Offensive coordinator Kelly Jeffrey would ‘love’ consideration for Riders’ head coaching job

Photo courtesy: Ted Pritchard/ All rights reserved.

Saskatchewan Roughriders’ offensive coordinator Kelly Jeffrey is throwing his hat in the ring for the club’s vacant head coaching job.

During an appearance on 620 CKRM’s The SportsCage on Thursday, Jeffrey expressed his interest in the position and said he would be inquiring with general manager Jeremy O’Day with regards to his status for an interview.

“At some point this next week, I’ll touch base with JO and just see kind of where I am with things. I’ve been a head coach before, I love being head coach,” Jeffrey said.

“Of course, I’d love to be the head coach of the Riders but I know there’ll probably be a wide-open search and they’ve gotta find someone who kind of fits what they’re looking for — whatever that is. I’ve loved my time with the Riders and I’d certainly love to be a part of it going forward in a lot of different capacities.”

The Riders announced on Monday that they would not be extending head coach Craig Dickenson when his contract expires following the conclusion of the 2023 season. The 52-year-old posted a 34-34 record over his four seasons at the helm, missing the playoffs in each of the last two years with 6-12 marks.

Both of those disappointing finishes came as a result of identical seven-game losing streaks to end the year. None have been able to put forth an adequate explanation for the twin tailspins.

“If I had that answer, we’d be doing something different this week, probably,” Jeffrey acknowledged. “I think Craig did his best. He coached his personality, 100 percent, and that’s the best you can do.”

Saskatchewan is expected to begin an exhaustive search for their next head coach, who will determine the future of the remaining members of the staff on one-year contracts, including Jeffrey.

The first-year play-caller took over the team’s offensive coordinator job in 2023 after a drawn-out search last offseason, earning a promotion from running backs coach after several top candidates around the league withdrew from consideration. Jeffrey’s unit finished fifth in the league in net offensive output and eighth in scoring, while sitting dead last in turnovers.

“There were so many things I learned,” he said of his performance in his first season. “There are a lot of things I know I could have done better and you always have so many calls you want back, but I still think that we could have got there. We just had some real turnover issues.”

Jeffrey was not afforded an easy task, as the Riders were forced to utilize three different starting quarterbacks. Franchise pivot Trevor Harris suffered a tibial plateau fracture in a Week 6 loss to Calgary that ended his season and the team bounced between backups Mason Fine and Jake Dolegala the rest of the way.

Both showed flashes, as Saskatchewan finished third in average passing yards per game, but their youth also made them prone to costly mistakes.

“As a veteran quarterback, sometimes you just know when to cut your losses, whether it’s to not throw a ball in traffic or to tuck it away with two hands when you’re back there in the pocket. Trevor just provided so much on the field that you can only really get through experience,” Jeffrey explained.

“It really only would have taken about one, maybe two more games and I think we could have got (to the playoffs) quite easily. I don’t want to throw the guys under the bus that we have; I believe in those guys too and they’re talented. But that experience is hard to replace.”

The burgeoning coordinator will have to hope that context is taken into account when evaluating his performance this year and there is some belief he showed enough in adverse conditions to merit a new contract. It doesn’t hurt that the current betting favourite for the Riders’ top job, current Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ offensive coordinator Scott Milanovich, has twice employed Jeffrey on his staff and gave him his start in the CFL.

Still, Jeffrey believes he should be a candidate for that role alongside Milanovich and others, citing his previous head coaching experience at Mayville State (2002-05) and Mount Allison (2008-15) — where he was named U Sports Coach of the Year in 2014.

“I’ve been a head coach twice and the first round was a lot of what not to do, you make a lot of those mistakes and learn from them,” he recalled. “My second go around, I took over a team with a 34-game losing streak and we ended up going to two national semifinals with the smallest enrollment of any football school in the country.”

“I think I’ve got a good passion for it and I have what I believe is a really good central message that I don’t stray from, but that’s just me being me.”