It wasn’t always pretty, but under Chris Jones the Saskatchewan Roughriders always had a persona.
Their trademark defence kept them in games they had no business competing in, despite inept quarterbacking (upgraded to mediocre under Kevin Glenn) and subpar play-calling from offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo.
They were tough to play against and if nothing else, gave the league’s top quarterbacks a rough go, as evidenced by their combined 3-2 record against Bo Levi Mitchell and Mike Reilly in 2018.
The Roughriders lacklustre quarterbacking caught up with them in November but that defensive swagger was enough to win twice as many games as it lost and at least get them to the post-season to christen the new Mosaic Stadium with its first home playoff game.
And that green machine wrecking crew threatened to boldly go where no other CFL team has gone before in the past 40 years: win a Grey Cup with less than average quarterbacking.
It was their identity. Something this year’s version of the green and white are still lacking.
It’s not uncommon for a new team under a new head coach to struggle for a few weeks to find its mojo but it is uncommon for such a team to make the playoffs or compete for a championship in the superior CFL West.
A football team taking on the personality of its head coach is commonplace in this league and it normally becomes apparent right away if his way is the right way or not. It doesn’t take long for teams under great defensive coaches like Chris Jones to play great defence, just like it doesn’t take long for teams with a great offensive head coach to start producing either.
The key is usually whether or not these head coaches can hire someone credible to run the other side of the ball and not micro-manage in an area where they lack credibility.
And therein lies the conundrum with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and their new 0-for-2 head coach, Craig Dickenson.
Now in his 20th season of coaching professionally, the experience of the 47-year-old is undeniable. However, he hasn’t had a meaningful role outside of special teams coach since 2004, when he served as the Calgary Stampeders running backs coach under then-head coach Matt Dunigan.
But that team had a run-and-shoot offence, which for a good chunk of the season before Joffrey Reynolds showed up, really had no running back.
In fact, that 4-14 version of the Stamps still stands as the worst season of football the fine folks of southern Alberta have had to endure since 1985.
They were a disaster. Hard to blame much of that on the running backs coach but it doesn’t instill confidence that he’s capable of overseeing a successful operation in all three phases, either.
And unlike his brother Dave, Craig Dickenson never did have a high-level playing career.
After all these years, what is his strength? What his identity? Does he even have one?
These are all unknowns eerily similar to this year’s version of the Saskatchewan Roughriders: great defence but can’t score enough points in Week 1. Coming out party for quarterback Cody Fajardo but defence leaks like a sieve in Week 2.
They’re coming through when it doesn’t matter at all only to come up short in the clutch.
No more Chris Jones. No more Willie Jefferson. No more identity.
And if the Riders are to dig themselves out of this early hole they find themselves in, that needs to change real fast.