Fri Dec 31 01:12pm EST
It's looking like the Saskatchewan Roughriders will be heading into the new year with their next head coach in place. Hamilton defensive coordinator Greg Marshall (no, not the Western Mustangs' coach) has been offered the job and is in talks with the team about contract details, per Arash Madani's Sportsnet report and Dave Naylor's TSN piece. As of this posting, there's still no announcement on the team's site, so this isn't official yet, but it would be tough to see this falling apart. Rob Vanstone wrote earlier this week that Marshall (pictured above in a pre-Grey Cup practice with Winnipeg in 2007, which appears to be the sole CP photo of him; by contrast, there are about six of the Western coach) was likely the organization's choice, and yesterday's reports have confirmed that. The Riders have the dough to pay coaches, and Marshall's been eager for a head coaching job for years; both sides have strong incentives to get a deal done.
How's Marshall going to work out as a head coach? Well, he's had a solid record of success as a defensive coordinator, but a head coaching job is a beast of a different nature. Still, in the NFL at least, many of the best coaching turnarounds have come from those who haven't held a head coaching position before, and many of the worst coaching performances have come from experienced head coaches. I don't have similar data on hand for the CFL, but recent years have seen some great performances from coordinators turned head coaches (particularly Kent Austin and Ken Miller in Saskatchewan and Marcel Bellefeuille in Hamilton). There have also been some not-so-great outings, though, such as Rich Stubler's stint in Toronto.
Marshall does have a substantial amount of CFL experience under his belt, which should be a valuable asset. He started his CFL coaching career with Saskatchewan as a defensive line coach back in 1994 after playing for Oregon State and the Ottawa Rough Riders and coaching junior football in Ottawa. He spent six years with the Riders, first as a line coach and then as a defensive coordinator, before moving on to Edmonton, where he was again first a defensive line coach then a defensive coordinator. He went to the Ottawa Renegades as defensive coordinator for the 2005 season, then moved on to Winnipeg after Ottawa's franchise folded. Marshall held the Blue Bombers' DC role from 2006 to 2008, then took the same job in Hamilton before the 2009 season. That's a total of 17 years of CFL experience, most of which is at the defensive coordinator level. In that time, his teams have been to three Grey Cups (Saskatchewan went in 1997, Edmonton went in 2003 and Winnipeg went in 2007) and won one (the Eskimos beat Montreal in 2003).
The focus now shifts to what staff Marshall will put in place, and particularly if he'll keep offensive coordinator Doug Berry, who was also a candidate for the top job. Of course, Marshall formerly worked under Berry in Winnipeg, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. More important might be that Berry's offence was tremendously successful for much of last season and that he appears to have developed a good relationship with quarterback Darian Durant, who led the CFL in passing yards in 2010. Vanstone writes that Berry has one year remaining on his contract, which may keep him around for at least this season. We'll see if Marshall and company elect to retain him or not.
It's interesting that this offseason has seen two coaching changes in the West Division with the hirings of Marshall and Kavis Reed, while none have happened in the East so far. The reverse was true last season with coaching changes in Winnipeg and Toronto). Both of those changes have worked out reasonably well so far, though, with Argos' head coach Jim Barker leading a tremendous turnaround and Bombers' head coach Paul LaPolice making encouraging progress despite a poor record and a laundry list of injuries. We'll see if Marshall and Reed can make similar contributions, but it isn't all about them; one of the most crucial elements of organizational success is that everyone be on the same page.
In Saskatchewan's case, that has to run from Miller and general manager Brendan Taman and the rest of the football operations department through Marshall and his staff to the players. There will certainly be some minor differences along the way, but if the Riders can put together a solid coaching staff and stick to a unified organizational philosophy, they could be in very good shape for the coming years. We'll see if this Marshall Plan proves to be as successful as the last one.