Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Sometimes even nice guys finish first
With the Roughriders hosting the Grey Cup, GM Brendan Taman never felt as much pressure to produce a winner; now his club is in the big game and the pressure is off -- almost
Regina -- Brendan Taman isn't one to talk about his drinking. When he does have a few, which is not that often, he does it quietly. But there he was Sunday texting a reporter to say he was having a beer.
"On the plane having a beer. Getting ready to take off back to Regina," read the first text from the Saskatchewan Roughriders GM. When queried about the beverage, Taman responded: "Beer when it's needed. Tonight it's needed."
Forgive Taman for his tippling. The weight of an entire province has been on his back since the moment in 2011 when the Riders were granted the right to host the 2013 Grey Cup.
Economically and emotionally, Taman has had the fate of his home province in his hands for some time. With his club's West final thrashing of the Calgary Stampeders last weekend, Taman concluded a big part of his job.
"King Kong's been on my back for a while now," said Taman, who will watch his team fight the East Division-champion Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sunday for the Grey Cup. "Half of his body weight slipped off on Sunday. Now it's time to get rid of the rest of him.
"Externally, we said it was a normal year but internally there was an expectation level that was pretty high. It wasn't just within the football organization. It was the whole community and the whole province. I internalized a lot of it but I felt it. No doubt about it.
"Every year you want to win but when it's in your backyard and there are expectations that you'll be in it, the pressure is the most I've felt in my career."
Taman says the organization has been building for this moment for some time but it really got off the ground when he hired head coach Corey Chamblin prior to the 2012 season.
"We're not here without Corey," said Taman. "He needs a good staff and the players but it starts with him. He's a big reason we're here. The first time I got to hire a head coach, I hired Doug Berry in Winnipeg in 2007 and two years later we were in the Grey Cup. This time I hired Corey and it's two years and we're in the Grey Cup. He's a real good coach."
The same off-season Taman hired Chamblin, he signed CFL veterans Dominic Picard, Brendon LaBatte and Jock Sanders while adding prospects such as Kory Sheets, Xavier Fulton, Terrell Maze and Drew Willy.
The 2013 off-season saw Taman and Chamblin hire offensive co-ordinator George Cortez after he was dumped by Hamilton as well as trade for veteran receiver Geroy Simon and sign free agent defensive lineman Ricky Foley.
The Riders have gone all in and Taman has loved the challenge.
"You learn as you go. You learn about the hierarchy in this business and whether you have the say or don't have the say. Can you do this or that or do you have to check with the higher ups," explained Taman. "In this situation here, it's been pretty clear that I have the mandate of, 'We need to win and you need to be in charge and you need to do whatever you need to do to make it work.' I have the autonomy here and the challenge is clear. It's a good situation."
Taman isn't a hermit but football is certainly the focus of his life. The 46-year-old bachelor has never married and, in fact, when he started dating a Bombers cheerleading coach during his time in Winnipeg, members of the media were caught off guard.
Taman is social and likes to kibitz. His visits to the media bunker at Canad Inns Stadium were often long and filled with laughter.
He's a football nerd who was born in Saskatoon and took a job with the Riders in 1987 as an assistant in the personnel department. It's been a 26-year climb to the pinnacle of his business, including five trips and five losses in the Grey Cup.
Taman readily admits he needs to make some changes to his life but that can wait until after Sunday.
"My life is football. It's all football and this year has been worse than ever. I have not done much," he said. "I want to change that. I need to change that. Yup. But I'm not going to change until we win. The personal will take care of itself when it takes care of itself. But this has taken a lot of my life to do. That's OK. It's what I chose to do."
Taman said a loss Sunday won't cripple him and if it happens, it's something he'll have to work through. But he wants to win. Don't doubt that.
"I wanted to win in Winnipeg," he said. "I was there a long time and I liked it there. I'm not just saying that because you write for Winnipeg. It's true," said Taman, who worked for the Bombers for 10 years in different roles including holding the GM post for five seasons. "I'm from here. It's a tough place to be as you know. It would be pretty cool to be a Saskatchewan guy and do it. No doubt. The ring is the ring and it's what you want and winning it anywhere would be good. I've been five times and twice had a big hand in things. Saying all that, with the way my career has gone and ending up back here, yeah, winning here would be very special."
Taman has long been the tag-along kid in the circle of GMs. Not flashy in front of the camera, not a former player, smallish and bespectacled with the fashion sense of a troll, Taman has had to fight to earn the respect of his peers and fans. He says the job's not done.
"To win would be validation. Look, I know I'm good at what I do. I'm not saying that to be cocky. But we do this to win. And winning says you're good," said Taman. "This is the chance to say I'm good."
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @garylawless
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 20, 2013 D1
Updated on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 6:59 AM CST: Replaces photo
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About Gary Lawless
Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.
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