Riders’ head coach Craig Dickenson faces media firing line for GM Jeremy O’Day with a smile

Photo: Justin Dunk/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Saskatchewan Roughriders’ press conferences are not a happy place to be these days.

People in Regina still care deeply about their only pro sports team and the rectangle of Rider fans demand answers when the team is struggling.

There are no less than three local TV networks, two daily sports talk radio shows and one daily newspaper that cover the Rider beat regularly. They all have a need for content and a mandate to feed the animal that is Rider Nation.

With a 6-9 season and eight of those losses coming in their last 10 games, there has been no shortage of material to feed the animal this year.

The disappointment of this ugly duck season is amplified by the fact the Grey Cup is to be played in the Riders’ own park this November and the rare chance to play for all the marbles at home slips just a little bit further away with each losing week.

And yet, through it all, head coach Craig Dickenson faces the media throng three to five times per week, usually with his patented sunny demeanour. The coach swears it isn’t an act.

“The reality is I actually like you people more than you think,” Dickenson said ahead of Friday’s crucial matchup in Hamilton.

“There’s good people here and I don’t mind standing up and speaking for the team because I feel strongly that it’s a good group of guys and I think sometimes it’s important to have their back and try your best to express what the team’s feeling and how they’re thinking to the media.”

“It’s part of the job. It’s a part that I enjoy for the most part and there’s not very many days where I’m really shaking my head and not looking forward to it.”

The coach faces the firing squad about 50 times more regularly than his boss, Riders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day, who many are blaming for the team’s struggles, particularly along the offensive line.

Dickenson has had to defend that porous front five, Garrett Marino, his offensive coordinator Jason Maas, Duke Williams, Mario Alford and a host of others. Meanwhile, O’Day has been trotted out only occasionally, most recently to talk about how he planned to do nothing for the struggling team at the CFL trade deadline.

The difference in exposure simply hasn’t been fair.

Other head coaches around the league, like Hamilton’s Orlondo Steinauer and Toronto’s Ryan Dinwiddie, don’t get anywhere near the same level of media scrutiny that Saskatchewan’s head coach does. Some of them even show their annoyance with tough questions, despite not having to deal with the fastballs that Dickenson does on a weekly basis.

And yet the Riders’ head coach believes dealing with the media side of things shouldn’t have to be a nuisance.

“I don’t actually watch a lot of other coaches and their media stuff”, Dickenson said.

“But I do read and I am on Twitter so I do see what’s going on out there. Here’s the thing, I’ve always felt like this, when you tell the truth and you’re real with people, you don’t have to try to remember the story. So, I’ve always tried to just go by the fact that I’ll try to be as honest as I can. I’m not good at making up any sort of BS or any sort of alternative story. I usually just tell it like it is. Sometimes that’s good. Other times, it’s probably too much information.”

“I’m continuing to work at it and hopefully get better. I told the players I view my media conferences and my speaking engagements like they view the game: Watch it and then I try to learn from it and try to get better.”

There have been many head coaches in Saskatchewan — Don Matthews, Danny Barrett, Greg Marshall and even Chris Jones — who’ve had strained relationships with the media. Dickenson has never come close.

From asking Riders’ radio broadcaster Michael Ball about how his son is doing in college ball down in the states to congratulating CTV reporter Claire Hanna on her Olympic volleyball broadcasting assignment, the coach is often checking in with reporters to see what’s happening in their world. That’s not an automatic thing in the world of stressed-out football coaches, particularly for one hearing the speculation about his own future amid his team’s 2022 backslide.

He actually credits a former Roughrider head coach with whom he worked very briefly back in the final half of another trying season, way back in 2011 when the Roughriders went 5-13 and missed the playoffs.

“I admire Ken Miller. He was good,” said Dickenson, who tries to address every reporter, staff member, fan or player by their first name.

“I always felt that addressing folks by their first name, it takes a little bit of work, but I think it’s important to try to do the same thing with the players. I try to address them by their first name, as opposed to number 50 or number 52. It takes a little bit of work but I think you can connect better when you know their name. And they know that you’ve spent at least enough time to know who they are.”

That sort of extra effort doesn’t go unnoticed. It just deserves more support from the people above him on the food chain.

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