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New Roughriders head coach Mace looking to flip the script in Regina

REGINA — A young sports fan growing up in the Vancouver area in the 1990s might have treasured a piece of sports memorabilia featuring Canucks stars Trevor Linden or Pavel Bure, or legendary B.C. Lions kicker Lui Passaglia.
Calgary Stampeders defensive linemen Shawn Lemon (40) and Corey Mace (99) celebrate with teammates after defeating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 102nd Grey Cup in Vancouver, B.C. Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014. Mace says he's confident he can help get the Saskatchewan Roughriders back to winning. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

REGINA — A young sports fan growing up in the Vancouver area in the 1990s might have treasured a piece of sports memorabilia featuring Canucks stars Trevor Linden or Pavel Bure, or legendary B.C. Lions kicker Lui Passaglia.

Corey Mace, however, fondly remembers a trading card autographed by Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Brooks Findlay.

Mace doesn't remember how the connection worked, but he and his family were able to see the Lions host the Roughriders courtesy of Findlay, who is from Vancouver.

"I used to stare at this card often and dream about being a player, but I was looking at this logo for a long time," Mace said Friday, wearing a pin with the same iconic "S" logo on his jacket lapel as he was introduced as the Roughriders' new head coach.

"This does mean something to me."

The 37-year-old Mace, who was named the 45th head coach in team history on Thursday, said joining Saskatchewan for his first head coaching job reflects his playing career. He played collegiately at Wyoming and started his career with the NFL's Buffalo Bills — teams that thrive in inhospitable climates ("I don't know if I've seen hot sun in 20 years," Mace joked) through passionate community support.

"I played college football at the University of Wyoming. Which is in Laramie, if you guys want to check out what that looks like. Very similar to here, there's one team, everybody's coming from all four corners of the state. And that team matches the community, and that's my vision."

"I believe this is the one organization in the CFL that marries that concept," he added.

While the Roughriders are beloved in Saskatchewan, that also comes with expectations. The team is looking to flip the script after two disappointing seasons that played out in similar fashion.

Saskatchewan ended both 2022 and 2023 on seven-game losing streaks to finish 6-12 and miss the playoffs, and the team declined to renew former head coach Craig Dickenson's contract after this past season.

"I think people in the football community understand there's a lot of talent on this roster," Mace said. "The team was hit with a lot of injuries as well. That's part of the game. Opportunities like this don't really come up to be able to take over a team."

He said turning the results around will be a "full team effort."

"We will be the ones to get it done. Absolutely." 

Saskatchewan general manager Jeremy O'Day said the Roughriders were looking for candidates with leadership qualities and a desire to get involved in the community, and Mace "stood out right from the start."

"At the end of the first interview, I could tell that he was ready to be a head coach," O'Day said. "Obviously there's more process to that. We wanted to bring him into the building, get to meet him in person.

"When he came for his second interview … we were up pretty late talking ball and talking about what we want the team to look like, and it became really clear that Corey was the clear candidate to be our next head coach."

Mace said he has already spoken with quarterback Trevor Harris, who had a difficult and injury-plagued first season in Regina.

"Yesterday we had a great conversation," Mace said. "I think the trajectory of the season for this organization changed a little bit when obviously he got hurt. He's been an outstanding quarterback in this league for many years. 

"He creates some problems for you defensively, and I know he understands how to manipulate that."

Mace, from Port Moody, B.C., spent the last two seasons as the Toronto Argonauts' defensive co-ordinator, helping the team win a Grey Cup in 2022.

He also won two Grey Cups with the Calgary Stampeders, once as a player (2014) and once as a defensive line coach (2018).

Mace played for the Stampeders from 2010 to 2015 before retiring and coaching the defensive line.

He was selected by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the second round of the 2007 CFL draft but played his first three pro seasons with the Bills before joining Calgary.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2023.

The Canadian Press