Kent Austin knows a little bit about what losing streaks do to Riderville.
The current Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach played quarterback for the Saskatchewan Roughriders for seven seasons, then returned to coach the team to the 1997. He’s won two titles while wearing the green and white — there’s a parking lot named after him at the stadium — but he also endured his share criticism: There were a pair of four-game losing streaks as a player and another three-gamer as coach.
“Oh boy,” he said, when asked about the reaction in Regina. “It wasn’t pretty.”
And it isn’t pretty now.
With an 0-4 start to start the 2015 season, the pressure is building on head coach Corey Chamblin. Twice in the last two weeks, watermelon-covered eyebrows have shot up after the former Ticats defensive co-ordinator lashed out in the media, first at fans, then at his own players.
“There are two podiums waiting at the end of the year, a championship podium or a cross. I’m prepared for either one,” Chamblin said on July 22. “So to be honest, I don’t give a damn about (the criticism).”
Then, after the second of back-to-back losses to the B.C. Lions last weekend, Chamblin seemed to shift responsibility for the mounting losses from the coaching staff to the players.
“I can sit and take all the blame, but it’s not all my blame,” Chamblin said. “Same thing with the players. It’s about us; it’s truly about us. I told them (Friday) each man has to look in the mirror and see where they can get better.”
The Riders are something of a statistical dichotomy. They are averaging league-bests in both points (30.5 per game) and total offence (504 yards) while also surrendering a league-high 33.5 points per game on defence.
They’ve turned the ball over just six times — only B.C. has less with three — but are still dead last in turnover ratio at minus-4. Then there’s this: The four losses have come by a total of 12 points combined.
But if the Riders deserve better than the schneid they are currently sitting on, there are some roster issues that could prove difficult to fix. The team’s Canadian talent — already thin to start the season — has been ravaged by injury, forcing Chamblin into all kinds of tough ratio decisions.
Defensive tackle Rory Connop may develop into an outstanding player, but asking a 2015 third-round draft pick to start four games into his rookie season is less than ideal.
And the schedule will do the Riders no favours the rest of the way. Sunday’s game against the Ticats will be the fourth played at Mosaic Stadium this season, meaning Saskatchewan will be on the road for eight of their last 13 contests.
They have two games remaining against both Calgary and Edmonton — generally thought to be the top clubs in the West — and just dropped a pair to B.C., a team they may need to catch to make the playoffs.
If there’s an upside to all this it’s that both Chamblin and quarterback Kevin Glenn will have no trouble circling the wagons inside the Riders dressing room: Glenn, in particular, thrives in us-against-the-world mode. There’s zero indication that Chamblin, who received a vote of confidence from general manager Brendan Taman this week, has lost the room.
As for the fans … well, consider them a house divided. While there’s been plenty of support for Chamblin and his 2015 squad, there’s been plenty of vitriol expressed as well. And so it goes in Rider Nation, as Austin well knows.
“The thing that’s great about it is that you’d rather your fans be invested. You have to take the good with the bad and believe in yourself and the staff, which I know Corey does,” Austin said. “They’ll get things turned around — hopefully not against us.
“It comes with the territory.”