Greg Marshall lost his best friend last month when Winnipeg Blue Bombers assistant head coach Richard Harris died. And then last Friday, Marshall lost his job when he was fired as head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders after just eight games.
The first loss was a tragedy. And the second loss -- as Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive tackle Doug Brown sees it -- was just unfair.
"It's such a tough situation for Greg," Brown said Sunday at Canad Inns Stadium following his team's first practice after a one-week hiatus. "He's lost his best friend and now he's lost his job... I couldn't believe it when I heard. I empathize with him. Eight games isn't enough, I don't feel, to really get an opportunity.
"A lot of coaches will tell you that you need a minimum of two years with your systems and your team in place to really have an opportunity to see what can be done," said Brown. "Just look at us. Last year, we really had our struggles. And one year later, pretty much everyone here is the same people and look how much better we're doing. They had every reason here last year (after a 4-14 season) to make changes in players, as well as elsewhere, but they stayed the course. And thus far, we've been rewarded for it (with a 6-1 start).
"Sometimes you just wonder what the thought process is going into something like that."
Marshall was the defensive co-ordinator in Winnipeg for three years ending after the 2008 season and there are Bombers players like Brown who remain fiercely loyal to a man who is universally respected in CFL circles, even after the 1-7 debacle in Saskatchewan this season led to his firing and that of offensive co-ordinator Doug Berry last week.
Brown's blunt comments on the management decisions in Saskatchewan over the past week will only add to the high drama when the Bombers face the Riders in back-to-back games -- in the Labour Day Game on Sept. 4 in Regina and the Banjo Bowl Sept. 11 in Winnipeg.
The Labour Day game will be the first for Saskatchewan since firing Marshall and replacing him with former field boss Ken Miller and there will be high expectations in Rider Nation to see an immediate turnaround in their team's fortunes, especially against the hated Bombers.
It's perhaps for that reason that Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice, unlike his veteran tackle, seemed to want nothing to do on Sunday with any discussion of all the internal strife in Regina these days.
LaPolice describes Marshall as a friend and said he spoke to him on Saturday. But asked by reporters whether he felt Marshall got a raw deal, LaPolice balked. "That's not my call. And not my place to talk about other organizations, either. Nope, not my call."
The Bombers are without a dedicated defensive line coach since the passing of Harris and LaPolice was asked if he might consider trying to lure Marshall back to the Bombers this season. "No, not at this time," LaPolice said. "He was looking forward to having a vacation with his wife."
Marshall had a three-year contract with the Riders and could choose to simply draw a paycheque for the next two-and-a-half years for doing nothing.
Bombers offensive co-ordinator Jamie Barresi, who, like Berry did this year, came under criticism last season for the Bombers' struggles on offence, said the situations were markedly different for him and LaPolice in 2010 than they were for Berry and Marshall this year. "We came into this situation after this team had done poorly (in 2009)," said Barresi. "But that expectation (in Regina) this year was much greater. They've had a few good years and they expect to be at a certain level.
"There was a patience level here that just wasn't there. I feel bad for those guys. It's not like Doug Berry can't coach. He's an excellent coach and he's proven that. I feel really bad this had happened to him."
Brown wondered if in the end, Marshall and Berry were done in by the weight of expectations built up by the tremendous success the Riders have enjoyed in recent years.
"It's disappointing to me because you feel like an opportunity was taken away from him," Brown continued. "But I guess they have expectations in Saskatchewan. They've been to the Grey Cup three of the last four years, but you can't do that every year."