November 19, 2010
There's been a maelstrom of discussion in the last week of a head coach giving up that role to focus on the personnel side, but it has been centred on the B.C. Lions' Wally Buono. Today saw no developments on that front, but rather a similar story breaking in a different CFL city. It was reported by The Regina Leader-Post, TSN and The Globe and Mail that Saskatchewan head coach Ken Miller (pictured above during Sunday's semi-final) may move into a front-office role after this season.
The reason for the speculation appears to be a clause in Miller's contract. Here's Murray McCormick of the Leader-Post:
Miller's contract includes a clause where he could relinquish his duties as head coach in the next year or so to concentrate on football operations. If that does take place, Miller feels confident the transition would be a smooth one for the Riders and for himself.
"If I weren't to appear on any given day, it would move forward without a hitch,'' Miller said. "I'm proud and happy with the people we have in the organization right now.''
Despite that contract clause, this isn't quite as clear-cut as a similar transition in B.C. would be. Out west, Buono holds both the titles of head coach and general manager, so he could step upstairs and hire his own replacement if he wanted. Saskatchewan already has general manager Brendan Taman, so it isn't likely Miller would step into that spot. Miller does currently hold the title of vice-president of football operations, so much of the discussion has been on him maintaining that role, which would probably involve working with Taman to build the team's roster. The exact details of how that would work haven't come out yet, however.
If Miller did step down as head coach, his replacement might also not be as easy to decide on as it would have been earlier this season. Offensive coordinator and assistant head coach Doug Berry, a former head coach with Winnipeg, would be a logical candidate, but the availability of recently-fired Edmonton head coach Richie Hall might throw a spanner into the works. Hall was very successful as a defensive coordinator with the Roughriders, and he showed plenty of promise with the Eskimos this year, particularly down the stretch. If the Riders do have a head-coaching vacancy, I'd imagine he'd receive at least some consideration.
All of this is still quite premature, though, as Miller certainly hasn't said he's stepping down yet. Here's what he told the Globe:
"When this season is over I'll give it some time and talk with [wife] Maureen," Miller said following his team's practice Thursday at Mosaic Stadium during a full-scale blizzard. "We'll make a good decision for us. I'll talk with Jim [Hopson, Saskatchewan's chief executive officer and president] and Brendan [Taman, the general manager].
"We'll evaluate what we've accomplished or what we haven't accomplished, then we'll make a good decision for our family and a decision that's good for the Riders. That's what we'll base those decisions on.''
That certainly isn't definitive one way or another, and it doesn't appear answers on that front will be forthcoming for a while, so let's shift the discussion to if Miller should stay as head coach or not. The view from this corner is that he should keep that job for at least another year. It's obviously hard to judge a coach from a distance and particularly to see if he still has the passion and drive required to succeed in a highly taxing profession, but all indications are that Miller still does. He's only 69, so he's not approaching Joe Paterno territory yet. It's also worth keeping in mind that this is only his third season as a CFL head coach, so it's still a relatively new challenge for him.
Miller (pictured at right in some classic retro pants during a July 17 game against Edmonton) has found some pretty impressive success so far, though; he's 32-21-1 in the regular season. That's a .592 winning percentage, which is quite solid in what's been the toughest division in a parity-filled league recently. He also took a 10-win team to the Grey Cup last year, and only lost thanks to an infamous special-teams screwup. In my mind, he certainly still has the chops to be a great CFL head coach for years to come.
What's most impressive to me about Miller is his willingness to be unconventional and his willingness to address criticism. His most-debated decision this year was undoubtedly the attempt to win a game against Calgary with a punt single rather than a field goal, a controversial call that's almost never seen in the CFL. It didn't work out in that particular instance (although Saskatchewan went on to win the game), but I'm still convinced that it was the right call on a percentage basis. That didn't prevent Miller from being widely roasted by critics, but, rather than go after them the way another member of his coaching staff might, he accepted the criticism and admitted that the plan didn't work. He still stood his ground and said he'd make the same call again, though. That combination of receptiveness and persistence is a unique mix among head coaches, and I think it's a big part of what's made Miller successful. It also should allow him to succeed at whatever role he chooses for the coming years, whether that's on the sidelines or upstairs.