The Toronto Argonauts’ ties to Saskatchewan run deep this season.
The vice president of football operations, John Murphy, also comes from the Riders after serving as Chris Jones’ right hand man in football operations from 2016 until the end of 2018, when Jeremy O’Day was named general manager.
But last week when the Argonauts finalized their coaching staff, there were even more connections that stood out to this Saskatchewan-based contributor.
Offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson, offensive line coach Stephen McAdoo, receivers coach Markus Howell, defensive line coach Mike Davis and assistant defence and special teams coach Merritt Bowden were all at some point or another on the coaching staff or, in Davis’ case, in the front office alongside Chris Jones from 2016 to 2018. Some were holdovers under Craig Dickenson in the 2019 season, when the Riders finished in top spot in the West Division.
The reason this is notable is the staff that joined Jones in Saskatchewan was one that built a three-win team into one that was a perennial contender and they did so quickly, with five wins in Year 1, 10 wins in Year 2 and 12 wins in Year 3 and finally the 13-win season with Davis, McAdoo and Bowden still on the staff in 2019.
So here they are back together again with a similar mission in front of them. They need to help take a four-win team to something the Argonauts can sell in Toronto.
Murphy, with general manager Michael Clemons have already gotten off to a good start, with several big name free agents moving in. There are some things, though, that Murphy and the coaching staff should learn from how they turned the Riders around.
First and foremost was to trust your scouts’ ability to find the diamonds in the rough and let them become the new anchors of the team.
When you look back to the roster of the Riders today, you see Shaq Evans, Kyran Moore, Makana Henry, Nick Marshall and Jordan Williams-Lambert, who were brought in as unheralded free agents and developed into solid starters.
Then you have to include Sam Eguavoen and Derrick Moncrief, who were staples to a much improved defence and eventually got their opportunities in the NFL.
Yes, there were veteran CFLers added along the way in Ed Gainey, Charleston Hughes, Mike Edem and William Powell to fill holes and check off the boxes on some necessities, but for the most part the team went young and developed together into a successful franchise.
The one thing they hope to do in Toronto is start from a much better spot at the quarterback position than they had in Saskatchewan.
Ryan Dinwiddie, who wasn’t with the Riders, but clearly admired the coaching staff he had to game plan and compete against, is putting his trust in Nick Arbuckle.
If Arbuckle is what they hope he is, it’ll go better than it did for Saskatchewan, who had to adjust from a personality conflict between Jones and Darian Durant after Year 1 to the mashup of Kevin Glenn and Brandon Bridge in Year 2 to the Zach Collaros experiment in Year 3 and then finally in 2019, Cody Fajardo emerged from almost nowhere to take the ball and run.
The quarterback rotation was the frustration of the team who were winning more but were missing the guy in the huddle who made themselves clearly the leader of the pack.
If Arbuckle is that guy, maybe the Argos can move the needle even quicker than some of this staff did in Saskatchewan.
What else will some of these familiar faces bring that I saw in Saskatchewan? They will bring toughness and aggression. From practices to game day, everything was a competition. From the playing spots on the roster to the offence versus defence in practices, everything was about winning the day.
I don’t see them having a different mindset in Toronto. Of course, Dinwiddie will be a different head coach than Chris Jones but that doesn’t mean his assistants won’t bring a little of their own flare to the way they run their positional groups.
That will help some of Dinwiddie’s assistants set the tone when the leaders on the team will be well versed in expectations when McAdoo is dealing with an offensive line with former Riders Dariusz Bladek and Philip Blake. Of course on the defensive side, we’ve already mentioned all-star calibre players like Hughes and Judge have made their way east.
Overall, Dinwiddie’s coaching staff all have common traits. They’ve seen success in the league, whether it be in Calgary, Winnipeg, Saskatchewan or elsewhere and that’s a great place to start if your a rookie head coach.
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