Now that it’s been confirmed that Travis Moore, Bryan Chiu and Ike Charlton are no longer with the Ottawa Redblacks, the question must be asked.
What on earth is GM Marcel Desjardins thinking?
Not only did all three men have distinguished playing careers before entering the coaching ranks, but the trio are also all known as player coaches.
If Desjardins wasn’t happy with his team’s offensive or defensive performance (and he shouldn’t be), firing positional coaches is simply not the answer.
Travis Moore has been with the Redblacks since the team’s inaugural season in 2014. With the exception of the expansion season, he has consistently gotten the most out of his receiving corps.
In fact, the Redblacks are the only team in CFL history to boast four 1,000 yard receivers in consecutive seasons, with Brad Sinopoli, Greg Ellingson, Chris Williams and Ernest Jackson all achieving the feat.
As for this past season, the Buds (Sinopoli and Ellingson), yet again both cracked the 1,000 yard mark. Diontae Spencer, in his first year in the nation’s capital, posted career highs in every category and emerged as one of the league’s biggest game breakers.
Furthermore, it’s not like Moore has just ridden the coattails of superstars; Ottawa boosts a plethora of promising young receivers; Juron Criner, Josh Stangby, Jake Harty and Dominique Rhymes have all flashed moments of brilliance.
When it comes to Bryan Chiu, it’s undeniable that the offensive line showed significant improvement under his watch.
Chiu, who joined the team in the 2014 off-season, has done a tremendous job of preparing young rookies to step in and play along the offensive line. In 2016, the Redblacks gave up 50 sacks (2.7 per game) and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. In 2017, those numbers improved, with Ottawa conceding just 33 sacks (1.8 per game) and averaging 5 yards per carry on the ground.
And that improvement came in spite of a slew of injuries to key starters. SirVincent Rogers, Jon Gott and Nolan MacMillan all missed significant time.
Under Chiu’s watch, Jason Lauzon-Séguin, Evan Johnson and Matt Albright developed into reliable starters. Not to mention Alex Mateas blossoming into an All-Star at centre.
It’s odd to suggest, but in 2017, the offensive line seemed to be at it’s cohesive best when it’s starting line up consisted of Jake Silas, Evan Johnson, Alex Mateas, Matt Albright and Jason Lauzon-Séguin. It’s even fair to wonder if the decision to replace Silas with SirVincent (who hadn’t played in more than a month) and moving Mateas back to guard (away from the centre position in which he excelled), factored into the playoff loss.
That’s not to imply that Gott and SirVincent aren’t important pieces, but given how well the offensive line seemed to be clicking, messing with the starting group on the eve of the playoffs was always a head scratching decision.
As for Ike Charlton, his track record speaks for itself. When given time, he turns rookies into shut down players. Abdul Kanneh, Brandyn Thompson, Jeff Richards, Forrest Hightower and Jerrell Gavins were all unknowns before becoming respectable defensive backs. Of that group, only the latter (Gavins), is still with Ottawa. The rest went south to the NFL or were signed away to other CFL teams in free agency.
Charlton was also able to maximize talent when given established players. Jonathan Rose and Mitchell White both had excellent years as the Redblacks won the Grey Cup in 2016. White, who went on to spend time in the NFL, attempted to re-sign with Ottawa earlier this year but was rebuffed, being told the Redblacks were happy with the group they had.
As for said group, to put in bluntly, you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken crap. After an off-season of turnover in his secondary, Desjardins chose to sign rookies and one vet (AJ Jefferson, who was cut after only a handful of games). And that’s fine, but with rookies in starting roles come growing pains. And Sherrod Baltimore, Corey Tindal and Winston Rose all experienced those pains to varying degrees.
To me, given Charlton’s track record in coaching guys up, if you’re going to go with rookies, it’s only fair to give him time to develop them. It’s not an overnight process.
The decision to release Charlton seems a lot like having the positional coach be the fall guy for the GM failing to provide adequate players in a Grey Cup hosting year.
In the end, what does releasing a handful of player coaches really address? Was it Moore’s fault that with Sinopoli already out and Ellingson hurt early in the playoff game there was a lack of depth behind them? Are the receiving corps drops in that playoff loss on him? Did Chiu decide to only run the ball eight times in the playoff loss? Was Charlton the one who chose to play conservatively and not blitz against a fairly immobile Kevin Glenn?
If a team looking for answers was going to make changes, you’d think they’d start at the top, asking hard questions of their head coach and coordinators, not with positional coaches.
Because after all, at the pro level, positional coaches aren’t teaching technique, they’re honing it. They’re managing personalities, correcting small errors and imparting knowledge, leadership and experience. All things Moore, Chiu and Charlton had in spades.
And now something the Redblacks just lost a lot of.