‘You need some guys with an edge’: former Riders president Jim Hopson backs team decision to keep controversial DT Garrett Marino

Photo courtesy: CFL

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are the bad boys of the CFL after being involved in a series of high-profile on-the-field incidents, but legendary former team president Jim Hopson doesn’t believe the behaviour of a few players should be viewed as an issue.

The Canadian Football Hall of Famer joined the Rod Pedersen Show this week to discuss the current version of the team he led from 2005 to 2014. When asked about the controversial conduct of defensive tackle Garrett Marino, Hopson was quick to point out that nastiness is often an essential component to success in football.

“It seems counterintuitive, but I think you need some guys with an edge,” the retired executive said, before taking a walk down memory lane.

“We had a lot of great guys when I was there, Gene Makowsky, Jeremy O’Day and so on. But we needed Andrew Greene; he played with an edge, he had an edge in the locker room. I look back at my playing days and nobody was more of an agitator than Bill Baker and he could change the game.”

Marino made national headlines following Saskatchewan’s Week 5 victory over the Ottawa Redblacks when he went for a late hit to the legs of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli late in the fourth quarter. The 28-year-old lineman was ejected for the illegal play and was seen celebrating as he headed to the locker room, while Masoli is expected to miss the bulk of the 2022 season with a leg injury that required surgery.

After the game, Marino faced accusations from members of the Redblacks that he used racist language towards Masoli prior to the hit. After a thorough investigation, the CFL delivered a historic four-game suspension — citing the low hit, a previous illegal play against Ottawa right tackle Dino Boyd, and comments made towards Masoli’s heritage.

The Roughriders came under fire for their defence of Marino, with many fans across the league calling for his release. Saskatchewan stuck by their man, a decision Hopson believes played well with the rest of the team.

“I think you need good guys, of course. You need people to get along, you want them to like each other. Interesting that I hear that Marino is well-liked in the locker room,” he continued.

“As bad as that whole situation was and everything that happened — and I certainly was not very impressed with what he pulled at the end of the game — they say in the locker room that he’s a great teammate, people like him and he’s a hard-nosed tough player.”

Marino has already served three-quarters of his four-game ban — a decision that he did not appeal — but he isn’t the only Rider who has been embroiled in controversy. The following week, receiver Duke Williams was involved in a pre-game altercation with Toronto defensive back Shaquille Richardson in which he threw his opponent’s helmet at him and was accused of spitting. Williams was later suspended one game.

While fans have been quick to accuse Saskatchewan of discipline issues, Hopson had a long list of former Riders who more than made up for their bad apple labels.

“Dwight Anderson, I hated him and when we got him, I thought, ‘Oh man.’ But I loved the guy and I watched him with his kids and his wife and his teammates. You need guys like that,” he said.

“Nate Davis was a guy that people weren’t sure about. He was quiet and moody at times. Ralph Galloway, he had an edge and those are the kinds of guys that you need on your team. I hear that [Ron Atchison] wasn’t exactly a choirboy in terms of the locker room and everything.”

“I think you need to balance. What you don’t need is guys who aren’t good teammates and that don’t support their teammates, don’t buy into the team concept. If they’re hard-nosed and tough, so be it.”

While Marino is almost universally hated by opponents across the league, he gets a passable grade from the Riders legend on all those fronts.