Riders’ head coach Craig Dickenson: ‘eliminating penalties does not translate into winning’

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders/Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards

Despite their penalty woes so far this season, the Saskatchewan Roughriders aren’t making a mountain of it with their players.

The Riders went into their recent bye-week leading the CFL in orange flags, averaging 11.5 against the green and white per game, costing them more than 100 yards in field position every week.

That could be the difference for Craig Dickenson’s squad trying to stave off the Calgary Stampeders for second place in the West and the last home playoff game still up for grabs in the division.

Despite all of this, the head coach isn’t making a big deal out of it. At least, not yet, anyway.

“We’re always going to try to play clean.” Dickenson said ahead of Saturday’s Week 12 matchup with the Stamps at McMahon Stadium.

“That’s part of being a good team is you play clean and penalty-free but the reality is, and I’ve said this a hundred times: eliminating penalties does not translate into winning.”

And the coach did his homework to back that up, too.

“I happened to go back and do a self-study this bye-week and of our five wins, we’ve averaged 109 yards of penalties. We’ve averaged 90 yards of penalties in our four losses.”

“So, for me to sit in front of the team and say: ‘penalties are losing us games.’ That’s not true and I’m not going to do that because that’s not who I am.”

Just because his old boss, Stampeders’ general manager John Hufnagel, was and is a stickler for penalties, don’t expect Dickenson to make much out of something he’s not convinced is hurting his Roughriders all that much.

“He [Hufnagel] makes a big point of that and we do want to play within the rules, there’s no question about it. I don’t know how he deals with penalties and I don’t know what his penalty numbers are.”

For the record, penalty numbers for Hufnagel’s Stamps have been true to form with 26 fewer penalties than the Riders for 168 fewer yards in penalties than the green and white, despite Calgary having played one extra game.

Dickenson isn’t grilling his guys over this, but that doesn’t mean he won’t start if the circumstances worsen.

“I know, eventually, if you’ve got a guy that is consistent I guess we would say a usual suspect that’s always getting penalties, then eventually we’ve just got to sit him. But if there’s something that’s going on as a unit, I think you’ve just got to continue to stress the proper technique and try to really emphasize playing within the rules.”

“But here’s the thing: there’s holding on every play. We know that and some of them get called and some of them don’t. So, you’ve got two trains of thought. Don’t do anything and risk a penalty or try to play on that edge, that line and make sure you know the difference of where that line is. You don’t want to cross it, uou want to be right up against it so that’s what we try to do.”

It might defy logic to some, including a number of Rider fans, but to make sense of it all, coach Dickenson quotes a legendary college basketball coach.

“John Wooden, who’s a favourite author of mine, a mentor of mine in some ways in what he believes, he says: ‘If you don’t want to make mistakes, then don’t do anything. If you do something and you take action, you’re going to make mistakes.’ You try not to make a big deal of it and you try to emphasize the good and not over-emphasize the bad.”

Playing close to the edge has racked up the green and white with more than their share of orange-coloured hankies. Whether it lands the Riders and their fans a much coveted home playoff game or costs them their season is still very much up in the air.

Brendan McGuire has covered the CFL since 2006 in radio and print. Based in Regina, he has a front-row view of Rider Nation.