Riders’ GM Jeremy O’Day goes ‘full circle’ with decision to mentor football ops rookie Larry Dean

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

When Riders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day sat down beside Larry Dean at the linebacker’s retirement press conference, it signified much more than the end of one career and the beginning of another.

“It feels like it’s full circle for me being able to do this with Larry,” the long-time Saskatchewan personnel man admitted on Thursday.

After 12 seasons of banging shoulder pads professionally on both sides of the border, Dean is hanging them up to take on the role of player personnel coordinator with the team. The move comes almost exactly 13 years after O’Day made his own retirement announcement, moving into the virtually identical role of football operations coordinator.

What Ken Miller and Brendan Taman did for him, O’Day is now doing for the next generation of players — beginning with Dean. That bears a particular significance given that one of the very first transactions he was authorized to execute as a scout involved the now 35-year-old.

“Larry probably doesn’t know this, but on my birthday, August 31, 2011, I actually added Larry to our negotiation list,” O’Day recalled. “He was one of the first guys that I added to our negotiation list as a personnel guy with the Riders. He bounced around down there for too long so we took him off, Hamilton ended up adding him, and we lost out on Larry for the beginning part (of his CFL career).”

After stops with the Ticats and Elks, Dean eventually made his way back to Saskatchewan in 2021, just as O’Day had desired all those years ago. Despite a torn Achilles that cost him the entirety of his first season, the veteran posted over 100 tackles in each of his final two campaigns and showed no signs of slowing down as a 2023 West Division all-star.

Even so, the Riders elected to get younger at linebacker this offseason with the acquisition of Jameer Thurman. Rather than show Dean the door, the offer was tabled to bring him into the front office. Having already participated in the CFL Player Mentorship Program in 2023 with the hopes of getting into football operations, it was the type of opportunity that forced a re-evaluation of plans.

“With the stature of my career and ability, I wanted to play until I was 40. You see the LeBrons of the world and the Tom Bradys of the world, but ultimately you want to think six feet or six inches,” Dean told reporters. “The opportunity presented itself and knowing that this is a road that I see myself in and I always wanted to work towards as an end goal, getting a little long in the tooth and less tread on the tires, I just had to ultimately make the decision.”

According to O’Day, it was the linebacker’s work ethic, leadership ability, and desire to learn that first drew his attention as a front-office candidate. Dean’s work as a CFLPA team rep was another feather in his cap, mirroring the former offensive lineman’s own stint with the union before he moved to the team side.

While those traits and experiences will help make the transition easier, the native of Tifton, Ga. still has a long road ahead of him to prove he can make it on the operations side of the league.

“I told Larry before we got into this process, ‘Just because you’re a good football player doesn’t mean you’re going to be good in football operations, a good scout, a good personnel guy, good in the administration part,'” O’Day said frankly. “It’s really like becoming a rookie all over again, to be honest with you.”

The current general manager believes that his new charge will be enough of a “sponge” to make good on that challenge and Dean appears eager to begin the journey. Just like with his playing career, there is only one place where he wants to take the opportunity.

“To the top, ultimately,” he grinned. “I definitely have aspirations to become a GM and I think I’m with the right guy in the right room to have the mentors to show me the ropes. There’s no other group of men that I would want to be under learning from to be in this role.”

It took eight years for O’Day to make it to the GM chair after getting his front office start, albeit with an interim stint and plenty of job title juggling along the way. The position comes with long hours and more pressure and uncertainty than most can handle, but Dean is ready to take the first steps.

“Ego at the door. I’m here, boots on the ground,” he smiled. “Whatever I can do, I’m here to learn, follow suit and help the organization.

The Riders open the 2024 regular season on Saturday, June 8 when they visit the Edmonton Elks at Commonwealth Stadium.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.