CALGARY — On Friday night, Dave and Craig Dickenson will meet on the field at McMahon Stadium in Calgary for the first time as head coaches in the Canadian Football League preseason.
The brothers share DNA, a last name, and a job title – but aside from that they have very different personalities and very different approaches to coaching.
“We’re both competitive people, I’m a little more laid back,” said Craig, who is in his first year as head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. “Dave gets a little more emotional and fired up, where I tend to be a little more even-keeled.”
Dave, who enters his fourth season leading the Calgary Stampeders, agreed.
“I’m definitely a little more higher strung on that,” he laughed. “I think we’re both ultra-competitive even though we show it differently. He’s more organized, more about the process and structure.”
Craig is quick to point out some of the physical similarities.
“We’re starting to look alike, our hair line is starting to look the same,” he laughed pointing to his bald head. “Which I’m grateful for since I had him beat for a while. And I think we’re starting to look the same from the side. But we’ve been close, I love him to death.”
The biggest similarities are their shared background and upbringing in small-town Great Falls, Montana.
“We’re honest people that work hard and treat people the right way,” Dave said. “To me, that’s Montana. We’re proud of Montana, too. We like telling people where we’re from and what we represent.”
Craig added that if we wasn’t coaching, he’d be a ski bum in Montana. On the flip side Dave hasn’t hit the slopes in years, fearing injury. During the summer and fall it’s all about football, as each coach tries to lead his team to the postseason.
The Great Falls brothers took different paths to get to this point. Dave’s career is the stuff of Montana legend: He was a star player in high school in college and won championships at every level.
Craig didn’t enjoy the same athletic success as his younger brother, but he has been coaching at different levels for the past 24 years.
But one thing they have in common, is the impact that legendary Great Falls CMR coach Jack Johnson had on their lives and careers.
“He was a real mentor to, not just me, but a lot of guys,” Craig said. “He was the guy we looked up to, he was the guy we were afraid of in high school. He was a tough, hard-nosed, very strict coach, and we wanted to please him. We wanted to do the right things, and we wanted to be Rustlers because of coach Johnson.”
Dave and Craig played together on the 1989 Class AA state championship team. It helped solidify their lifelong love for football.
“(Coach Johnson) taught us a lot of those things that our parents teach us, but we don’t listen to,” laughed Dave. “You listen to your coach sometimes more. But the message was clear, to make sure you’re accountable to your teammates and the people who count on you, and obviously be a great leader.”
Johnson retired in 2013 after 41 seasons, as the winningest coach in Montana high school football history. He often travels to Canada to catch CFL games, and both Dickenson brothers say they still regularly seek out his advice.
Kickoff for Friday’s preseason game is 7 p.m.