‘Every person in this province deserves better’: former punter Jon Ryan lobbies for Riders’ head coaching job

Photo courtesy: Hannah Souster

Former Saskatchewan Roughriders punter Jon Ryan is fed up with the state of his hometown team and he’s ready to do something about it.

“Right now, when I turn on the TV, when I go to a game, and I see 10,000 empty seats, Rider Nation has spoken: they’re sick of it. They’re sick of it, and I am too,” Ryan said during an interview on 620 CKRM’s The Sportscage this week. “Every person in this province deserves better. This is the best province in Canada for football. We have the best CFL fans in the entire league. We should be fighting for the Grey Cup, if not in the Grey Cup, every single year.”

The 41-year-old retiree made waves on social media on Tuesday when he put his name forward for the Riders’ vacant head coaching position, stating that the franchise needed someone who “lives and dies Sasky.” The original post on the platform formerly known as Twitter has since been viewed over 128,000 times, drawing everything from ridicule to rousing support and solicitation for a place on his staff.

Addressing the post with host Michael Ball, Ryan said he’d “frickin’ love it” if he was appointed to the position but stated that landing the job wasn’t really the point.

“Am I going to be the next head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders? Probably not, let’s be honest. Where this really came from is I feel like I have a voice and I have a platform to spread that voice,” he explained. “I’ve been speaking to 13s, Rider Nation, over the last year and I’ve heard a lot of concern. I think this is the first time since the mid-90s where I can really hear concern in people’s voices, where they don’t know what’s going on right now.”

According to Ryan, the organization he’s loved since childhood is at a crossroads. When it comes to hiring a replacement for Craig Dickenson, they “can’t screw this one up.”

He believes the Riders’ would be lucky to hire many of the top candidates on the market, including Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ offensive coordinator Scott Milanovich, Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ offensive coordinator Buck Pierce, and Calgary Stampeders’ special teams coordinator Mark Kilam, but has one stringent requirement for the new boss of Riderville.

“We need a guy with passion. We need the same passion given to us that we give to this team every frickin’ week. Whoever that head coach is, I want him on day one to say, ‘Mediocrity is done. Almost is done. Maybe next year, it’s frickin’ done,’ because we’re sick of it,” Ryan ranted.

“I’m calling right now on (general manager) Jeremy O’Day, on (president) Craig Reynolds, on every person in that building with a voice and a vote. I want you to listen up because when that guy comes into that room for an interview, I want him to look you dead in the eyes and say, ‘I will do anything to win football games for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.’ Not, ‘Here are the X’s and O’s,’ all of those guys can do that. We all need a guy right now that has passion for this team like we have passion for it. That’s what we deserve.”

Born and raised in Regina, Ryan has shared the local obsession for the Riders since he was born and recalled shovelling driveways to earn money to buy his own season tickets. The product of the University of Regina Rams was originally selected in the third round of the 2004 CFL Draft by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, before jumping to the NFL in 2006.

Despite an illustrious 13-year NFL career with the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, and Buffalo Bills, which included a Super Bowl victory in 2014 — the first ever by a Saskatchewan-born player — Ryan returned to the CFL in 2019 to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing for the Riders. He spent two seasons as the team’s punter before being unceremoniously shown the door after suffering a serious foot injury at the end of the 2021 season. He wrapped up his career with stints in Hamilton and Edmonton before retiring following the 2022 campaign.

Ryan insisted that he has nothing but love for O’Day and still holds the team’s former coach in high esteem, though the franchise now needs someone with his background in the top job after enduring Dickenson’s affable demeanour.

“When I look at guys, I say, ‘Did you play football on the streets until the lights came on every day after school? Did you drink out of the frickin’ garden hose? Did you play tackle football at recess when you knew you were supposed to be playing touch?’ Those guys are dogs and those are the dogs we need in that locker room and that’s what we need in a head coach right now,” Ryan stressed.

“I’m not a guy that watches football three hours on every Sunday. I’ve been in film rooms for hours and hours and days and years of my life. I understand the game. I have a passion for the game. I have a passion for the people of Saskatchewan and Riderville, so that’s where I come from. Am I gonna be able to blow your mind right now with the X’s and O’s and some cool drills that we do in practice? I’m not. I’m not gonna blow your mind with that. But I have passion for this. I have a lot of passion.”

Ryan is not the only former player to throw his hat in the ring for the Riders’ gig, joining the likes of Hall of Fame quarterback Henry Burris. However, he understands the skepticism regarding his candidacy given a complete lack of coaching experience.

Nevertheless, the hometown hero hopes he’s become the voice for thousands of other fans angered after two nearly identical late-season collapses.

“Rider Nation deserves a coach with passion, a coach that is going to come in there and lead not only this team but lead this province. Everyone from Lorenz to P.A, to Eyebrow, to Elbow, to Saskatoon, to the good side of Lloydminster, they all want this,” Ryan said.

“They’re ready to win. They’re ready to come to games and they’re ready to watch games. J.O., I know you can do it for us. It’s a lot better to be hoisted up on a million shoulders than to be standing under two million feet.”