DAVIS: Chamblin learned valuable lessons from successes – and failures – in Riderville

Before being named the Toronto Argonauts’ 44th head coach, Corey Chamblin had one memorable, meteoric CFL head coaching job on his resume.

From 2012 until midway through the 2015 season, Chamblin was head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, a stint that can be easily divided into two parts: pre-championship and post-championship.

According to numerous Roughriders employees, Chamblin changed noticeably after leading his team to a Grey Cup victory in 2013, a season which culminated with a 45-23 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Regina. The home-town victory is arguably considered the greatest moment in the history of the 108-year-old, community-owned franchise.

Chamblin had been a defensive back in the NFL before numerous stops as an assistant coach, primarily in the CFL, and was a 35-year-old novice boss when hired by Saskatchewan. He seemed friendly, inquisitive, inclusive and quietly confident while building a coaching staff and constructing a roster with general manager Brendan Taman.

The Roughriders had won a Grey Cup in 2007 and reached the championship game in 2009 and 2010, so they still had the remnants of a decent squad, which was led by veteran quarterback Darian Durant. With the potential of appearing in a home-town Grey Cup, Taman and Chamblin bolstered their roster with high-priced veterans like defensive back Dwight Anderson, defensive ends Ricky Foley and John Chick, linebacker Diamond Ferri, offensive linemen Brendon LaBatte and Dominic Picard and slotback Geroy Simon.

Chamblin had his hands full with some of his players’ on- and off-field antics, particularly when Anderson and a group of teammates got in trouble for an in-season brawl at a local nightclub. His steadfast belief in his team’s ability culminated in the once-in-a-lifetime championship, but serious injuries suffered by Durant in the subsequent two seasons waylaid any chances of winning another Grey Cup.

By 2015, Chamblin had jettisoned most of his proven assistant coaches, like offensive co-ordinator George Cortez and defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall, while taking control of the defence himself and expunging anyone who might have challenged his authority. Chamblin became stubborn, unwilling to take advice from anyone, and the Riders employees became dismayed with his arrogance.

Without Durant leading the offence, the Roughriders faltered so badly they brought 41–year-old pivot Kerry Joseph out of retirement with disastrous results in 2014. They also signed veteran Kevin Glenn. But Glenn got hurt, leaving the Roughriders to try numerous unheralded and unsuccessful wannabes such as Tino Sunseri, perhaps the worst QB to ever play in the CFL.

The Roughriders lost nine straight games to start the 2015 season and, during a final, humiliating 35-13 loss in Ottawa, Chamblin insisted on sticking with Sunseri. The head coach was subsequently fired, taking GM Taman with him. With no potential head coaches remaining on staff, Saskatchewan’s special teams co-ordinator Bob Dyce finished the campaign as interim coach.

At the end of the 2015 season, following Edmonton’s Grey Cup victory, the Roughriders enticed Eskimos head coach Chris Jones to join them as their vice-president of football operations, general manager, head coach and defensive co-ordinator. He remains in those roles.

Chamblin kept a low profile following his ouster, granting few interviews, but he resurfaced in 2017 (before heading back to the U.S. for 2018) as Toronto’s defensive co-ordinator. By all accounts he seemed much more like the accepting, insightful, approachable and trustworthy guy the Roughriders had hired in 2012.

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