I vividly remember a conversation that took place in the press box at Percival Molson Stadium in October 2015.
It was a chat between Saskatchewan Roughriders’ president and CEO Craig Reynolds, beat reporter Murray McCormick, and myself ahead of the club’s Thanksgiving game against the Alouettes. A few weeks earlier, Reynolds had made the decision to fire then-general manager Brendan Taman and head coach Corey Chamblin, who helped lead the team to its fourth Grey Cup just two seasons before.
Reynolds suggested he wanted to hire someone who could make tough decisions even if they weren’t popular so long as they were ultimately right for the franchise.
As we later learned, Reynolds fired Taman and Chamblin in order to lure Chris Jones away from Edmonton to fill both roles in Regina. It was the only way Reynolds would ultimately get the man he wanted to coach the team. A parallel move wasn’t going to cut it for the soon-to-be Grey Cup champion head coach.
In professional sports, general managers typically get to hire at least two head coaches before being dismissed themselves. Reynolds defied convention to hire Jones. It was a bold, risky move from a young executive looking to put his stamp on the franchise he’d recently inherited from legendary president and CEO Jim Hopson.
Jones never led the Riders to the promised land over his three seasons at the helm, though he did set the team up for success following his departure for the NFL. Saskatchewan went 13-5 in 2019 and hosted the West Final despite losing then-franchise quarterback Zach Collaros to injury in the first week of the regular season.
Four years later, Reynolds was forced to make another decision about his team’s general manager following a disappointing 2023 campaign. Given his history, it wouldn’t have been shocking to see him make a change and swing for the fences, perhaps even trying to lure Kyle Walters (who remains without a contract for 2024) out of Winnipeg.
Instead, he opted to follow convention by giving Jeremy O’Day another chance, granting the longtime player and executive a three-year extension. The move came despite back-to-back 6-12 campaigns, both of which ended in seven-game losing streaks with the team out of the playoff picture.
Some of the blame falls on the general manager. Some of it also falls on the head coach, who the general manager opted to keep following the first collapse in 2022. Some of it also falls on the players, who the general manager added or retained to avoid such a collapse from happening again.
As far as I’m concerned, O’Day more or less used up his second chance to hire a head coach when he decided to keep Craig Dickenson following the 2022 season. O’Day also failed to act when it was clear the train was once again coming off the tracks over the last seven games, despite assurances from everyone that this year’s team was different.
Add in an enraged fan base that’s teetering towards apathy and everything pointed to Reynolds taking the team in a new direction. Instead, he didn’t.
It’s possible that there’s something I don’t know or have misread about this situation. I’ve certainly been known to be wrong. This could work out, but it also might not.
For better or worse, O’Day is getting the chance that Taman never got. It was a tough decision that certainly doesn’t feel popular based the feedback circulating on social media. Only time will tell whether or not it’s right for the franchise. If not, then the board of directors will have a decision of their own to make.