There appears to be consternation among certain members of R-Nation that Ottawa Redblacks general manager Marcel Desjardins won’t be able to attract top level talent to the nation’s capital for his head coaching vacancy.
For those following that line of thinking, the belief is there because the Redblacks were the worst team in the league and because Rick Campbell walked away from the team despite having another year remaining on his contract. Campbell cited an inability to continue working with Desjardins.
So Ottawa is doomed to settle for their second, third or fourth option. Here’s five reasons why that fear is unfounded.
Desjardins isn’t terrible at his job
That statement might be hard to swallow given the recency bias so prevalent in sports but it’s true. When Desjardins looks back on his CFL career, the Redblacks’ 2019 campaign will never be considered a highlight. Just the opposite, in fact.
But despite paying dearly for rolling the dice with a trio of unproven quarterbacks and failing to bring in a real offensive coordinator, the 2019 season shouldn’t be viewed an utter failure on management’s part in the sense that a number of new first-year players flashed potential.
Players like running back John Crockett, receiver/returner DeVonte Dedmon, receiver Rafael Araujo-Lopes, offensive tackle Stephane Nembot, linebacker Jerod Fernandez and defensive back De’Chavon Hayes cut their teeth this season. Although it didn’t pay off in the standings, the experience gained by these first-year players will allow them to contribute in bigger roles and challenge for starting positions next season.
Furthermore, the last time Ottawa had a terrible season (2014), Desjardins was a major player in free agency, bringing in guys like Brad Sinopoli, Greg Ellingson, Ernest Jackson, Chris Williams, SirVincent Rogers, Trevor Harris among others, which set the stage for three Grey Cup trips in four years.
Desjardins should have a busy 2020 off-season as he gears up for another revenge tour.
Rock solid ownership
Not only do the Redblacks boast one of the league’s nicest stadiums with excellent facilities a stone’s throw away from the field itself, OSEG is a local ownership group with deep pockets and most importantly, committed to winning.
Team president and CEO Mark Goudie has gone on record stating that OSEG’s minimum annual goals are 10 wins, a winning record at home and a home playoff game. Those things are easy to desire, but hard to make happen. One thing that should reassure any candidate interested in the head coaching position is that OSEG has (and will continue) to try to achieve those targets by spending to the cap each season. Whoever comes in won’t have to worry about playing with a short deck.
An engaged fanbase
It’s often said that fan anger isn’t a bad thing because it shows they continue to care and remain invested in their team. It’s when a fan base checks out that an organization should worry. To say R-Nation is incensed over how the 2019 season unfolded would be an understatement. For a snapshot of the prevailing mood in Ottawa go check any Redblacks’ post on social media.
However, to their credit, fans in the nation’s capital never checked out. Although the Redblacks only recorded a single sell out in 2019 (a sell out defined as a crowd of 24,000+ at TD Place), they still averaged 22,605 per home game. Not too shabby for 3-15 team. There were also strong fan turnouts for community events like the QB Clubs held in various restaurants across the city during the week of home games.
Just like players enjoy playing in front of full stadiums, coaches like being involved with a community that’s active and engaged with the team.
Things went sideways in 2019 but it wasn’t for a complete lack of talent; Ottawa’s cupboard isn’t exactly bare. Veterans like Antoine Pruneau, Brad Sinopoli, Alex Mateas, Mark Korte, Evan Johnson, Avery Williams, Lewis Ward, Nigel Romick, Sherrod Baltimore and Brendan Gillanders are signed through (and in some cases beyond) next season.
These players, combined with the promising first-year ones mentioned above, provide a strong foundation for the 2020 squad.
Although the team is missing key pieces like a proven quarterback, as has been repeatedly demonstrated in recent years, turnarounds can be quick if the right off-season additions are made. There’s no reason to think that can’t be the case for the Redblacks.
Supply vs. demand
Given that the CFL is a nine-team league, there are only so many head coaching vacancies that open up each year. Qualified and capable assistants often toil for years before earning the opportunity to even be interviewed for a head coaching role.
With limited openings, it’s rare for a candidate to purposely pass over or skip an interview with their eyes set on another destination as most realize that there is no guarantee their preferred landing spot will be open or available in the future.
Not to mention that with the entire coaching staff on both sides of the ball under the gun due to poor performance, whoever comes into Ottawa will likely be able to determine (or at least have strong input) on the make up of their staff.