As the old saying goes, a team tends to take on the personality of its head coach.
No team has personified that more over the last few years than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who captured back-to-back championships in a very professional and mechanical way — a perfect way to describe their head coach Mike O’Shea.
Now that the Toronto Argonauts have knocked the Bombers off their pedestal, I’m starting to believe that Ryan Dinwiddie has impacted his team in a similar way.
Dinwiddie was hired by the Argos in December 2019 but didn’t get to coach his first game until the opening of the 2021 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We didn’t really know a lot about him as a coach at the time. He was previously the quarterbacks coach in Calgary and played role in their offence, but it remained unusual to see someone elevated to head coach without an official stop as a coordinator.
Even though the Argos would go on to win the regular season division crown that year, who they were and, perhaps more importantly, who Dinwiddie was as a coach were questions that still needed to be answered.
With a 24-23 victory in the 109th Grey Cup, the picture around Dinwiddie is starting to become more clear.
Up until this point, I haven’t been the strongest believer in Dinwiddie as a head coach. His first season featured far too many game-management errors for my liking. That included numerous questionable challenges, suspect play-calling, and, of course, failures in time management. The most notable example of that was when the Argos went into victory formation too early against the B.C. Lions in 2021. Luckily for Dinwiddie, the Lions ended up missing a game-winning field goal attempt and the game went to overtime, where the Argos would go on to win.
It’s safe to say that Dinwiddie is starting to find his groove in that regard. The severity and frequency of his errors are dropping, though he threw a futile challenge and wasted another timeout in the Grey Cup. He’s slowly learning from each mistake but his strength may always lie in other areas of the coaching profession.
Away from the field, you can see what the Argos must have liked about Dinwiddie when they interviewed him for the job three years ago. While working a press conference isn’t the be-all and end-all, it is a window into the person being asked the questions and the 41-year-old comes off extremely well.
At the annual Grey Cup coaches’ press conference, Dinwiddie did not look out of place at all sitting next to the grizzled vet O’Shea. The young coach answered questions with confidence, often jumping in and answering those intended for both him and O’Shea with ease. Even though much of it was coach speak — which is to be expected — Dinwiddie displayed strong confidence and charisma.
If you knew nothing about either coach coming into that question-and-answer period, you’d be hard-pressed to figure out which was making their third straight Grey Cup appearance as a head coach and who was making their first. It’s clear that Dinwiddie is smart too and knows when to turn it off and have a little fun, cracking a few jokes along the way.
His demeanour seems to have rubbed off on his team as well. Sometimes criticized for his fiery and passionate nature, Dinwiddie’s Argos have embodied a similar energy. Heated disagreements on the sideline have raised eyebrows but have never seemed to trickle over into the next week. Each of the team’s strong personalities has found a kindred spirit in their head coach.
Toronto’s chaotic Grey Cup victory was a fitting example of this. The execution was far from perfect, the performance sloppy and undisciplined at times, but the Argos stayed the course and found a way to win despite most pundits picking against them. That type of play has been something of a trademark for the Dinwiddie era, but the results speak for themselves.
None of this is to suggest that Dinwiddie is assured of a long successful career as a head coach, but I think it looks more possible than it did a year ago. He sits atop the entire league right now as its youngest head coach and still has plenty of room to grow.
I’ll always be the first to admit when I was wrong and I was wrong about Dinwiddie. I think he’s got what it takes.