Jim Hopson remembered as great leader by current Roughriders president

Current Saskatchewan Roughriders president and CEO Craig Reynolds speaks to media after the news of former president and CEO Jim Hopson's death at Mosaic Stadium on Thursday, April 4, 2024 in Regina. PHOTO BY KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post.

Taylor Shire, Regina Leader-Post

Jim Hopson not only set the Saskatchewan Roughriders up for success, but he set Craig Reynolds up for success as well.

After Hopson, the former Roughriders president and CEO, died on Tuesday at the age of 73 after a three-year battle with Stage 4 colon cancer, Reynolds, the current Roughriders president and CEO, spoke on Thursday about the impact Hopson had on the franchise — and himself.

“The Riders lost someone who helped change the course of history for our team,” Reynolds told media gathered at Mosaic Stadium. “On a personal level, Jim changed the course of my life bringing me back home to Saskatchewan and for that, I’m forever grateful.”

In 2009, when Hopson was just four years into his tenure as Saskatchewan’s first full-time president and CEO, he hired Reynolds to serve as the club’s Chief Financial Officer.

And for Reynolds, who is from Foam Lake, Sask., not only was he excited to work for the team he grew up cheering for, but he was excited to learn under a leader like Hopson.

“Right from the moment I met him, I thought this is somebody I want to work with and work for,” said Reynolds. “And I was extremely excited and grateful when he gave me that opportunity to come home to Saskatchewan.

“I just thought he was someone that I could learn a great deal some, someone I would enjoy coming to work with every single day and I can honestly say that was the case.

“He had a warmth about him. You just looked at him and thought ‘he’s a good leader.’

“You could tell he cared about people and that’s the type of person you want to work for.”

Years later in 2015, when Hopson was set to retire as president and CEO, Reynolds was hired to be his successor. At the time — and still today — Reynolds is appreciative of the support he received from Hopson.

“Jim was so great,” said Reynolds. “He was just there. And that’s just his way. He wasn’t overbearing; he wasn’t ‘you should do it this way, or have you thought about this.’

“He just was there for me to ask questions of and to be there to support and to bounce ideas off of and he was that mentor role and that’s just who he was.

“He believed in people and he just believed in the people that worked for him and I was fortunate enough to be one of those people he believed in.”

During his 10 years as president and CEO, Hopson turned the Roughriders into the flagship franchise in the CFL, highlighted by record profits and two Grey Cup titles in 2007 and 2013.

Hopson has been recognized at several levels including in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, the Roughriders’ Plaza of Honour and the Regina Sports Hall of Fame. Recently, the Roughriders named the auditorium inside the football operations department after Hopson.

The accolades are a sign of what he’s meant to the Roughriders and the CFL.

“Tried to put it down into words but it was difficult,” said Reynolds. “He changed the course for this club forever.

“He’s the first to admit he didn’t do it alone; obviously the board made a courageous decision to hire Jim in the first place. They certainly hired the right person.

“But he just brought a change in attitude; he brought a belief that this club could be great and it could be what it is today.”

One of the things Reynolds remembers most about Hopson is his positivity, even in the down times.

“I remember seeing Jim after the ‘09 Grey Cup loss,” recalled Reynolds. “He was leaned up against the fence and really upset.

“And then I probably talked to him an hour later and he said, ‘we’ll be back’ and that’s just how he was.”

And Hopson remained that way until his final days, even after he was told there were no further treatment options for his cancer back in January.

“You’d talk to him and he would describe his day and a lot of those days were really tough,” said Reynolds. “And then he would end it with ‘but it was still a great day.’

“He was still positive at the end of it. He would end with positivity. And that was just him.\

“The last time I got to see him in person was a couple weeks ago at his place. And he was still positive then.

“You could tell that he wasn’t doing well but he was the same old Jim.”

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Saskatchewan Roughrider Foundation, the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency or Regina Minor Football. A celebration of life for Hopson will be held on May 3 at the Conexus Arts Centre.