The rumours that this playoff run would be it for Saskatchewan Roughriders' head coach Ken Miller came true this morning, with Miller announcing at a press conference that he would be stepping down as head coach. He will continue on as vice-president of football operations, likely working with general manager Brendan Taman to build the team's roster. A new coach has not been named yet, which is interesting, as some thought this might be a simple anointing of Saskatchewan offensive coordinator and former Winnipeg head coach Doug Berry. The Riders are apparently planning to make their hire by January, though, so we'll find out soon enough if it's Berry or not.
It's a move many thought Miller might make, and he even hinted at it a bit in his post-game press conference Sunday night in Edmonton (pictured above), praising this year's team and commenting on next year's without including himself.
"From the very first day of training camp, it was our goal to get to here," he said. "A group of men who work together can accomplish great things, and I look forward to them accomplishing great things next year."
That doesn't mean he didn't at least consider coming back after a 21-18 Grey Cup loss to Montreal, though.
"Because it was a close game, every person in that locker room and every coach in there will think there might have been something you could have done to turn the tide," he said. "If you lose a game like this, you kind of say, ‘I'd like another shot."
Yet, this was a three-point loss against a heavily favoured team, and it was one that didn't come on a last-second penalty. There was nothing for the Riders to be embarrassed about from this year's Grey Cup, and that my have also weighed into Miller's decision. He said after Sunday's game that this was a more palatable loss.
"For me, it's not quite as tough because last year, we had the game won and we lost it," he said. "I don't have the bitter disappointment I had last year."
That seems like a healthy attitude to have, and one that's far too rare in football. Football quarterbacks, teams and coaches are often judged on how many championships they've won rather than what they actually did. Some will use Miller's lack of Grey Cups (as a head coach; he won in 2007 as the Riders' offensive coordinator) to argue that his stint as Saskatchewan's head coach wasn't successful, but he took them to three straight 10-plus win seasons and two Grey Cup appearances. Yes, they lost both times, but they were significant betting underdogs both times as well, and they lost both games by less than Vegas expected. Miller also had the guts to make smart but unpopular calls and the intelligence to accept criticism while sticking to his guns.
Miller also stepped into a tough situation when Kent Austin left right after winning the Grey Cup; defending a title is always difficult, and it's much more so when you're a new coach. It gets even more challenging when your starting quarterback and Grey Cup MVPis traded in the off-season. Miller never complained and instead worked to turn Darian Durant (pictured at right with him before Sunday's game) into a superb starter, and that played significant benefits for the team. Sunday, he spoke about Durant's growth in glowing terms.
"Yesterday, I talked with him and the message was, ‘You're going somewhere great. This is the next first step," Miller said.
We'll see if the move into management proves to be a next first step for Miller as well.