There is no “I” in TEAM, but there is an “M” and an “E”, and ME is who former Roughrider Head Coach Corey Chamblin apparently thought had won the 2013 Grey Cup. As it turned out, he was wrong, but not completely. Notwithstanding the strangely gleeful TSN comment boards, Coach Chamblin was (and is) an excellent coach, and he was an essential ingredient in the recent championship season, without which the Roughriders may not have won. However, in the aftermath of that relatively quick ascension to the pinnacle of Canadian football, he learned a hard lesson this year, and he ultimately ended up causing, and personifying, the problem with the 2015 Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The 2015 Saskatchewan Roughriders are not a team. They are a group of individuals who happen to play on the same team. Individuals, however, do not win football games; teams win football games. How did the collapse of the Rider team ethos happen, only two years after the still-largely intact 2013 team won the Grey Cup?
The 2015 version of Corey Chamblin forgot that he is merely one part of a team. Like every individual on a team, he had an assignment: head coach. The athletic trainer is not also the equipment manager. The General Manager is not also the head scout. The centre is not also the tackle. The kicker is not also the punter. The head coach is not also the General Manager, defensive coordinator and anything else he feels like doing. Sometimes the head coach can be the General Manager. Sometimes the kicker can be the punter. However, we learned that Head Coach Corey Chamblin is not yet ready, after a mere three years as head coach, to be more than a head coach. It was too much, too soon. It was hubris.
Instead of maintaining his central, successful and essential, but limited, role as head coach, Corey Chamblin decided to expand that role. He terminated two of the most experienced and successful coordinators in the CFL, thus needlessly cutting himself off from the benefit of their experience, and the benefit of their support. Then, after losing those benefits, he expanded his responsibilities within the team to include that of defensive coordinator. It was akin to putting a smaller engine in a car to save gas, but expecting to be able to drive just as fast (or faster).
In 2012 and 2013, Coach Chamblin had fellow coaches, experienced and dependable, to spread the responsibilities around and to lean on when the pressure mounted. They had their assignments and Coach Chamblin had his assignment. They all played their own separate but important roles within the team. In 2015, Coach Chamblin sent those fellow coaches packing, and sent a negative message to the entire team.
Sometimes professional football players will talk about how, on losing teams, the players stop trusting each other, and they start playing outside their assignments. In their effort to pull the team out of a slump, they try to do too much. The strong side linebacker doesn’t trust the middle linebacker to do his job, so he tries to do both jobs, and he ends up failing at both assignments— his own and the other player’s. This is what Corey Chamblin did. He stopped trusting his fellow coaches and decided to coach outside his assignment. This lead to coaching mistakes and catastrophic failure as a team.
Midway through the 2014 season, when the Roughriders were still the class of the league, they lost quarterback Darian Durant. The team started losing, consistently and persistently. Coach Chamblin stopped trusting his team. By the 2015 season, he decided to play outside his assignment. He tried to do more than one job, and he failed at all of them. The overall team record was terrible and the defense was a particularly weak part of the team.
By terminating his offensive and defensive coordinators, two men who were clearly elite coaches, Chamblin unconsciously (and unintentionally) communicated the message that he didn’t trust those around him, even top-level coaches. Teamwork had not produced a championship season, he had produced a championship season. He was not a cog in a well-oiled machine, he was the machine. This attitude triggered a cascading top-down attitude that teamwork was not the path to victory and the players were not worthy of the coach’s trust.
Perhaps pulling quarterback Brett Smith in the second quarter of the Ottawa game was regarded by the players as another pointed, and final, reminder that Coach Chamblin did not trust the people around him. Certainly, the players seemed to wilt in the second half of the game playing with Tino Sunseri, who himself must have already known the coach did not trust him (having been cut earlier in the season).
Football teams often take on the attitudes of their head coaches. Mike Ditka and the Chicago Bears. Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. Don Matthews and the Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes, et al. Kent Austin and the Saskatchewan Roughriders/Hamilton Tiger-Cats. When the head coach makes it clear he doesn’t trust anyone, the players will not trust each other. When the head coach makes it clear that he thinks individuals win championships, the individuals on that team will adopt that attitude. The problem is that individuals do not win championships, teams do.
The 2015 Saskatchewan Roughriders have nine games to start trusting each other again, and become a team again. Not for this year, but for 2016, which is only ten months away.
Thus spake Zarathustra.
PS – Dear Saskatchewan Roughriders, do me a favour. Just beat Winnipeg next week and Calgary in Calgary next month. Two lousy wins. That’s not too much to ask, is it?