May 26th, 2024

Inside the CFL: Corey Mace looks to give Roughriders pace

By MEDICINE HAT NEWS on May 9, 2024.

sports@medicinehatnews.com@MedicineHatNews

Is Corey Mace the man?

Can he part the waters of the mighty Wascana and lead Saskatchewan to the Pigskin Promised Land? After two straight seasons ended with 0-7 collapses, expectations are high in the land of living skies.

And why not?

The underachieving losers are gone, replaced by new blood from Grey Cup winning programs, including punishing running back A.J. Ouellette from the Argos. Linebacker Jameer Thurman and right guard Ryan Sceviouer won the Grey Cup with Calgary in 2018. Joining Sceviour on a heretofore sieve-like offensive line is Jemarcus Hardrick, a two-time CFL all-star who spent seven years with Winnipeg, playing in four straight Grey Cups, winning once.

With the exception of the former Bomber, the newcomers were all coached in Toronto or Calgary by Corey Mace and some of his assistants. Their faith in him is such they eschewed the bright lights of the big cities for a team in Regina that missed the play-offs.

In a CFL article featuring player opinions, Calgary receiver Reggie Begelton said this about the Roughriders. “I believe in their coaching staff. I know the majority of the guys because they were in Calgary. I know the vision that they are going to bring. They are guys I would play for. ” Added former Stamp and present Argo star DeVaris Daniels, “I think Saskatchewan has probably the best top-to-bottom coaching staff I know of.”

Who are these geniuses in cleats?

Port Moody, B.C. product Mace spent five years as Calgary’s defensive line coach after playing six years for the Stampeders. Tutored by John Hufnagel and Dave Dickenson, he’s brought along Regina product and the late Ron Lancaster’s grandson Marc Mueller, J.C. Sherritt, Marquay McDaniel and Joshua Bell, all from McMahon, and Edwin Harrison from the Argos and Calgary. Holdovers from the previous regime include special teams co-ordinator Kent Maugeri and running backs man Antony Vitale. D-line mentor Phillip Daniels was last with Philadelphia in the NFL.

I cannot recall a time when the appointment of a head coach anywhere in the league has been met with such hype and enthusiasm. Others have been hailed as saviors like Wally Buono going to B.C., John Hufnagel succeeding Tom Higgins in Calgary or Don Matthews arriving in Montreal. But they were proven head coaches. This is Mace’s first crack at the top job.

Can he make the transition from assistant to boss? The roles are quite different. Are there too many buddies on his staff? Will he try to replicate Stampeder/Argo programs, or will we see a brand new Mace system? Will Mace be an example of the Peter Principle, promoted to his level of incompetence, or the second coming of Hugh Campbell? Or Rick, for that matter.

Most Rider fans believe their team collapsed because of Craig Dickenson’s coaching. However, many thought GM Jeremy O’Day should also have walked the plank, arguing he didn’t give his coach much to work with. That’s typical of Saskatchewan: fire the coach but give a three-year contract extension to the man who hired him.

Although O’Day did well signing free agents over the winter, he exercised questionable judgement at last week’s Canadian Draft. He had the No. 3 pick overall and used it to select highly regarded offensive lineman Kyle Hergel from Boston College, even though he had already signed a free agent deal with New Orleans after the NFL draft. The GM’s reasoning is that it’s worth waiting for Hergel’s NFL dreams to end. Other teams over the years have picked players they knew were going South, but usually those picks were in the later rounds. The Riders need help now.

O’Day passed up the chance to add a significant talent from the well-stocked draft pool in favour of a guy who will likely never show up. His second pick, 12th overall, was U. of Saskatchewan linebacker Nick Wiebe who recently underwent ACL surgery. His top picks won’t play a down this year.

Still, this team has a lot of talent. The key to success is 12-year veteran quarterback Trevor Harris recovering from the Tibial Plateau fracture that ended his season last July 16. He will be 38 this May 31. If he stays healthy and Father Time hasn’t caught up with him, the Roughriders have a genuine chance to win the Grey Cup.

Graham Kelly has covered the CFL for the Medicine Hat News for 52 years. Feedback for this column can be emailed to sports@medicinehatnews.com.

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