Fri Aug 19 06:38pm EDT
The Saskatchewan Roughriders clearly needed to make changes of some sort following Thursday's embarrassing (and deceptively close) 24-18 loss to the then 1-6 Toronto Argonauts. The loss dropped the Roughriders to 1-7, and that clearly was the final straw; a week after electing to pursue the change option of "no change", they've gone with what's almost the nuclear option, firing rookie head coach Greg Marshall (seen above) and veteran offensive coordinator Doug Berry and having vice-president of football operations Ken Miller make his return to the sidelines in Marshall's place.
It's awfully early to fire a rookie head coach, and particularly one on a three-year contract. However, something clearly had to be done in Saskatchewan, as the way the Roughriders were playing wasn't going to lead to success any time soon. It's not that they were just getting bad breaks or losing close games; they've conceded a league-high 253 points and scored a league-low 165 despite playing more games than three-quarters of the CFL so far. That leads to averages of just 20.6 points for per game and 30.6 against, and that can't be written off as simple bad luck. Sure, the Roughriders' Pythagorean expectation didn't think they'd be this terrible, but it still had them as the worst team in the league by far. Given the way they've played, that's a reasonably fair label at this point.
The Riders' problems have been so widespread that it's tough to find an individual scapegoat, but there's certainly plenty of blame for the coaches as a unit. Saskatchewan has struggled almost equally on offence and defence (which is why it's particularly interesting that defensive coordinator Richie Hall survived this housecleaning), and the Riders' special teams haven't been great either. The team has also played without a lot of desperation or motivation, particularly early in games (they were shut out in the first half against Toronto and only scored one point before the fourth quarter), and their execution has been bad enough that John McKay probably would have been in favour of it. Miller (seen at right in some colourful pants last year during a retro game against Calgary) is a noted motivator, and he may be able to bring some inspiration to a team that's been sorely lacking it.
However, the Riders' problems go deeper than coaching. Their roster has never really recovered from the offseason losses of receivers Andy Fantuz (a talented Canadian, the CFL's leading receiver last season, gone to the Chicago Bears) and Rob Bagg (a solid Canadian receiver, out with a long-term injury), and most of their off-season moves haven't really worked out. They put together a veteran team with the hopes of getting to their third-straight Grey Cup, but that hasn't come together as hoped. Some of the blame for their poor start is undoubtedly on the coaching staff, but some has to be placed on the personnel side—and that reflects both on new coach Miller and general manager Brendan Taman. We'll see if Miller can turn things around from the sidelines; if he can't, it may suggest that Marshall wasn't given a great hand to work with.
The season certainly isn't a lost cause, though. Although Saskatchewan's 1-7 on the year, they're not out of contention for a playoff spot. The third spot in the West Division is still very much up for grabs, as the B.C. Lions are only 1-6 heading into their own game Friday night (although there are reasons for optimism in their case). All Saskatchewan would have to do to get a playoff spot is finish ahead of the Lions and with an equal or better record than the East's fourth-place team (probably Toronto). That's a tough hill to climb given the way they've played to date, but not an insurmountable one.They've made their decision to meet the new boss, who's the same as the old boss. We'll see if he can bring back the old results, or if Saskatchewan fans have been fooled again.