Pending free agent QB Bo Levi Mitchell: ‘I want to go somewhere that cares about football’

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Pending free agent quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell wants to play in front of big hometown crowds next season, though it remains to be seen which CFL city he will choose to call home in 2023.

“I want to go somewhere that cares about football. I want people in the stands, I want people excited. I don’t shy away from the criticism of fans, I understand that’s a part of the game,” Mitchell told The Sportscage on CKRM in Regina on Wednesday.

“I want to see the fans filling the stands and excited for the game and be upset when we lose. They’re there to watch us win and they want to see us win and they care about our success as much as we do. More than my personal aspiration of wanting to be the face of a franchise, I’d say it’s more I want to be with an organization that puts their fans in front and wants those guys to fill the stadium and be excited and want to see a winning football culture.”

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats traded for Mitchell’s exclusive negotiating rights in mid-November, though he remains scheduled to become a free agent in February 2023. One of the teams rumoured to have interest in Mitchell is the Saskatchewan Roughriders, an organization that would provide the fan interest the veteran quarterback covets.

One issue that could hurt the Riders in their potential pursuit of Mitchell is their lack of long-term stability in key leadership positions. General manager Jeremy O’Day and head coach Craig Dickenson are entering the final year of their respective contracts and weren’t offered extensions given the club’s poor performance this past season.

Mitchell, who plans to sign a long-term contract this winter, acknowledged that the situation isn’t ideal, though he respects what O’Day and Dickenson have accomplished in the past despite their recent challenges.

“Two guys under one-year contracts is tough, but J.O. has proven to be a smart guy in this league and signed a lot of great players,” said Mitchell. “Craig took those guys to back-to-back West Finals, so I don’t think it’s, ‘Hey, these guys are one-and-done no matter what.’ Obviously, if Sask goes out and has success this year, I think those guys re-up and are there for a while.”

The two-time CFL Most Outstanding Player doesn’t plan to sign a contract anytime soon as he wants coaching staffs across the league to be finalized before committing to a team. He indicated that Hamilton has already “done a great job” explaining their plans for next season, though he wants to wait and see what other teams have planned. He also reiterated that money isn’t his primary concern as he was paid well throughout his tenure with the Calgary Stampeders.

“I want to continue to win, I want to continue to push the envelope as far as Grey Cups and that can’t happen without (an offensive) coordinator that’s willing to collaborate, without a guy that’s ready to go and experienced and excited about the next step. I think coordinator for me is that position that I really want to see as far as when I get to free agency,” said Mitchell.

Regina native and former University of Regina Rams quarterback Marc Mueller has been on Calgary’s coaching staff since 2014 and served as Mitchell’s quarterbacks coach for the past two seasons. He is also the grandson of the late Ron Lancaster, who quarterbacked the Riders for 16 seasons from 1963 to 1978.

Saskatchewan is currently without an offensive coordinator after Jason Maas was fired following the 2022 season. Mitchell had nothing but positive things to say about Mueller, who could be a candidate for multiple job openings around the league.

“Mueller puts in the time, he puts in the work, and he’s the smartest guy in the room,” said Mitchell. “He’s young. He’s hungry. I think he is a guy that if somebody does take the chance on him, they’re going to be very, very happy and satisfied with what that guy brings to the table. He’s a guy that can put it together and put an offence together and I think the more and more that he’s allowed to call plays, I think he will be a very successful coordinator and possibly a head coach as well someday.”

Mitchell will turn 33 this off-season but doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon as he wants to play at least another three or four seasons. He indicated that his shoulder has come “back to strength” after being plagued by injury and he’s enjoying playing for his two daughters, five and three, now that they are old enough to understand the game.

“I don’t want to sign somewhere for one year, two years and I’m trying to groom some young guy,” he said. “I’m going to be the guy for the next four and hopefully more years than that.”