Roughriders fire Marshall after 1-7 start

Greg Marshall’s tenure as Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach lasted just eight games.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders have fired head coach Greg Marshall.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders have fired head coach Greg Marshall.

REGINA — Greg Marshall’s first stint as a CFL head coach has ended mere months after it began.

The struggling Saskatchewan Roughriders fired Marshall on Friday after a dismal 1-7 start to the season.

Offensive co-ordinator Doug Berry was also relieved of his duties in the wake of Thursday’s 24-18 road loss to the Toronto Argonauts.

Roughriders vice-president of football operations Ken Miller will take over coaching duties and lead Saskatchewan into its next game, Sept. 4 at Mosaic Stadium against the high-flying Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Miller led the Riders to back-to-back Grey Cup appearances — both losses to Montreal — before moving to the front office this past off-season.

He originally joined the Roughriders in 2007 as the team’s offensive co-ordinator.

“This was an extremely difficult decision to make especially when dealing with such quality individuals like Greg and Doug,” Riders general manager Brendan Taman said in a release. “As the season has progressed we have become increasingly concerned with the direction the club has been going.

“We are committed to winning this season and felt this was the best course of action to get the team back on track.”

After patiently waiting 17 years for his first CFL head-coaching position, Marshall lasted just seven months on the job after being hired in January. The Riders never seemed to get into synch under his watch, continually plagued by turnovers, bad penalties and missed opportunities in compiling a league-worst record.

Such was the case Thursday night against Toronto. The Riders dominated the game, registering more first downs (27-19), rushing yards (99-95), passing yards (384-169) and total yards (468-248) while holding the ball for over 33 minutes.

But Saskatchewan committed four turnovers, had two long Tristan Jackson punt returns and an interception negated by penalty while rookie kicker Christopher Milo missed 2-of-3 field goals.

And despite all that, the Riders scored two four-quarter TDs to pull to within 24-18 and had the ball at the Toronto 22-yard line with 23 seconds remaining. Quarterback Darian Durant, who threw for 384 yards, took two shots into the end zone for the game-winning TD, but Toronto’s defence turned them away to preserve the victory.

The Riders trumpeted Marshall’s hiring in January to replace Miller, a three-time finalist as the CFL’s coach of the year, who stepped away from the sidelines to concentrate on his duties as the Roughriders’ vice-president of football operations.

And with good reason. Marshall spent 17 seasons as a defensive co-ordinator in the CFL biding his time for a head-coaching gig. He applied for many — six or seven, depending on who you talk to — but was always bypassed.

That changed when the Riders came calling, and it appeared like a good fit: one of the CFL’s most respected assistant coaches taking over a club that had won the West Division title the last two years before losing hard-fought decisions to Montreal in the Grey Cup.

However, Marshall’s selection wasn’t unanimous. He was hired by Miller but GM Brendan Taman’s preference for the job reportedly was Corey Chamblin, the former Calgary secondary coach who replaced Marshall as Hamilton’s defensive co-ordinator.

Also in the running was Scott Milanovich, the Montreal Alouettes offensive co-ordinator.

Yet Marshall signed a three-year deal with the Riders and arrived with a reputation of being a players’ coach with a calm, laid-back demeanour. An imposing figure who stands 6-5, Marshall does possess a volatile sideline disposition.

And while the Riders’ post was his first as a CFL head coach, Marshall did have previous head-coaching experience with the American Football Alliance’s Ottawa Bootleggers as well as the CJFL’s Ottawa Sooners.

Marshall spent nine seasons as a defensive lineman with the Ottawa Rough Riders before starting his coaching career at age 37 as Saskatchewan’s defensive line coach in 1994. Two years later he added the defensive co-ordinator’s job to his resume and remained with the Riders until 1999.

He subsequently had CFL coaching gigs with the Edmonton Eskimos (2000-04), Ottawa Renegades (2005), Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2006-08) and Hamilton (2009-10).

When Ottawa returned to the CFL in 2002, Marshall emerged as a leading candidate for the head-coaching job, but the Renegades hired Joe Paopao.

When the Edmonton Eskimos fired Tom Higgins the following year, Marshall interviewed for the position, but it went to Danny Maciocia.

Marshall also applied for the head coaching job in Winnipeg but the club hired Berry instead. Marshall was in the running for the head job in Montreal in 2008, but Marc Trestman got that position.

He also threw his name in the hat at Hamilton, but the Ticats went with veteran Charlie Taaffe. And when Taaffe was fired, the club promoted Marcel Bellefeuille as Taaffe’s replacement.