Almost a full month after initial reports that Richie Hall (pictured above) would be returning to the Saskatchewan Roughriders as their defensive coordinator, his hiring has finally been made official. It's not that the initial report (by Sportsnet's Perry Lefko) on Jan. 8 was inaccurate, as it appears the Riders perhaps decided to go with Hall that early, but there were delays over both internal talks and those with Edmonton. Those issues weren't with Eskimos' general manager Eric Tillman (who formerly held the same post in Saskatchewan), but rather related to a negotiation with Eskimos' president Rick LeLacheur to settle the details of Hall's remaining contract. Now they've been resolved, Saskatchewan can finally make his hire official.
For Hall, it's a return to his roots. He played in Saskatchewan as a defensive back and punt returner from 1988 to 1991 and he received his first coaching job in Regina as well in 1994. He was originally assigned to work with the defensive backs, and after finding success in that role, moved up to defensive coordinator in 2000 to replace Greg Marshall (who left for Edmonton). Hall stayed in that role through the 2008 season and helped Saskatchewan win the 2007 Grey Cup before taking the head-coaching job in Edmonton. Now, he's back in his former town and he's working under his old boss.
This could be a great move for the Riders. Opinions were divided on Hall's success as a head coach, and this year had both ups and downs for him; his Eskimos got off to one of the worst starts in CFL history, but made an incredible stretch run after Tillman returned and beefed up their personnel, and they wound up coming up just short of the playoffs. There's still a very good chance Hall could be a successful head coach in the right spot, but he does carry some question marks about his team's early struggles. What isn't in dispute, though, is his previously demonstrated ability as a defensive coordinator; he turned the Riders' defence into one of the best in the league during his tenure and was widely seen as a hot head-coaching prospect thanks to that. If he can reprise that performance under Marshall, Saskatchewan's defence could be a fearsome unit next season.
It's also noteworthy that Saskatchewan hired Craig Dickenson as special-teams coordinator, replacing the much-maligned (perhaps somewhat unfairly) Jim Daley. Dickenson comes with quite a pedigree on both sides of the border; he's worked at the NCAA, CFL and NFL levels, most recently spending last season as an assistant special-teams coordinator with the Oakland Raiders. He's also worked with the San Diego Chargers, Calgary Stampeders, Montreal Alouettes, Utah State University and even the University of Montana Grizzlies, where he was a coach on the team that won the 1995 NCAA 1-AA national championship (with Craig's younger brother and future legendary CFL pivot and coach Dave as their starting quarterback). That's certainly an impressive resume, and one that perhaps bodes well for an improvement in Saskatchewan's special teams this coming season.
Although the Riders have already brought back Doug Berry, Alex Smith and Bob Dyce and have added Bill MacDermott, they still have other gaps on the coaching staff to fill. According to general manager Brendan Taman, they're planning to hire three more coaches. Former Saskatchewan offensive line coach Bob Wylie is not in the mix, as he's been hired in Oakland, but former Hamilton offensive line coach Steve Buratto (who has a wide variety of CFL experience as a head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special-teams coordinator and just about everything else) apparently is. Winnipeg defensive assistant Richard Harris will not be coming west, so that could leave space for former defensive coordinator Gary Etcheverry (who's expressed interest in CIS jobs, though, and might be considered for the one that just came open at Windsor). Mike Scheper, last year's defensive line coach, might also be in the mix. In any case, there should still be more interesting moves from the Riders.