With general manager Marcel Desjardins being let go by the Ottawa Redblacks on October 25th, some final thoughts (posted earlier this week on Twitter) on why it happened and where the franchise goes from here.
First off, as much as this was absolutely the right decision for the franchise, there’s no celebration here for a guy losing his job. These guys aren’t millionaires and getting fired always sucks.
In the end, it was Desjardins’ decision after the 2018 season not to prioritize replacing the ‘four-headed monster’ of Trevor Harris, William Powell, Greg Ellingson and SirVincent Rogers with suitable talent that did him in. Simply too much talent lost too quickly.
Few teams could be expected to absorb such losses at marquee positions without taking a big step backwards. In Ottawa’s case, it was a massive step. The swagger from the Grey Cup teams gone overnight, and casual fan interest dropped off noticeably.
It’s very odd, looking back, that Desjardins strayed from building his teams around an elite QB. Winning in the CFL is nearly impossible without one, not to mention the recruiting aspect a big name brings.
The Nick Arbuckle signing looked to be a renewed focus on winning, but the subsequent decision to let him go prior to this season felt like a GM that was either second-guessing himself or lost control. Either way, a confidence-killer.
Desjardins can’t really be blamed for the retirements that contributed to this awful season. But the fact remains the roster was already deficient. Too much had to go right for this team to even compete for a playoff spot. That’s not how you build winning programs.
Ottawa football fans absolutely owe a debt to Desjardins for what he accomplished here, but change had to happen – and probably should have happened a season ago. By the sounds of Desjardins on Monday, he was probably ready for a change of scenery too.
The good news is that there are lots of nice pieces to build around with this Redblacks roster, in spite of its shortcomings. But finding an answer at QB and rebuilding the OLine are obviously critical in returning to competitiveness.
My hope for the next Redblacks GM is someone with CFL front office experience, though not necessarily GM experience. There appear to be a number of great candidates out there, which helps. The speculation will be fun to watch.
These are some restless times in #RNation, with the Redblacks on a 4-game losing streak and fans wondering if all their doubts about the 2019 version of the team are already materializing. Redblacks fan @Lordele shares his thoughts on how we may have got here and why no one should be surprised.
By Lordele Greenyer
Let’s be honest: by Day Two of CFL free agency 2019, any objective Redblacks fan pretty much knew where this team was gonna be this year. The success of this season’s team was determined when big names – Trevor Harris, Greg Ellingson, William Powell and SirVincent Rogers being the biggest – were not re-signed, and without any substantial names walking back through the doors of TD Place. At the time, General Manager Marcel Desjardins defended the strategy and spoke of prioritizing the re-signing key defensive free agents, which limited the team’s cap flexibility. Some bought it, others not so much. And while the first couple weeks of the season offered some hope, the season has not surprisingly been mostly pitiful.
So this is where we are: Two wins, four losses and not a lot of hope. But how did we get here? Or, WHY did we get here? I’ve got my suspicions…
Strap on your tinfoil hat and join me!
Theory One: Marcel Desjardins actually believes this team will be good
I honestly have a hard time believing this. MD has spent countless seasons evaluating talent and building competitive teams, most recently the championship team in 2016 and two others reaching the Grey Cup in FOUR seasons. Regardless of the strength of the East division, his teams were regularly at the top of standings. And while there have been some mistakes over the years (Eric Rogers 😢), they are far outweighed by a number of strong free agent signings-turned-CFL stars (or at least stars in the making). For Desjardins to suddenly lose his touch with player evaluation and roster composition seems unrealistic. Has to be more to it.
Theory Two: OSEG has tightened the purse strings
This one has been widely speculated on social media and among the fan base since the off-season. And since CFL salaries still aren’t being made public, it probably won’t stop any time soon. Many fans point to the cost of operating Ottawa Fury FC, and their relatively modest attendance (averaging about 4,500 spectators through 10 home games in 2019) as a factor. The 67s have also been suffering somewhat the last few years at the box office, though last season’s playoff run had to help the bottomline.
OSEG cherishes brave people with independent thought.
We believe in our GM & coaches…with good cause given their track record.
Your REDBLACKS have always spent to the CFL salary cap building a TEAM…just spread out a little different than some others. Bring on 2019 🔴⚫️!
I frankly just don’t buy it. My expectation is that Desjardins and the Redblacks have been given the OK to spend to the cap. OSEG CEO Mark Goudie said as much. The organization seems pretty sound financially and has many more outlets for revenue beyond butts in seats. I mean, they even found a sponsor for the 15 minutes the fans spend on the field after games!
Theory Three: Desjardins has his eyes set on 2020
I’m going full tinfoil here, but bear with me.
With a new collective bargaining agreement due before this season, it’s no secret a number of players made a point of signing contracts that would expire at the same time, in hopes of cashing in on an increase in available cap dollars. With the CBA ratified nearly three months after the start of free agency, however, teams and players had to guess at where the cap might land. Many clearly expected a cap increase and the league’s biggest names signed two-, three-, even four-year contracts with big signing bonuses.
Now that we know the big cap increase didn’t materialize (going up only $50,000 from 2018), teams like BC, Edmonton and Winnipeg may be hard pressed to be active in free agency in 2020, because they have a good portion of their money locked up.
In walks Desjardins. He let his big names walk and take big contracts elsewhere, didn’t really make any long-term commitment to any player, let alone bringing in a big contract. So they might be a “cap team”, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have money to spend.
No question defence has been this team’s biggest strength the last couple years. And while individual accolades are great, defensive players seem to get paid when the team wins. Conversely, it’s harder to demand big, long-term deals when the team hasn’t had a great season. Should the season play out that way, MD will be better positioned to re-sign key parts of the defence to reasonable deals.
Now, putting these two concepts together, Desjardins would have the ability and flexibility at season’s end to not only re-sign those key parts of the defence (at perhaps a more reasonable cost) to contract extensions and apply signing bonus dollars to the 2019 salary cap.
Putting a couple hundred thousand dollars to work in this way could allow the Redblacks to be major players in 2020 free agency, while also better allowing them to keep guys like Brad Sinopoli, Lewis Ward and our growing list of defensive studs.
So is it worth it to write-off 2019 for the sake of 2020 or beyond? I’m not sure, but this is my best guess at how – and why – we got here.
Our guest today is former Ottawa Renegade FB Mike Maurer. Maurer, a Saskatoon native, was selected from BC by the Renegades in their 2002 expansion draft, and went on to start 44 games during his time in Ottawa. Known for being a bruising back with a penchant for laying devastating blocks, the two time winning Grey Cup champion (2000 and 2005) enjoyed a stand out 13 year career in the CFL and finished in a tie for second place on the CFL’s career special teams tackles list.
Before breaking into the CFL, you served in the Canadian Forces, tell us about that experience.
At the time,I thought that might be my career path, as I chose not to play football after graduating high school. Being in the military taught me valuable lessons; how to work hard, be a team player, self discipline, what it means to be mentally tough, and to be part of and do something greater than myself.
What was your initial reaction when you found out that you’d been selected by the Renegades in their expansion draft?
A little disbelief but lots of excitement at the same time. The Lions weren’t offering a very flattering contract extension, so with Ottawa selecting me that early it meant I was wanted and valued, and that felt great.
During your time in Ottawa you often were the lead blocker for Josh Ranek, who was nicknamed “The Little Ball of Hate”. As a FB why did you enjoy blocking for a guy like that?
Josh is an unbelievable guy, someone I’m still good friends with to this day. Josh also exemplifies what it is to be a professional athlete – the first one in the building and last one to leave. For those reasons, it was easy for me and everyone on offense to block for him because he worked so hard and wanted the team to be successful so badly.
The only rushing TD of your career came while you were on the Renegades, talk us through that play.
To be honest I don’t remember the play too much, it’s in the books as a run but I actually think it was a fumble recovery. We were on the goal line and I blocked my man into the end zone and was looking over my shoulder to watch Darren Davis run in, but the ball popped onto the ground and I just jumped on it.
As a blocking fullback who was a dual threat on screens, what was your favourite play to run?
In Ottawa we ran something like a bit of a shovel pass where it looked like a zone-lead play. I’d motion to the left and the tailback and QB would play-action to the left while I slipped behind the line back to the right. That’s when the QB would turn and dump it to me. A mis-direction play like that was normally good for a solid gain, especially if we’d been running the ball well throughout the game.
Joe Paopao is often credited with keeping the Renegades team very close, even through challenging and difficult times. What did you most respect about him as a coach?
It’s always beneficial for a coach when he’s actually been a player himself, because when he’s coaching the guys know he’s walked in their shoes. Joe wore his heart on his sleeve, and he had such passion for the game. He was always coming up with activities for the team to do together, and he knew how to treat his players. I don’t think I could pick one thing but he really knew how to get the players to go to war for him and leave it all out there on the field in a way I haven’t seen from anyone else.
In 2005, you were a member of the Eskimos and played in what I consider to be one of the best Grey Cups in CFL history. You were named the Most Valuable Canadian for your role in the victory. Looking back now, what sticks with you about that game?
I recently watched the game for the first time since 2005. What struck me while I was watching it was that it felt like I was watching the wrong game. When I played I was never a scoreboard watcher, so it felt wrong seeing the score with Montreal being ahead for so much of it. During the game it felt like we had it all under control and had all the confidence in the world, as if the final result was a foregone conclusion. I was so surprised watching it again to see we were the ones to come from behind and tie to send it into overtime. It just didn’t have that feeling.
What was the biggest hit you ever gave or received?
I know I’ve had my fair share of big hits dealt: some special teams blind-sides and as a FB burying a guy or knocking guys clean off their feet on a peel-back or downfield hit. But I specifically remember a few times where I got blown up: Fred Perry got me on kickoff cover and I didn’t see him coming and he ear holed me pretty good. I essentially did a cartwheel, but I did get up immediately and still got in on the tackle. The other was while I was with Edmonton and I ran a shallow pattern into the flat, Ricky Ray shouldn’t have thrown me the ball since there was a corner sitting in the zone but he did. I caught the pass and the split second I turned my head the DB hit me in the chin with his crown and the first thing that hit the ground was my head. I believe it was dubbed the hit of the year on TSN.
Over the course of your career you racked up 168 special teams tackles. What’s the trick to bringing down a dangerous returner?
You know if I had known I was that close to the all-time record which I think was 182 or something I would have played another season to be #1. I was a tailback early in my career, and my aggressiveness matched just about anyone. I suppose my aggressiveness plus being given the opportunity to make tackles, combined with the reckless abandon of not caring what happened to my body, was the recipe.
In your opinion, which stadium has the best hecklers?
Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, Montreal and Hamilton were all tough places to play. That being said, it’s got to be Saskatchewan or Hamilton though I’d probably put Hamilton #1 because it seemed like the fans were so close to the field, they seemed right on top of you.
After retiring following the 2007 season, late in 2008 and then again in 2009 you came out of retirement to play a few more games. What led to those decisions?
My daughters got to an age where they’d often voice their opinion of me playing away from home, so that’s how I knew it was time to hang them up. As for me coming out of retirement, it was something that kind of caught everyone by surprise, but I felt a strong allegiance to Edmonton as they’d treated me so well. In 2008 they asked if I wanted to be part of a playoff push and since it only ended up being the last 4 games of regular season and 2 playoff ones, I wasn’t gone from home for too long Then in 2009, right before the Labour Day home and away with Calgary, Edmonton was hit with the injury bug. I think 3 or 4 Canadian backs were hurt and they needed someone that could come in and start on offense. There wasn’t really any players out there that could’ve walk in off the street to start so I decided to come back again. The tricky part about 2009 was that the offensive terminology was different, so Ricky Ray would call the play in the huddle, then as we broke and walked to the line he’d call the play again as we used to call it in the past, just for me to understand. Looking back it’s pretty funny, thankfully Ricky Ray was a great QB to play with and he helped me a lot. After that stint I realized I needed to stay retired, I’d escaped my career without major injury and wanted to stay keep things that way.
How would you characterize yourself as a player and did you have anyone you tried to model your game after?
As a player all I wanted to do was leave it all out on the field, every play, every game. I looked at every play as a street fight where I needed to win my 1-on-1 battle. So in a few words I’d like to think of myself as a tough, hard-nosed guy that gave everything he had every play, regardless of the score. I tried to be the best version of myself, and tried to take what I had and make the most of it.
Why did you wear #19?
It stuck because after I made the team with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the media told me I was the first person to make the team after being assigned #19 in over a decade. I thought maybe that was good luck sign so I kept it. Also, back then it was an oddball number and I enjoyed being different.
What was your typical pre-game meal?
It was pretty much always a chicken breast, pasta and fresh vegetables and fruit.
In the 2006 off-season you made headlines when you debuted in the Maximum Fighting Championship. How did that come about?
Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu were part of my offseason training and I enjoyed the sport, it was a great hobby that I still train in and don’t consider myself retired from it at all. During an interview I mentioned that I trained and had the desire to compete and Mark Pavelich, who was with the Maximum Fighting Championship, heard that and approached me.
Tell me thing that the average CFL fan doesn’t know about you.
I’m a board game geek. My idea of a fun night would be to have family or friends over to play some games. Strategy games like the Game of Thrones board game, Spartacus, Ticket to Ride, Agricola, Pandemic, Kingsburg, Last Night on Earth, and Red Dragon Inn are my favourites. I probably have in the neighbourhood of 50 games that I like to play depending on my mood or the group I’m with.
What are you doing for work nowadays?
In the past I’ve worked as a childcare worker at a treatment centre for youth at risk, and applied at the Police and Fire departments, but have settled into what is essentially a sales rep job with Corix Water Products. They’re a North American distributor of water and wastewater products like pipe, valves, fittings, and so on. I also own a tree cutting company called Wolverine Tree Services.
Do you still keep in touch with a lot of your former teammates? If so, who?
I still see Josh Ranek once or twice a year, we’re quite close. Mike Abou-Mechrek lives a few blocks away and I still chat with Dan Farthing and Dan Rashovich. I’m just starting to get involved with alumni associations and am looking forward to reconnecting with a lot of past teammates, many of whom I consider to be brothers.
Thanks so much for your time Mike and all the best!
Just over 24 hours into free agency and the Redblacks off-season can already be declared a smashing success. Ottawa had some major roster holes to fill following a disappointing 2-16 season and four key signings by GM Marcel Desjardins should go a long way to reassure R-Nation that 2015 will indeed be a much better year on the field for the Redblacks.
The process of overhauling the offence began with the firing of Mike Gibson and the hiring of Jason Maas to replace him, along with a trade that sent LB Jasper Simmons, the Redblacks 2014 MOP (Most Outstanding Player) to Calgary for established veteran WR Maurice Price. The offensive retooling continued yesterday with the signings of a trio of 6 foot plus WRs; Ernest Jackson (International), Brad Sinopoli (National) and Greg Ellingson (International).
R-Nation is already quite familiar with Brad Sinopoli as the 26 year old Peterborough native played QB at the University of Ottawa, winning the Hec Crighton Trophy as the most outstanding CIS football player in 2010. After being drafted by the Stampeders in the 4th round of the 2011 draft, Sinopoli spent two seasons as their 3rd string quarterback before making the difficult transition from QB to WR. Last year the 6’4”, 215 pound Sinopoli started 12 games for Calgary, making 20 catches for 197 yards and scoring 2 TDs.
Not only will the Redblacks now have better players on the receiving end of passes, but the guys throwing them the ball should have more time too, thanks to the addition of the 6’4”, 319 pound SirVincent Rogers. With a pedigree almost as interesting as his name, Rogers spent the last two years protecting Ricky Ray’s blind side. Before coming up to the CFL, Rogers spent 2012 in the AFL, winning the AFL championship and playing offensive line and tight end for the Arizona Rattlers. As a TE he made 5 catches for 129 yards and 2 TDs so maybe when Jason Maas digs into his bag of trick plays we’ll see SirVincent catching some passes at TD Place.
In 2014 the Redblacks had over 45 dropped passes and many were drive and momentum killers. With the addition of Jackson, Sinopoli and Ellingson through free agency and the acquiring of Price through trade, Ottawa’s receiving corps has seemingly gone from a glaring weakness to a strength. New OL Coach Bryan Chiu now has an extremely large and talented Rogers to work with and their familiarity from their time together in Toronto with the Argos is an added benefit. When you factor in that most of the top prospects in the CFL draft are offensive lineman and that Ottawa holds the #1 overall pick, the two positions that the Redblacks really couldn’t count on last season suddenly look much better.
On another level, as a Redblacks fan you can’t help but smile seeing Desjardins come out of the gate swinging. His aggressiveness in pursuing free agents and improving the team is one that many Ottawa Senators fans wished their GM would show. The contrast between Jeff Hunt and OSEG’s commitment to fielding a winning and competitive team is never more evident than when one looks at the Sens and Eugene Melynk’s cheap ways.
At this point in time I don’t see the Redblacks making any more big signings, other than perhaps a few depth guys, maybe at QB, RB or LB. It’s also worth noting that Ottawa officially lost one of their own free agents when OL Alex “Truckstick” Krausnick signed the Eskimos. One year after being selected by the Redblacks in their expansion draft, Krausnick wasted no time in returning to Edmonton.
Let us know what you think about the Redblacks free agency moves so far in the comments below.
The middle of the CFL’s off-seaosn is the perfect time to see how the 2002 Renegades season stacks up against the 2014 Redblacks inaugural year. Though the Renegades eked out two more wins, there’s an argument to be made that the Redblacks had the more entertaining first year.
Renegades lose at home against Saskatchewan, falling 30-27 in OT
Redblacks lose in Winnipeg 36-28
Renegades lose in Edmonton 40-24
Redblacks lose in Edmonton 27-11
Renegades win at home vs Winnipeg 25-24
Redblacks win at home vs Toronto 18-17
Renegades lose in Winnipeg 55-7
Redblacks lose in Hamilton 33-23
Renegades win at home vs Hamilton 38-37
Redblacks lose at home to Saskatchewan 38-14
Renegades lose in Toronto 24-8
Redblacks lose in Calgary 38-17
Renegades lose at home to Montreal 29-6
Redblacks lose at home to Edmonton 10-8
Renegades lose in BC 22-18
Redblacks lose at home to Calgary 32-7
Renegades lose in Hamilton 30-9
Redblacks lose in Montreal 20-10
Renegades lose at home to BC 28-4
Redblacks lose at home to BC 7-5
Renegades lose at home to Toronto 30-25
Redblacks lose in Saskatchewan 35-32 in double OT
Renegades win in Calgary 26-12
Redblacks lose at home to Montreal 15-7
Renegades lose at home to Calgary 26-22 in OT
Redblacks win at home vs Bombers 42 – 20
Renegades lose in Saskatchewan 29-11
Redblacks lose in BC 41 – 3
Renegades lose at home to Edmonton 37-34
Redblacks lose in Hamilton 16-6
Renegades lose in Toronto 29-12
Redblacks lose at home to Montreal 23-17
Renegades lose at home to Montreal 43-34
Redblacks lose at home to Hamilton 34-25
Renegades win in Montreal 26-25
Redblacks lose in Toronto 23-5
The Renegades went 4-14 with 356 Points For and 550 Points Against equaling a difference of -194 points
The Redblacks went 2-16 with 278 Points For and 465 Points Against equaling a difference of -187 points
The Renegades averaged 19.7 points a game, scoring more than 20 points in 10 games, and more than 30 in three
The Redblacks averaged 15.4 points a game, scoring more than 20 points in 5 games, more than 30 once, and more than 40 once
The Renegades gave up 30.5 points a game to the Redblacks 25.8 points per game and were *blown out seven times to the Redblacks five
*In this case I counted a blowout as losing by more than 14 points
Individual Stat Leaders:
Dan Crowley threw for 2697 yards with 16 TDs, 19 INTs and a 49.1% completion rate
Henry Burris throwing for 3728 yards with 11 TDs, 14 INTs and a 60.9% completion rate
Josh Ranek rushed for 689 yards and 3 TDs, averaging 5.4 yards per carry
Chevon Walker rushing for 458 yards and 3 TDs, averaging 4.5 yards per carry
Jimmy Oliver made 82 catches for 1004 yards and 6 TDs
Marcus Henry making 67 catches for 824 yards and 2 TDs
Kelly Wiltshire made 86 tackles vs Jasper Simmons making 80
Gerald Vaughn made 3 INTs vs Brandyn Thompson making 4
Jerome Haywood had 6 sacks vs Justin Capicciotti having 11
Special Teams Tackles:
John Grace made 16 vs Jason Pottinger making 13
Renegades: LB John Grace, CFL All-Star
Renegades: 0 sellouts with an average crowd of 23,773
Redblacks: 9 sellouts with an average crowd of 24,500
I recently had an opportunity to catch up with Lonie Glieberman, one of the most notorious sports figures in Ottawa’s history. In 1991 Bernie Glieberman (Lonie’s father), bought the Rough Riders for $1 (assuming their $1,000,000 debt) and quickly installed Lonie as team president. Two years and several questionable moves later, the Gliebermans left town to start a CFL franchise in Shreveport after selling the Rough Riders to Bruce Firestone. In 2005 with the Renegades facing financial difficulties, the Gliebermans re-entered the picture, once more buying Ottawa’s team when no one else would. Lonie’s second go at being team president was again mired in controversy and only one year after buying the team Bernie walked away from it, forcing the Renegades to be suspended by the league.
RR: It’s 1991, why did you and your father decide to get into the CFL? Was it purely a sports move or was there another motive? (For example, real estate?)
LG: We thought buying the Rough Riders was a great opportunity as we were under the impression the CFL would expand. The team was obviously undervalued due to it’s debt and the league was buzzing at the time; Gretzky was involved with the Argos, Rocket Ismail was the highest paid player in pro football and all signs seemed to be pointing up.
What experience did you have that made you feel confident that you’d succeed as the president of football operations?
I didn’t have experience, but my Dad did. We looked at it as a global property, not just an Ottawa based one and I think that by treating it that way I did have some transferable skills from our other businesses. I was confident as the future looked bright, a big TV deal for the CFL seemed about to happen and that would’ve made all the difference. The reason the CFL is so strong and stable today is a direct result of the good TV deal they have.
Looking back, would you still have changed the R logo to the double flaming RRs knowing how much the single R meant to Ottawa’s football history?
Well, I still do like the double Rs, but from a traditionalist standpoint the white R is better. I guess you can compare it to Alabama’s A, that encapsulates football there and won’t ever change. At the time we wanted to try and breath some life into the franchise but maybe changing the logo wasn’t the best idea.
Which logo was your favourite?
The double Rs with flames. To be honest I really love the Renegades logo too, granted when you look at it you don’t feel the tradition, but it’s a modern, cool logo. The plain white R carries emotion, but I still think the double flaming Rs looks better if you look at it unemotionally.
Why did you fire Dan Rambo on the eve of the 1993 season?
The main thing to keep in mind here is that this was the early cell phone era. I was at a wedding and received information from an employee in the organization who went to my dad and our CEO John Ritchie, claiming that there was a rebellion happening; scouts were threatening to quit over dissension about the way Dan was running football operations. Our main scout, Mike Mcagnon, was out of cell reach so instead of waiting to talk to him I rushed and made a bad decision without verifying the facts. It was a rash decision based on not enough information. I thought it was a move I had to make but I’ll be the first to admit it was not the right call. I hold myself accountable and it’s my fault for not slowing down and getting all the information, including talking to Dan Rambo.
Glenn Kulka and Andrew Stewart infamously fought at practice and during the course of their brawl crashed into your office. How’d you react to/handle that situation?
Football is a very emotional game and you have to deal with the fact that tempers sometimes flare. Instead of happening outside as a kind of practice scuffle, this one happened inside and ended up crashing through a glass wall. That’s the only reason it ever got out and became a big news.
How many Rough Rider cheerleaders did you actually end up dating?
I came to Ottawa as a single, 23 year old guy and I have no problem admitting that I did what I think any other guy in my shoes would’ve done. I did what normal guys who are around a lot of single girls do. Unfortunately the story caught fire and went on but so be it. I certainly don’t think I did anything wrong.
Was the introduction of an NHL franchise to the Ottawa market in ’92 at all part of the rationale for bailing on Ottawa, and going to Shreveport?
No, that had nothing to do with it. There were two main reasons that we left. First, the stadium was a hinderance. I don’t blame the City of Ottawa as they were losing money running the facility, and it’s hard to maintain a stadium and make money, but they didn’t even have the funds to paint the seats in the stadium. The crew up-keeping the stadium was top notch, but there wasn’t enough dates or events to make it profitable or even break-even. The City did their best but ultimately it wasn’t enough. The second reason we left was because the CFL’s future at the time was in the US, expansion was the key to growing the league and keeping it afloat in a very difficult time.
The Rough Riders and Renegades have 124 years of history between them, do you still have any interesting mementos from either franchise?
I’ve got a couple of jerseys from the flaming R days and some old programs but that’s pretty much it. I’ve got more memories than mementos, to be honest. I have tons of old games on tape and like looking back at those, we played a number of really exciting games.
How were you treated by fellow owners in 1991-93 vs 2005?
There wasn’t a real difference other than the fact that in the early years we came into a league that was in the middle of a crisis. The CFL faced tremendous challenges in the ’90s and I think there was a bit more solidarity as people weren’t sure if the league would survive. Every decision we made could’ve caused the league to fold. In 2005, things were firmer and the league was on stabler ground.
What did you learn from running the Rough Riders that made you feel like things would be different with the Renegades in 2005?
More years of experience naturally makes you better at something. Fan support in early ’90s was just under 24,000 a game, which is similar to today’s 24,500 mark. Attendance wasn’t a challenge, but getting TV revenue was, so for us coming back, the TV deal was key.
After all the flak you took the first time around, why did you decide to come back to Ottawa in 2005, only to leave a year later?
The Renegades were well run but they ultimately didn’t succeed. We went from 4,000 season ticket holders to 10,000 in less than 24 hours by making things more affordable. On the field it was a fun year but we were decimated by losing so many free agents in the winter, that killed us. I give Joe Paopao a ton of credit for even winning 7 games. Off the field we felt that attendance was strong and if anything we were controversially run, definitely not poorly run. The Renegades didn’t end up being profitable but I didn’t run the team incompetently, just a little differently, and that’s not always a bad thing. There was a buzz around us and what would you rather have, a team that nobody cares about and that no one mentions, or one that is in the news, making the rounds at the water cooler?
In 2006, why not stick with the team for at least another year and attempt to sell, instead of just returning the keys and walking away?
I resigned before the decision was made to leave. My father and his partners felt like it would take at least another 14 million before the team would financially turn around and start making money, meaning we were still around 3-5 years away from breaking even. Even after the team broke even it would’ve taken an incredibly long time to recoup that 14 million in profits. That reality combined with other factors was why the decision was made. We were losing too much money, there was still no good TV deal for the league, the stadium itself was a huge issue, so much so the City later declared the South Side stands unsafe for occupancy, and my Dad felt nothing was going to change, so that made leaving the only course of action. I was surprised to be honest, but it was Dad’s call, he didn’t want to keep throwing good money after bad.
To this day the Renegade’s Mardi Gras promotion continues to be criticized. Can you explain the thought process that went into it?
Sure, it’s incredibly simple. 16-28 year olds are the CFL’s lost generation and we felt we needed to get their attention. In 2005, how many high school kids do you think owned Renegade jerseys? Not too many right? A big part of that is because players change teams so much that it’s hard for fans to develop loyalty. In the NFL guys like Marino, Manning, Brady, etc. mainly played for a single team throughout their entire career, so it’s easy for generations of fans to identify with the team. In the CFL look at a guy like Burris, how many teams has he played on? Can you name a single QB in the CFL who played their entire career on one team? It doesn’t make sense why teams don’t do more to keep their franchise players. In the CFL a guy has a bad year and he gets turfed because it’s a small league and teams sacrifice player development to win now, which leads to a high rate of player turnover. That’s not how you build a young fan base.
Getting back to the promotion, the 16-28 age bracket was always more focused on the NFL and we felt we had to turn the them from the NFL to the CFL. Forget the hullabaloo about the girls for the moment, the Mardi Gras promotion created social interaction, and millennials like social gatherings. More than anything the promotion was an attempt to create a social scene that would get the “lost generation’s” attention. The hope was that young males would go to the game for the promotion but then think to themselves, “Wow the football is actually exciting” and then come back for the next game because of the on field product. If they aren’t coming to the stadium in the first place how can we make more CFL fans?
People criticized the hell out of it but you can’t argue with result, attendance in the South Side upper deck, which wasn’t a place families went anyways, was sold out. The league hated it and unfortunately it had to be cancelled due to complaints. Ottawa radio shows were full of complaints but you can’t use those as science. Our actual customers might be happy, but they weren’t the ones calling in to complain.
There’s a quote that I believe strongly in that states: “It is better to be hated by some then loved by no one”. What the quote means is it very difficult for a brand to be loved by its customers if it plays it safe and is bland. Sometimes by being different you are going to piss people off but others will become passionate customers who love the brand. For example, Mount Bohemia (ski resort I run) doesn’t have any beginners runs nor do we ever groom the terrain. That pisses off beginner skiers and also the skiers who prefer groomed runs. However we’ve managed to create a very loyal fan base for those who like this brand position. That’s why Bohemia beat Mont Tremblant, Jay Peak and Sugarbush, all much bigger resorts than Bohemia, in a Powder (ski magazine) contest.
To sum up, the CFL’s biggest problem is that teenagers and young adults are indifferent to it. The Mardi Gras promotion at least got people talking about the team and into the stadium. It’s when people don’t care about your product that you’re in deep shit. Apathy is worse than hatred, no doubt. If a girl hates you it means she likes you but is pissed off. Mardi Gras was one of the ways we tried to fight that apathy.
Have you been back to Ottawa since the Renegades folded?
Yeah I came back briefly twice, on my way over to ski in Vermont. Whenever I’m in Ottawa I always go to Mamma Teresa’s Ristorante for the best Italian food in town and afterwards I hit up Stacy Kramer’s cookie shop for dessert.
What do you feel were your biggest accomplishments as a CFL owner?
Helping the CFL expand into the USA. People remember it darkly now, but at the time the league needed hope and US expansion represented that chance. People don’t mind losing money if there’s hope things will get better, but when there isn’t any hope people cut and run. The CFL creating teams in the US was a bold move and ensured the league survived and I’m proud to have been a part of it.
Which team did you enjoy owning the most? The Rough Riders, Shreveport Pirates, or Renegades? Why?
Every franchise had their positives and I really enjoyed living in Ottawa. It’s a super healthy city with tons of bike trails and I loved going around on my bike. Also, it was an honour to be a part of the Rough Rider’s rich history but as an American, I was proud to actually be writing history from scratch with the Pirates. As someone who grew up watching the CFL, it was fun to go into schools and communities in Shreveport and talk with people to build a fan base from the ground up, creating 11,000 season ticket holders. That first game in the stadium is a night I’ll never forget.
During your time in the CFL the league went through three commissioners, Donald Crump, Larry Smith and Tom Wright. Was there any one of them that you particularly liked or disliked?
Crump was a super nice guy as was Tom Wright, though we often saw things differently. Larry Smith was great, he took charge in a very tough time and without him and John Tory, the league would’ve folded. Smith saved BC with new owners, kept teams together and helped get the ball rolling with US expansion. Those two guys don’t get a lot of credit but without their behind the scenes commitment, the CFL wouldn’t have made it. Smith takes a lot of flak for US expansion but it only failed because we didn’t have enough patience. US expansion produced a ton of really good players and some great games. It also showed that Canadian players were a lot better than people gave them credit for. Smith was a good leader and did a good job during his time as commissioner.
Do you think US expansion possible in the future?
I think it could work and greatly help the CFL but I don’t think they’re interested with their current success in Canada. If they were to do it, the best way to expand and to protect the league and it rules would be for the CFL to own the American division and maybe do an IPO to raise the capital. I know for certain that people in Shreveport really enjoyed the Canadian game and I think other cities in the US would too. Americans find the CFL way more wide open than the NFL and very interesting and exciting.
All that being said, I think the league’s happy where it’s at. With Buffalo’s ownership settled the NFL isn’t coming to Canada for awhile now so there’s no real external threats. At the moment the CFL is way too financially successful to take a risk like that.
Who was your favourite Rough Rider or Renegade?
There was lots of great players and people who came through both organizations but I always really liked Stephen Jones, because we had the Michigan connection. He was a great guy and a hell of a receiver. Another guy who was a great story is Johnny Scott. He showed up at a walk on try out in Shreveport for the Pirates, despite never having played college ball. He was raw but impressed the coaches enough to make the team as a back up and was starting by his 2nd year. He went on to have a great career and played for the Renegades in 2005. He’s a perfect example of a guy that without US expansion, never would’ve gotten a shot, and to me that kind of underdog story encompasses what the CFL is all about.
You were someone who always thought outside the box when running a franchise, especially in the Renegade era. What would you say was your least and most successful promotions?
The most successful would have to be the $99 season ticket promotion, where we gained over 6000 season ticket holders in a single day. It was a huge accomplishment for us as it raised out season ticket holder base to over 10,000 and more importantly, 30% of those who took advantage of the promotion had never been to a Renegades game. It was very successful at attracting new fans. As I mentioned before, Mardi Gras was controversial but not unsuccessful so I’m not sure what I’d say my least successful promotion was.
Do you understand why you are despised by some of Ottawa’s CFL fan base?
If we’re talking about us leaving in 2006, then that’s a fair criticism, but not so much for ’94, I mean, we’d turned things over to Bruce Firestone and been out of there for three years, so in my mind it isn’t fair to put that on us. But look, at the end of the day we didn’t succeed and whenever you fail people will be frustrated and disappointed. I’d rather have people dislike me and hate my guts, wrongly or rightly, because at least it shows they care about their team and are passionate. I always respect passion.
Would you ever feel comfortable attending a Redblacks game at TD Place?
Yeah, I really want to catch a game and nearly came up this year but was just too busy. The stadium looks beautiful and I think it’ll be even better in person. Probably best if I keep a low profile though, I wouldn’t want to cause a scene or upset anyone.
Do you still watch any CFL and if so who do you support?
I definitely still follow and watch the games that air on ESPN and ESPN 3. If I had to pick a team I’d say Ottawa for sentimental reasons, but otherwise I really like Saskatchewan. I love the green Rider Pride thing they got going on, and the story of a successful small market team with a passionate fan base is a narrative I like. But more than anything I’m happy to look at the big picture and see the league doing well.
What has Jeff Hunt done to make the Ottawa Redblacks so successful and stable compared to previous Ottawa franchises?
They’ve got a lot going for them. First off it’s a great group of local owners with a great new stadium and they’re building slow and steady, which is the right way to do it. Also seems like they’ve found the right balance between attracting families and young people. Hunt’s got a ton of experience running sports teams so that helps as well. Ownership’s got the right stadium deal and doesn’t have to rely only on ticket sales revenue, instead they’ve got money coming in from the condos, stores, restaurants, cinema and other things around the stadium. With so many revenue streams they’re built for long term success. Lansdowne was a challenge when I owned the team but now it’s re-done and incredible. The brilliant development of the site makes all the difference in creating a positive attitude in the community.
If you could say one thing to Ottawa’s football fans, what would your message be?
I’m really proud to be part of the CFL and to have owned the two Ottawa franchises. It was a great experience and I’m glad we helped the league thrive during it’s most difficult time. For better or worse I’m proud of my actions and had fun at the games. People need to remember that it’s okay to be different once in awhile.
On Friday night, after 3177 days (but who’s counting), CFL football returned to Ottawa with a roar. R-Nation unleashed nine years of pent up energy as the Redblacks survived a tight 18-17 defensive battle to get their 1st win of the season and 1st win at home in dramatic fashion.
– Ottawa was buzzing all week but the vibe around the city really started to peak Friday morning with the CFL, City Hall, Senators, former players and even bus drivers getting in on the action
– Fans arrive at TD Place via bus, boat, bike and car with varying degrees of traffic
– The Trews serenade “tailgating” Redblacks fans hanging out beside the Aberdeen Pavilion
– Legendary Rough Rider Tony Gabriel runs around the field to amp up the crowd
– PA announcer Mike Sutherland introduces the Redblacks but nobody feels the need to tell the players milling about inside the helmet to come out, leading to an awkward few minutes of expectation, like that feeling you get when you go to hug someone and they turn their head to the same side
– A military jet flys over the stadium twice, because doing it just once is how the Argos score TDs
– Argos receiving the opening kick off and proceed to march down the field with a variety of short passes. DB Jerell Gavins (#24) makes a great defensive play to break up an end zone pass intended for Argos WR John Childs.
– The first points in TD Place history come off the right foot of Swayze “Point Blank” Waters as he nails a 36 yard FG
– Aided by a roughing the passer flag and a few strong runs from Chevon Walker (#29), the Redblacks get into field goal range and kicker Brett Maher hits a 26 yard FG
– WR Kierrie Johnson (#10) gets behind the Argos secondary, Burris spots him and delivers a perfect deep ball that hits him in the hands, unfortunately the pass is dropped and the Redblacks miss out on a sure touchdown
– Redblacks are forced to punt following a Burris sack
– Argos RB Steve Slaton rumbles for 14 yards to end the quarter, TD Place announcer calls him Steve Sultan for the first but definitely not last time of the evening
– Swayze “Road House” Waters punts 65 yards for a rouge
– Carlton Mitchell (#88) goes over the middle and gets absolutely blasted by Dwight Anderson who is flagged for unnecessary roughness. The hit looks clean in the sense that Anderson never makes contact with Mitchell’s head but the zebra man has spoken, +15 yards to the Redblacks
– Brett “I Can Do It All” Maher fakes the punt on 3rd and 10, scrambling 15 yards for a 1st down
– Long catches by Johnson and Henry² (Marcus Henry #16) bring the Redblacks to the Argos 23; Maher makes a 30 yard FG
– Ray completes a 45 yard pass but is sacked on the next play by new Dad (make sure you say congrats!) Justin Capicciotti (#93)
– Swayze “Dirty Dancing” Waters makes a 40 yard FG
– The Redblacks offensive line plays dodgeball with the Argos’ defensive one which results in Burris getting sacked
– With 2:38 left the Redblacks string together a series of 1st downs thanks to runs by Burris and Walker and catches by Henry² and Johnson
– Maher’s 22 yard FG closes out the half and gives the Redblacks a half-time lead for the third consecutive game
– The Redblacks pay tribute to their past by retiring and honouring former Rough Rider greats Tony Golab, Jim Coode, Bobby Simpson, Gerry Organ, Whit Tucker, Moe “The Toe” Racine, Ronnie Stewart and Russ Jackson. It was a special moment for the guys who were on hand and for the families represnting those who coudn’t be.
– Redblacks receive the ball to start the 2nd half but quickly go two and out following another Burris sack
– Jovon Johnson (#2) recovers a fumble giving the Redblacks the ball, unfortunately they can’t get any points off the turnover
– Tristan Okpalaugo gets a hat-trick of sacks on Burris, getting to him for the 3rd time
– Brandyn Thompson (#25) picks off Ricky Ray
– Burris hits Dobson Collins (#80) on back to back plays for gains of 15 and 16 yards
– Following a Matt Carter (#85) catch, Maher makes another FG, this time from 32 yards out
– T.J. Hill (#21) blows by the Argos offensive line to sack Ray
– Ray throws a 20 yard pass to Darvin Adams, hitting him in stride in the back of the end zone
– Walker sweeps through the Argos defense, weaving 28 yards between would be tacklers
– Thomas DeMarco (#17) punts 20 yards (yes you read that right) when the drive stalls at the Argos 51
– Brandon Lang (#91) bull rushes his way to Ray, sacking him for a 7 yard loss
– Maher makes a 48 yard FG with 5:08 left in the game giving the Redblacks a slim 15-14 lead
– Swayze “Red Dawn” Waters makes a 47 yard FG with 1:33 left in the game giving the Argos a slim 17-15 lead
– After scrambling for a short gain, Burris hits Johnson for a 43 yard completion on 2nd and 10, moving the ball all the way down to the Argos 21 yard line, also known as field goal range
– Maher is money from 23 yards out, giving the Redblacks a 18-17 lead with 28 seconds left in the game
– Jasper Simmons (#31) seals the deal by picking off a visibly frustrated Ray to end the game
– Eardrums rupture from the frenzied wall of noise being produced by R-Nation, REDBLACKS WIN, REDBLACKS WIN, REDBLACKS WIN!
Final score: 18-17 for the Redblacks
– Burris went 17 of 30 for 216 yards, 0 TDs or INTs
– Walker had 12 carries for 60 yards
– Johnson had 6 catches for 91 yards
– Maher went 6/6 and averaged over 50 yards a punt
– 5 sacks for the Redblacks defense
On a historic night in Ottawa, the Redblacks won in dramatic fashion, sending the sellout crowd home happy and breaking in TD Place the right way. There were some bumps along the way, but in the end a win’s a win and this one was a long time coming. Offensively the Redblacks woes continued; Burris was under heavy pressure all night and it’s unrealistic to expect him to thrive and be accurate when he’s constantly throwing off his back foot, the offensive line must be better. Additionally receivers continue to have drops in key moments and struggle to create separation. It was good to see Kierrie Johnson redeem himself with the late catch.
“God gave me another opportunity,” said Johnson. “I messed up on the first one, I was wide open. I think everybody and their momma saw that one.So my teammates told me I was going to have another opportunity. I kept faith. I saw that ball coming to me, and I said I’ve got to make that play, no matter what. It wasn’t an easy catch. I saw the ball, I knew I had to catch it.. I don’t care what’s the situation, I had to catch it.”
Running back Chevon Walker continues to be a home run threat and seemingly every time the ball is in his hands he has a chance to take it to the house. One area that the offensive isn’t struggling in is with turnovers. as the Redblacks have done a marvelous job protecting the football so far this season.
Defensively the Redblacks continued their trend of bending but not breaking. They piled up another 5 sacks and harassed Ray all night long, generating two interceptions and a fumble. Players swarmed to the ball and made good strong tackles. Specials team coverage tightened up and prevented the Argos getting any long gains.
Without a doubt the player of the game was kicker Brett Maher, who was perfect kicking and who thumped punts deep into Argos territory throughout the game.
It’s often said that the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. A while back I started wondering why we hadn’t heard anything yet about the new scoreboard for TD Place stadium at Lansdowne, so I tweeted at the Redblacks asking for some information. The Redblacks social media team has been lights-out so far and I wasn’t disappointed as my query was quickly answered.
Coming in at 60 feet by 40 feet means that R-Nation will have a glorious 2,400 square-foot screen overlooking the western end zone. Oh, and did I mention that it’s HD? Nothing like seeing the Redblacks run up the score in high-definition and watching the tears streak down opposing fans faces as they cower beneath the Redblack attack!
Comparing it to the old scoreboard that we had at Lansdowne during the Rough Rider/Renegade eras isn’t even fair. Kinda like:
The big thing is the new scoreboard. The little blue thing is the old one.
For those of you who are more visual, our scoreboard will be exactly the same size as the one used by Georgia Tech at their stadium. Now I realize that in this picture their scoreboard doesn’t look incredibly imposing, but you have to remember that their stadium seats 55,000, more than double the capacity of TD Place.
Today I’m interviewing Nevill Carney, one of the guys behind the “Redblacks Theme Song”, a fast paced anthem that’s been rocking R Nation. Though conceived and edited by Carney, the song itself was written and performed by Lucas Haneman, a close friend. Make sure you give both Lucas and Nevill a follow on Twitter to stay up to date on all of their latest projects:
RR: How long have you and Lucas Haneman known each other and been making music together?
NC: I have known Lucas since Grade 7. We both grew up in Kanata (west end of Ottawa) and have been friends ever since. He is the musician while I am the videographer, essentially, I am the eyes and he is the ears. Believe it or not, all of the music that you hear in the RedBlacks theme music is Lucas! I guided him along what I was hoping to achieve but his talent carried it through to where it is now. He never ceases to amaze me!
From start to finish how long did it take you guys to put the whole thing together?
From start to finish, it took about a day and a half to come up with the musical aspect – Lucas is that talented! Once we established that we wanted to keep it simple enough for anyone to hum along to (and have a hint of 80s rock in there for good measure! – think Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart”) we made quick work with the video. The visual aspect took half a day to shoot but two or three solid days to get the edit where I felt it was appealing enough to release on Youtube. So, all in, I would say five days of total time to complete it.
Were you surprised at how quickly the Redblacks and R Nation embraced your song?
In the age of social media, it didn’t surprise me that we would get a few responses for the theme. But the amount of POSITIVE feedback that we have received is ludicrous, especially at this time of year when football is an afterthought for most people focused on hockey. We couldn’t have gotten far without support; R Nation rocks!
Has there been any talk of your song being used at home games next season, and if so what would it mean to you guys?
When I initially thought of the idea for creating the tune, my end goal was to have it used by the team for when the players come out onto the field during home games. If it were to become the ‘official’ theme of the Redblacks, that would be amazing! It would mean a lot to both Lucas and myself as we have wanted to contribute in some small way to the Ottawa community. If it gets people jacked, excited and/or pumped, we have done our job! Hopefully people continue to support it so that it is heard over the sound system at TD Place at Lansdowne.
Are you guys big CFL fans, or was this just a case of being in the right place at the right time?
I wouldn’t say that I am a big CFL fan…yet! Reason being that I don’t like hopping on any other team’s bandwagon and cheering for anyone but Ottawa. I was pretty young when the Rough Riders left in ’96, and the year the Renegades left was when I was hoping to attend my first live football game at Lansdowne. With the announcement that the Redblacks were coming in 2014, I jumped at the chance and got season tickets on the new south side.
Lucas, on the other hand, due to his being visually impaired (many people have expressed shock when we tell them this detail!) is not able to observe sports the same way you or I do. Regardless, he does enjoy supporting his home town teams and maintains a high spirit each and everyday that I have known him.
What’s your favourite Lansdowne memory?
Having missed out on CFL games growing up, my favourite Lansdowne memory would have to be with the 67’s. There was one season (2000-2001 season) where the team went on a tear and won the OHL championship trophy (the J. Ross Robertson Cup). I always enjoyed, at the end of each game, having a chance to meet the players and collect signatures. I still have my signed pennant on the wall from guys such as Jon Zion, Joey Talbot, Zenon Konopka and Brendan Bell.
Which Redblacks player are you most excited to see take the field next year and why?
The Redblacks player that I am most excited to take to the field this coming season would be either Henry Burris or John Delahunt. It will be interesting to see if Burris can shake off both last year’s Grey Cup loss and the expansion woes of a new team. Plus, he seems like such an awesome, likeable guy! John Delahunt was with Hamilton last year and is a local guy who played with the Kanata Knights/Ottawa Sooners – it’s hard to not cheer on a guy from your home town!
How will you follow this song up? Are you guys planning on making any more Redblacks related music?
I would love to follow this theme song up with something else. Some of the comments we have received have been ‘negative’ in that we didn’t make the video funny enough or have ‘creative lyrics.’ That was never the point of this particular theme. It was always about being a predominantly instrumental piece that incorporates the team name in a chant to get both players and fans alike pumped before a game. Maybe eventually we can make a funny chant or something. I would love to make use of the saw blade sound effects for something else! That was a good time incorporating that with the music theme.
Any chance of a parody video in the works?
Chances of a parody video? It might be something fun to do down the line. I would be open to suggestions!
Would you recommend watermelon smashing as a good stress reliever for other Redblacks fans?
Haha, watermelon smashing is definitely a good (yet, costly!) stress reliever for Redblacks fans. Seeing as Saskatchewan is only in town once/twice a season, something else may need to fill in. Stomping on stuffed tiger kitties, perhaps?
Where can people go to check out more of your music?
People can check out more music by going to YouTube and searching “Lucas Haneman” (whom I have helped produce many of his music compilation videos). Here is a link to his channel:
I am mostly a video guy but some of my work can be found on YouTube as well under “Nevill Carney”. I split my time in Ottawa/Toronto and work for Discovery on the show “Mighty Ships” while in the Big Smoke.
Thank you very much for your time and I hope to see more Redblacks related songs in the future!