And I’ve seen this all before.