Dickenson brothers to go head to head when Stampeders, Roughriders meet
CALGARY — The Dickenson brothers travelled different roads to become CFL head coaches.
Friday’s pre-season game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders marks the first intersection of the Brothers Dickenson from Great Falls, Mont., in those roles.
Craig worked 24 years, mostly as a special teams co-ordinator on various CFL and NFL staffs, before landing his first head-coaching job.
The Roughriders announced Jan. 25 he would replace the departed Chris Jones.
Dave was fast-tracked by the Calgary Stampeders from the moment the all-star quarterback retired from playing in 2008. He was Calgary’s head coach by 2016.
Dave navigated the Stampeders to the Grey Cup game in each of his three seasons as head coach and won it in 2018.
“Here’s the thing. You always get a leg up if you played,” Dave said. “It’s easier to get the door open. It wasn’t like either one of us were super-talented football players, but I just happened to find a position where I could excel.
“He was a kicker and receiver in high school and walked on in college and made the transition to what’s called the grad assistant coach. Ultimately, I believe he was ready years ago. Just excited for him to get that opportunity and see how he does.”
Dave, 46, and Craig, 47, now coach teams in the same division and in neighbouring provinces.
So when the brothers talk family and football — Craig said they planned to have breakfast together Friday morning before the game — they steer away from specifics about their respective clubs to more general football topics.
“We don’t talk about personnel hardly at all because that’s a no-no,” Craig said. “We do talk philosophy. We both read a lot and shared some books about leadership and leadership styles.
“We usually talk about stuff going on in the league and what comes down from the league office. It’s football for probably half the time and family life and how our parents are doing the other half of the time.”
Craig’s family was visiting Dave’s in Calgary when Roughriders general manager Jeremy O’Day interviewed Craig in January.
“I was staying at David’s house when they offered me the job,” Craig said. “I visited with Dave and Tammy his wife and asked them a few things about what they thought life was like being a head coach.
“I was certainly thrilled to have the job offer and I accepted it there over the phone.”
Dave helped Craig break into the CFL, introducing him to then Stampeders head coach and general manager Wally Buono, who hired Craig as an assistant coach in 2002.
The siblings were colleagues in Calgary for a season in 2009, when Dave’s first gig was overseeing the Stampeders running backs and Craig ran special teams.
The dynamic between the two brothers has shifted. Craig was traditionally the brother giving the other advice because of his broader coaching resume.
Dave played for three NFL teams in 2001 and 2002, while Craig coached in San Diego (2000-01) and Oakland (2010). But Dave now has more experience as a CFL head coach.
“He’s given me a few nice pieces of advice,” Craig said Thursday. “I’m not going to share them with you guys because they’re more personal, but just on ways to handle the locker room and things he’s done to be successful.
“He emphasized being yourself was really important, however that comes across, as long as its genuine I think the team rallies to that.”
Their parents Bob and Sue and sister Amy, who live in the United States, won’t be at Friday’s game. There will be other chances to see the brothers coach against each other.
Calgary and Saskatchewan face each other July 6 and Oct. 11 in the regular season, and then there’s always a potential playoff meeting.
“I think they’re just thrilled we’re both in the same league, both coaching,” Craig said. “Saves them a little bit of money on their trips. They can go to Regina or Calgary to catch us both.”
Close in age and sports-crazy, the brothers were competitive with each other growing up.
“We were as competitive as brothers were,” Craig said. “We fought a lot as kids as most brothers did. We stopped fighting when David got bigger and stronger and I couldn’t win.”
Said Dave: “The only time it got a little dicey was we played golf in high school and I ended up my sophomore year knocking him off the team because we were both up for the last spot. He never complained.
“Never had any arguments over ladies or anything like that. We’re brothers true and true, take care of each other first and compete hard. May the best man win.”