Opinion: sticking with Craig Dickenson, Jeremy O’Day right call for Saskatchewan Roughriders

Photos: Ingrid Bulmer/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

It became clear late in the regular season that the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ management team would have to start picking and choosing to whom they would hitch their wagon heading into the future.

Some of those decisions were made clear on Tuesday when it was announced that head coach Craig Dickenson and general manager Jeremy O’Day will remain with the team in 2023, while offensive coordinator Jason Maas was fired. Offensive line coach Stephen Sorrells and receivers coach Travis Moore, both of whom were on expiring contracts, will also not be brought back.

The Riders will find competent coaches to replace Sorrells and Moore, even if the operations cap has limited what position coaches can be paid. Maas, meanwhile, should be easily replaceable. Remember, it was Stephen McAdoo — not Maas — who called the plays in 2019 when Cody Fajardo was named the West Division’s Most Outstanding Player.

The bottom line is this: one bad year in 2022 does not erase the two good years the Riders had in 2019 and 2021 under this general manager and this head coach. The 22-10 record O’Day and Dickenson posted over two regular seasons was the best by any Riders’ duo since the great Eagle Keys and Ken Preston did it in 1969 and 1970.

Would it really be right to toss the pair overboard after one storm?

Keeping O’Day and Dickenson in place will give the organization some continuity going into an off-season in which they’re expected to pursue a future Hall of Fame quarterback while dumping Cody Fajardo, who has regressed since the pandemic hit.

O’Day has completely whiffed in the draft when it comes to offensive linemen, but he has selected a number of promising Canadian receivers including Kian Schaffer-Baker, Brayden Lenius, and Samuel Emilus. Cutting back on spending at other positions should allow the team to address the offensive line in free agency, as should a top-three pick in the 2023 CFL Draft, provided O’Day makes the right choice.

His contract offers to Fajardo seemed reasonable at the time and more importantly, they were short-term offers that didn’t back the organization into a corner in the event that the quarterback faltered. That occurred this year and the veteran passer is set to become a free agent.

O’Day has had some misses, sure, but every GM makes mistakes — even John Hufnagel and Kyle Walters. Nobody’s perfect. The team’s roster needs work but it’s far from a disaster.

Dickenson deserves to be questioned regarding his team’s issues with discipline and even appeared to draw subtle jabs from Fajardo over the quarterback’s late-season benching. But the bench boss has always been viewed as a coach that players want to play for and that matters in this league more than anything.

His community presence has earned him more goodwill around Regina than most coaches ever could. Dickenson understands prairie people, which makes sense given that he grew up a mere seven-hour drive away in Great Falls, Mont.

It’s fair for members of Rider Nation to feel concerned regarding the deterioration of the team this past season. Serious changes to how things are run around Mosaic Stadium these days are in order.

But that can all be accomplished by keeping the same head coach and general manager. A new quarterback like Bo Levi Mitchell and some new offensive coaches could very well provide that badly-needed spark. This team was in the two most recent West Finals and they could easily return there in 2023 with a small handful of key moves.

As for the O’Day-Dickenson combo, it just isn’t their time to say goodbye.

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