Rob Vanstone: Saskatchewan Roughriders' Craig Dickenson smartly squelches possible distraction as playoff game looms
Fifty-three weeks ago, with a home playoff date looming, the Saskatchewan Roughriders played all sorts of inane games before the game.
With questions swirling about the status of starting quarterback Zach Collaros
, prominent representatives of the CFL team went to considerable lengths to cloud the situation.
Collaros, who had been concussed in the Roughriders’ regular-season finale, appeared at a media availability one day before the Green and White was to play host to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a West Division semi-final.
Ordinarily, the mere presence of an established quarterback at such a pre-game yak session would be an indicator of his status for the critical contest.
Not in this case. To excerpt a story filed by The Canadian Press on Nov. 10, 2018: “Collaros himself wouldn’t say if he or Canadian Brandon Bridge would get the start. He wouldn’t even say if he would dress.”
Quote of the day: “I can’t say anything, no.”
Later that day, TSN — the CFL’s sole television rights-holder — broke the story that Collaros would not play.
With Bridge behind centre, backed up by David Watford and Drew Tate, the Roughriders eked out 100 passing yards en route to losing 23-18.
The Roughriders, as it turned out, had confused everyone except members of the Blue Bombers’ defence.
That turned out to be Chris Jones
‘ swan song as the Roughriders’ head coach, defensive co-ordinator, general manager and vice-president of football operations.
In January, Jones bolted for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, for whom he is now a defensive assistant.
The move came only one week after the Roughriders announced that Jones — the CFL’s 2018 coach of the year — had signed a contract extension.
The next man up, from a head-coaching perspective, was Craig Dickenson.
Dickenson is not one for obfuscation or silly sideshows. Ask him a question and, invariably, you will receive a direct answer.
Consider the Roughriders’ latest media gathering in advance of a home playoff game against Winnipeg — Sunday’s West final (3:30 p.m., Mosaic Stadium).
Since Oct. 30, when Cody Fajardo
suffered an oblique injury in practice, the status of the starting quarterback has been the primary, secondary and tertiary topic of conversation in football-crazed Saskatchewan.
Fajardo, always congenial and candid, has been forthcoming throughout the painful process. Ditto for Dickenson, who also recognizes that a closed practice shouldn’t necessarily be followed by a closed mouth.
Most recently, Dickenson met the media on Saturday and made it clear, right from the outset, that Fajardo would start against Winnipeg
. Period. End of paragraph.
“He’s shown that he’s healthy,” Dickenson told reporters at Mosaic Stadium. “He’s going to have some soreness and some stiffness, but he has shown that he can execute and run the offence the way he needs to, so we feel like he’s going to be good.”
Just like that, the Roughriders adhered to one of the seven core values in their code of conduct: “Openness and accountability.”
That has been Dickenson’s modus operandi since becoming the Roughriders’ 47th field boss and, clearly, the approach is working.
The Roughriders, at 13-5, finished first in the West for the first time in 10 years, and only the second time in a span of 43 seasons.
Dickenson was duly decorated as the West’s coach of the year.
Along the way, Dickenson has demonstrated that one does not have to be secretive in order to be successful.
“I’m not a good BS’er, I guess,” he told this scribbler earlier this season.
“I just feel like when people ask you a question, you do your best to answer it truthfully and honestly, and if you don’t feel comfortable answering it, you just tell them so.
“I don’t really know why I’m that way. I just am.”
At all times, Dickenson seeks to minimize distractions — an approach that is especially important as the games increase in magnitude.
A year ago, by contrast, it seemed like the Roughriders were going out of their way to create distractions.
Nobody was inclined to provide a straight answer to a rudimentary question: Who would start at football’s most important position?
And that worked out just fabulously, didn’t it?
Dickenson opted for a diametrically different approach on Saturday. And now, having dealt with the ever-popular quarterbacking issue in direct and effective fashion, the emphasis can shift to the only game that truly matters.
Craig, you Rock.