There is much more behind the sudden fall of the Ottawa Redblacks than what’s on the surface.
Yes, Trevor Harris left for Edmonton, taking star receiver Greg Ellingson and stalwart left tackle SirVincent Rogers with him.
Yes, Jaime Elizondo left Rick Campbell hanging at the last minute.
Yes, Diontae Spencer left for an NFL opportunity.
But those moves were predictable and foreseen by Ottawa’s offices.
It started to unfold last December when Elizondo interviewed with two different teams for head coaching positions in Toronto and B.C., respectively. He was being sought by other teams — increasing the probability he could leave in the near future — while knowing Marc Trestman was offering the offensive coordinator position with Tampa Bay’s XFL franchise.
Elizondo has a close relationship with Harris and the play-caller let his trigger man know there was a strong chance he’d be coaching for another organization in 2019. That caused Harris to explore his options because there was no succession plan in place. When Elizondo moved south of the border, Ottawa’s lone quarterback expert was gone.
Other staffs across the CFL had backup plans surrounding the game’s most important position. When Mike Sherman was relieved of his duties in Montreal, Khari Jones was there to take over. When June Jones accepted the bench boss job for Houston’s XFL club, Tommy Condell was ready to step up for Hamilton.
If Paul LaPolice went elsewhere, Buck Pierce could assume the reins in Winnipeg. The same is true for Stephen MacAdoo and Steve Walsh in Saskatchewan. Should the rising Ryan Dinwiddie be hired away from Calgary, Dave Dickenson remains with the organization. The same is true with Jason Maas and Jordan Maksymic in Edmonton and Jarious Jackson and Drew Tate in Vancouver.
The Redblacks didn’t have a quarterback expert after Elizondo was gone. That’s why Ottawa was forced to hire Joe Paopao who — along with recent departures from Simon Fraser and Waterloo — had been away from pro ball for a number of seasons. Paopao has a solid resume and is very well-liked in football circles, but he was put in a difficult situation in Ottawa.
Dominique Davis was given the starting job when it appeared Elizondo would be the offensive coordinator — a secret that was unfairly hidden from Campbell. He was familiar and comfortable within the scheme — go back and watch the way Davis dissected the Toronto Argonauts in the final week of the 2018 regular season. There was a confidence across the coaching staff and front office Davis had what it took to keep Ottawa competitive.
Even though Davis threw four interceptions in Week 1, the former NFL signal caller bounced back in-game to pull a win out at McMahon Stadium. Davis sliced and diced Saskatchewan’s defence the following week for a victory at TD Place Stadium. Winston October called the plays to begin the season and even when the predictable first-time starter road bumps came, as did injuries, there was still hope. However, by the time Davis was back healthy the offensive committee approach had switched to Paopao.
The offence displayed rare glimpses but never reclaimed the production from its opening two games, yet Paopao retained the play-calling duties. Hindsight is 20-20 but Campbell could have gone back to the duo that worked: Davis and October. And if there was a person with a recent quarterback background in the ever-evolving world of pro football on staff, perhaps Davis or even Jonathon Jennings could have worked through the struggles and adjusted quicker.
Neither Davis or Jennings were able to become consistently reliable pivots and it hurt the rest of the team. Meanwhile, the Alouettes went from Antonio Pipkin to Matthew Shiltz and transformed the career of Vernon Adams Jr. The Ticats lost Jeremiah Masoli to an ACL injury and Dane Evans produced.
The Matt Nichols and Chris Streveler tandem in Winnipeg is well-known, while Cody Fajardo took over seamlessly for Zach Collaros. Nick Arbuckle kept the Stamps competitive as Bo Levi Mitchell healed, while Logan Kilgore was decent while Trevor Harris recovered in Edmonton.
The Redblacks had an inkling Harris was as good as gone in December and, even though Elizondo put them in a tough spot, the succession plan was lacking on offence. That was the root cause of a historically poor season in the nation’s capital.