Jeremy O’Day is the right choice for the Riders – but it won’t be easy

Any CFL team that hires a golfing partner of mine as general manager and vice-president of football operations, well, of course I think it’s a good idea.

Jeremy O’Day is a decent golfer, a good person, a loyal employee and a deserving recipient of the jobs he received Friday — in the form of a three-year contract — from the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

For the record, we golfed only once together; when O’Day was winding down his playing career as the Roughriders centre we joined his Hall of Fame teammate, Gene Makowsky, and long-time radio analyst Carm Carteri for a memorable round at a difficult, local course.

There’s an old adage that a person’s character is truly revealed when you play golf together. O’Day, the golfer, was consistent with the athlete I covered as the Regina Leader-Post’s beat writer during his playing career: Honest, sincere, focused and humble with a subtle sense of humour.

It was hardly a new discovery. As a player, O’Day was always approachable and sensible, an on-field competitor who stuck up for his teammates and served as a players’ rep on the CFLPA. In management, he stepped forward when required, but was just as comfortable working in the background to help make the Roughriders better.

All those traits will serve him well as the overseer of the Roughriders’ on-field product. He’s been with the community-owned franchise, learned the culture and dedicated himself to Saskatchewan for 21 years, initially leaving the Toronto Argonauts as a free agent to sign with the then-lowly Roughriders before transitioning to management and working his way through several regimes to take the club’s top job.

For a couple months he was Saskatchewan’s interim general manager, serving that role from the midseason firing of Brendan Taman until they hired Chris Jones as vice-president of football operations, general manager, head coach and defensive co-ordinator. Jones joined the Roughriders upon breaking a contract with the Edmonton Eskimos, whom he had just led to the 2015 Grey Cup as their head coach.

O’Day and John Murphy, a long-time CFL personnel evaluator, had been candidates for Saskatchewan’s top jobs when Riders president/CEO Craig Reynolds lured Jones away from Edmonton. The Roughriders evidently insisted Jones install O’Day and Murphy as assistant VPs, where they worked together for three seasons. Murphy reportedly balked at a pay cut and recently resigned, evidently to join the Toronto Argonauts. And four days ago Jones exercised an out clause in his brand-new contract extension to join the NFL’s Cleveland Browns as a senior defensive assistant.

A huge task now faces O’Day: hIring a head coach who can work with most (if not all) of the 10 assistants who were re-signed by the Roughriders before Jones’ departure.

Current assistants Stephen McAdoo and Craig Dickenson might be considered as candidates, but former Saskatchewan offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice, who holds that job with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, would be the best hiring. Phillip Lolley, Edmonton’s defensive co-ordinator, and Jerry Glanville, a former NFL coach who spent last season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, have also been reported as candidates.

The personnel department is in good shape with the recent acquisition of assistant general manager Paul Jones, a tremendous talent evaluator best-known for working with the Eskimos. Their first need is a starting quarterback.

O’Day has been groomed for this job and earned the opportunity, but between seeking a coach, finding a quarterback, finalizing a staff and juggling a roster, there surely won’t be any time available for golf.

Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.