The Saskatchewan Roughriders were set to open up the season this Friday night against the Montreal Alouettes at Mosaic Stadium, however, the COVID-19 pandemic changed all of that.
“Now that we’re into June, it does feel like something’s missing,” said Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson. “Now the challenge becomes how can we stay busy, how can we stay productive and still get our work done when most of us know we should be coaching football right now.”
The CFL has announced the season will be delayed until September, however, it seems no one has any answers about the return to play beyond that, leaving plenty of uncertainty for players and coaches.
“I’m glad to be back but the last few months have been tough because we’ve been trying to stay up to speed with what’s going on … on what we need to do and there’s just not a lot of answers right now,” said Dickenson.
After spending most of the off-season in Great Falls, Mont., with his parents, Dickenson is back in Regina, where he is set to return to his office at Mosaic Stadium on Monday. That’s when he finishes the mandatory 14-day quarantine period after crossing the United States-Canada border. Upon crossing the border, Dickenson received the coronavirus test and while the test came back negative, he says the process was something to talk about.
“They come up in the hazmat suit and they give you the Q-tip, the jacked-up version, and I stuck that thing so far up my nose, my eyes started watering,” Dickenson said. “I sneezed and I said ‘is that far enough’ and she said ‘yes, that’s far enough.’”
That wasn’t the only uncomfortable experience Dickenson had to face this off-season. Due to the financial uncertainty for the Riders, Dickenson took a 10 to 15 per cent pay cut, as did his fellow coaches. However, as with the coronavirus test, he understood it was necessary.
“Our coaches know that when (Riders President) Craig Reynolds and (General Manager) Jeremy O’Day visit with me, and tell me that we’ve got to tighten our belts because things are getting tough, that’s something we don’t question because we trust them and we believe in what they say,” he said.
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“(Our coaches) were very good about sacrificing and doing what they need to do to make sure the organization could survive and make sure that the league could survive.”
Many of the players are also in tough situations, because no games means no income. Dickenson has encouraged all his players to pick up extra work, and do what it takes to provide for themselves and their families, while also keeping their football training in mind.
“Nobody has reached out to me and expressed that they need to go in a different direction,” he said. “We certainly hope that doesn’t happen in the near future either. I think we’ve got a good group of players that are committed to playing this season and committed to doing something special.”
And while Dickenson would love to be preparing for a specific Week 1 opponent right now, that isn’t possible, so instead, he plans on breaking down video on his own team, to try and improve from the inside.
“Just like a player, we as coaches can still improve, by looking at film and thinking about things even if we’re not playing games,” he said. “We have to prepare as if we’re playing games. We have to prepare as if the season’s going, starting in September. So that’s what we’re doing.”
However, there is fear that as the weeks go on and the league faces more uncertainty, the season could be outright cancelled. Dickenson knows that’s completely out of his control.
“Whether we have a season or not, I’m in Regina and going to keep working hard doing everything I can to help this team be good for this year,” he said.
“And if there is no season — boy I hope that’s not the case — but if there is none, we’ll start working full-steam ahead to make sure 2021 is as good as we can make it.”
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