Sometimes what you’re looking for is right in front of you.
General manager Shawn Burke did his due diligence, interviewing several candidates, but ultimately decided that the man to lead the Ottawa Redblacks back to respectability — and post-season glory — was the same one who finished the year as the team’s interim head coach.
At his new head coach’s introductory press conference, Burke went so far as to note that in each organization there are people who can be considered the heart of the franchise and that to everyone who works at Lansdowne, Bob Dyce was such a person. If you’ve spent any time around him or seen him interact with players or members of R-Nation, it’s hard to disagree with that assessment.
More importantly, Dyce oozes experience and leadership. Let’s start with the first before, we get to the latter.
Before breaking into the CFL in 2003 as a receivers coach with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Dyce held the same role for the University of Manitoba Bisons. Prior to that, he was an offensive coordinator and assistant coach in the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL).
After settling into Canada’s professional football league, Dyce spent six seasons in Winnipeg before moving to Regina, where over the course of five seasons he won a Grey Cup ring and spent time in a variety of roles. He was everything from a passing game coordinator, to a receivers coach, to an offensive coordinator, to a special teams coach, and finally an interim head coach.
Since the start of the 2016 Grey Cup winning season, Dyce has overseen the Redblacks’ special teams, which are annually among the league’s most positionally sound and productive units.
One huge benefit of Dyce rising through the various levels of the Canadian game is that he fully understands the ins and outs and the nuances of three-down football. He’s seen it all and, thanks to the number of different hats he’s worn, he’s done it all.
That’s the kind of experience that you cannot buy; it has to be developed over years and decades of going through the grind and putting the work in. Sometimes CFL head coaches fall short and cost their teams wins as a result of being unfamiliar with the quirks of the Canadian game. That won’t be the case in the nation’s capital for as long as Dyce is at the helm. His players will always know when to ensure they don’t give up a rouge.
In terms of leadership, it’s undeniable that players respond to the 56-year-old’s demeanour. Look no further than the fact that upon him being named interim head coach following Paul LaPolice’s firing, the Redblacks’ roster responded by finishing their final four games with an energy that had been sorely lacking for much of the season. Although it didn’t translate to many wins — Ottawa went 1-3 with Dyce at the helm in 2022 — the team played hard through a stretch where it would have been easy for them to check out.
“I owe these players everything” pic.twitter.com/UIIjjoSFKU
— Ottawa REDBLACKS (@REDBLACKS) October 11, 2022
Furthermore, the large contingent of players who turned up to witness his introductory presser speaks volumes about how beloved Dyce is by the men who he will be charged to lead.
“I’m so thankful to see some of them here”🗣️
— Ottawa REDBLACKS (@REDBLACKS) December 2, 2022
It’s worth noting that when Dyce moved into the head coach role late in the season, he was not exactly dealt a full hand. His offensive play-caller was a young quarterbacks coach who had never previously called plays at the professional level and he was missing key weapons in Jaelon Acklin and DeVonte Dedmon.
One interesting outcome of this process is that by choosing to remove the interim title and name Dyce the head coach, GM Shawn Burke will have an important voice in his ear helping shape his roster decisions this winter.
Who better to provide input on who should be re-signed or released than someone who spent much of the season working with players on the fringes of the roster, those gutting it out on special teams? Many head coaches spend the majority of their time with the starters or, more specifically, those starting on the side of the ball in which they consider themselves a specialist. With such an extensive background in special teams, Dyce has worked with players from both sides of the ball, from starters right down to practice roster players.
Dyce’s familiarity with the bottom end of the roster could be an asset for Burke because those who bust their butts for minimal reps and spotlight will likely respond well when given opportunities to seize a bigger role and make the most of their chance.
As much as the two-time Grey Cup winner is the right man for the job, those who he chooses to surround himself with will ultimately determine how successful his tenure with the Redblacks will be.
Dyce must ensure his staff includes an experienced offensive coordinator who can fully focus on installing their system and game-planning for each week’s opponent. As bizarre as it sounds, Ottawa hasn’t had a dedicated true offensive coordinator since Jamie Elizondo abruptly resigned from his role six weeks before training camp kicked off in 2019.
Ottawa’s new head coach will need to move quickly given that Saskatchewan and Montreal are also in the market for new offensive coordinators. Although nothing has been formally announced, it seems like former Montreal Alouettes head coach and one-time CFL quarterback Khari Jones could be set to join Dyce in Ottawa to fill that vacant role. Landing someone with that kind of CFL experience would be a massive step toward improving an attack that has been mostly toothless the past few seasons.
As for the defensive side of the ball, it remains to be seen if Dyce chooses to keep Mike Benevides in his current position or if he prefers to go in a new direction. Although the Redblacks’ defence was the backbone of the team at times in 2022, it also frequently came up short at the most crucial of moments.
Finally, Dyce alluded to the fact that although he’ll hire a special teams coach, he still plans to keep a close eye on those units and offer input when he feels it necessary. Given his track record of success as a special teams coach, that’s not a bad thing at all.
By choosing to make Dyce the third head coach in franchise history, Burke has firmly tied his future and legacy to this decision. When introducing Dyce to the media, the GM spoke of how their relationship would be more of a partnership and less of a hierarchy. Those are words that should comfort R-Nation.
After all, if Winnipeg is the league’s model franchise and that’s what everyone is trying to emulate, it’s safe to say the Blue Bombers’ decision to hire a special teams coach for their top job a few years back worked out well.