June 22nd, 2024

Inside the CFL: Lions, Stamps linked on the sidelines and both look to take a step

By MEDICINE HAT NEWS on May 30, 2024.

sports@medicinehatnews.com@MedicineHatNews

For the first time in modern CFL history, over half the head coaches in the league are Canadians. Three were born here, Mike O’Shea of Winnipeg, Bob Dyce of Ottawa, Corey Mace, Saskatchewan. Calgary’s Dave Dickenson and B.C.’s Rick Campbell are naturalized Canadians. The careers of the last two have been intertwined the last few years.

Dickenson, now 51 years young, played 11 seasons in the CFL, two in the NFL and is in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as a player. He was the league’s Most Outstanding Player in 2000. He won the Grey Cup with the Stamps in 1998 and the Lions in 2006.

This is his 16th season as a Stampeder coach. He has never missed the playoffs representing the red and white. He was Calgary’s offensive co-ordinator when they won it all in 2014. He succeeded John Hufnagel as head coach for the 2016 campaign. His teams made it to the Grey Cup his first three seasons at the helm, losing to Campbell’s expansion Redblacks in 2016, the Argos in 2017, before knocking off Ottawa and Campbell in 2018. Neither man has made it back to the big game since.

The 53-year-old Rick is the son of the legendary Hugh Campbell who won 10 Grey Cups as a player, coach, general manager and president of the Edmonton franchise. He holds the mark for most consecutive Cup appearances, six, and wins, five in a row, 1978-82.

Rick was born in Spokane, Wa. where his dad coached Whitworth College and his mom looked after the cheerleading team. He was a star football player at Harry Ainley High School in Edmonton. That was the extent of his playing career. He was an assistant coach with Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary where he worked alongside Dave Dickenson. The two are good friends.

Rick was named head coach of the Redblacks and got to the Grey Cup in only their second year, an incredible feat. He beat Dickenson and Calgary in 2016 but then lost the rematch two years later in Edmonton.

In Campbell’s first season with the Lions, the pandemic shortened 2021, they finished fourth to Calgary’s third. The last two years B.C. has enjoyed the upper paw over their rival with two second place finishes, while Calgary wound up third. Both were 12-6 in 2022. The Leos maintained that pace while the Stamps were 6-12 last year. Both teams lost quality quarterbacks. Bo Levi Mitchell was released and sensational rookie Nathan Rourke went south. Campbell’s crew has dominated the Cowboys lately and have traded wins with the Bombers, who haven’t lost to Calgary since 2021.

After two Western Final losses, many expect the Lions to finally make it to the Big Game even if they have to go through Manitoba. But they lost the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Mathieu Betts to the NFL. His replacement, Roughrider Pete Robertson, is in the twilight of an inconsistent career. They signed Christian Covington, son of the CFL’s all-time sack leader Grover to play defensive end. All-star free agent DB Ciante Evans will bolster the secondary.

Offensively the Lions lost receivers Dominique Rhymes, Kevin Hatcher and Lucky Whitehead. They signed running back William Stanback from Monttreal. Vernon Adams Jr. proved last year he is an elite quarterback, but former Rider Jake Dolegala is not much of a backup. Campbell’s team will be good but they’ve slipped a bit.

The Stamps will field a dynamite defence but there are big question marks on offence. They lost versatile O-lineman Ryan Sceviour to Saskatchewan and running back Ka’deem Carey to Toronto. Veteran Dedrick Mills is his replacement. The receiving corps will feature Reggie Begleton, Marken Michel, Clark Barnes and Jalen Philpot. This is a veteran group but to move up in the standings QB Jake Maier must be better. A new offensive co-ordinator may help. The backup is much-travelled Mathew Schiltz but he sometimes plays like his last name minus the “l”.

The Stampeders prevailed 30-6 last Saturday when the teams met. But that was pre-season and the Lions left most of their projected starters at home. Last year Calgary got off to a slow start, losing three of their first four games, so Dickenson opted to give his veterans more playing time. Campbell and Dickenson resume their rivalry June 15.

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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