Facing a diminished role with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Richie Hall took on the challenge of becoming the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive co-ordinator. Hall served as Saskatchewan’s defensive co-ordinator the last four seasons.
Saskatchewan’s defence allowed the fewest touchdowns in the CFL while recording the most interceptions to anchor the Riders’ Grey Cup run in 2013.
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Richie Hall rejoins Roughriders’ coaching staff
But after Saskatchewan posted a 10-8 record last season, head coach Corey Chamblin said in December that Hall wouldn’t continue as the Riders’ defensive co-ordinator.
Chamblin indicated Hall would be offered another role within the organization. Instead, Hall accepted the task of rebuilding a Winnipeg defence that allowed a CFL-worst 135.9 yards rushing per game.
“As a player, in all my years of coaching, the emphasis has always been we’ve got to stop the run,” Hall told reporters during a conference call. “If you’re able to control the run, you’re able to control the line of scrimmage and everything starts up in the trenches.”
“You have to be able to counter everything they do. If a team is able to run the ball effectively against you, it can dictate the flow of the game. Defensively, we want to be able to dictate the flow of the game.”
Hall, 54, a native of San Antonio, has spent all but two of his 20 years coaching in the CFL with Saskatchewan’s defence.
Hall was Edmonton’s head coach in 2009 and 2010 before returning to Regina, where he’d also won Grey Cups in ’89 as a player and ’07 as the defensive co-ordinator.
Hall replaces Gary Etcheverry, who was fired after just one season overseeing Winnipeg’s defence. The Blue Bombers missed the playoffs with a 7-11 record under rookie head coach Mike O’Shea.
“Richie has always had a good plan,” O’Shea said. “There’s no time that he’s entered the game without a good plan.”
“His players always feel solid about the plan. He’s also got the ability to adjust. His knowledge of our game and of the opposition, the various co-ordinators in our game, there’s nothing Richie hasn’t seen or dealt with.”
With former Hamilton head coach Marcel Bellefeuille returning as offensive co-ordinator, O’Shea feels well supported by the experience of his two assistants.
“I say this to the coaching staff when we first get together ‘If you see me tripping, catch me,’ ” O’Shea said. “There are mistakes that are going to be made and it’s up to all of us to make sure that we don’t make those mistakes and they don’t cost us games.”
First-year starter Drew Willy, the CFL’s third-ranked passer with 3,769 yards, gave Winnipeg’s offence credibility and the defence did finish the season ranked second against the pass. But only expansion Ottawa (37) had fewer sacks than the Bombers (43), who also allowed a CFL-high 481 points.
Chamblin told reporters in Regina last month he took over Saskatchewan’s defence for the West Division semifinal against Edmonton, a game the Riders lost 18-10 despite not allowing an offensive touchdown.
O’Shea, a former all-star linebacker, insisted Hall would have freedom to implement his defensive packages with the Blue Bombers.
“One of the things I firmly believe in is you hire men you’re going to trust and let them coach,” he said. “I won’t be sticking my fingers in to upset the apple cart. Richie is going to have his systems. He’s going to put the time in to come up with a great plan.”
“As head coach, he and I are going to talk about that plan before the game. I’ll have input and there will be times I get on the headset and I’ll talk about the flow of the game and what I’d like to see. My preference is always to let the coaches coach. That’s what I hired him for.”
Hall was a CFL all-star as a defensive back in the 1980s with both Calgary and Saskatchewan. He says he’ll commute for now between Winnipeg and Regina, where his wife, Helen, is employed.
After so many years of wearing green and white, Hall acknowledged it will be an adjustment wearing different colours on what was once an enemy football field.
“I think it’s going to be strange but you also understand its football,” he said. “You become committed to the jersey you put on.”
“That’s the life of a coach, that’s the life of a professional athlete.”