Coaches Are Key In The CFL, says Canada Talks’ Joe Thistel


RedBlacks Henry Burris during the 1st half of CFL action as the Toronto Argonauts take on the Ottawa RedBlacks at Rogers Centre on August 23, 2015.

Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The theme in the early going of this year’s Canadian Football League season could very well be the impact that several new (and/or recycled) coaches will have on their respective teams.  There are no less than  four first-year bench bosses as 2016 kicks off and while that may not cause a ripple in, say, a 30 team NHL, it represents over 40% of the nine squads in today’s CFL.  And with new coaches comes new chemistry, philosophies and challenges, so it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out as they transition their ideas from the chalkboard to the gridiron.

But, full disclosure – it’s all a little tongue-in-cheek when we use the term ‘new’ because nothing about this incoming coaching quad smacks of raw rookie or newcomer. These guys have been around.  Oh boy, they’ve been around.

Let’s start with Pasquale Buono, more commonly known in Canadian football circles as “Wally.”  He’s also known as the winningest coach in CFL history with 254 regular season victories and five Grey Cup championships.   Beginning his Hall Of Fame coaching career in Calgary after 10 seasons as a player with the Alouettes, Wally moved on to BC in 2003 to become both coach and GM of the Lions, where he kept his double-duties all the way through 2011.  He now returns to the field with the lofty title of General Manager, Vice President of Football Operations, Alternate Governor and the Head Coach of the BC Lions.

Hey Wally, you’re gonna need a bigger business card.

But while Wally Buono heading back to the sidelines, clipboard in hand,  is probably the most talked about coaching change in the league this upcoming season, there are a trio of other coaching moves that spark a great deal of interest as well, beginning in Calgary.

Dave Dickenson was not only one of the Stampeders most productive quarterbacks of all time,  he has served the last five seasons as offensive coordinator under Jon Hufnagel, who stepped aside to concentrate on front office duties.  The Stamps are coming off a 14-4 season and it should be an easy transition for Dickenson to keep the momentum moving forward. As any good QB knows, it’s all about timing.  And it seems the timing couldn’t be better for Dickenson, even after losing wide receiver Eric Rogers to the NFL.  Expect the Stampeders to continue to roll up the offence with a coach that knows all about offence and is not afraid to use it.  Calgary fans should be in for a treat.

The two other coaching changes are interlocked and will probably create instant rivalries in the West as some familiar and successful names have moved addresses in the off-season.  Edmonton begins the defense of the Grey Cup with a new head man calling the shots, while the Saskatchewan Roughriders look to rebound from a woeful display in 2015.

After winning the title in November, Eskimos head coach Chris Jones almost immediately bolted to Saskatchewan looking to engrave his winning stamp to the 3-13 Roughies.  That left a vacancy in Edmonton.  Enter Jason Maas, who not only had a successful run with the franchise as quarterback, but worked as offensive coordinator for the Ottawa Redblacks last season, taking them all the way to the Grey Cup Final.  So look for some exciting football in both those cities as Edmonton looks to defend and Saskatchewan hopes to rebound, and having QB Darian Durant back and healthy is the key.

So to recap for those keeping score, Wally Buono, the league’s all-time winningest coach is back in BC to get the Lions over recent playoff failures.

Chris Jones, the reigning Grey Cup coach, has taken his show on the road all the way to Saskatchewan.

Former Edmonton QB Jason Maas steps into Jones’ cleats with the Eskimos after a successful run in the Nation’s Capital.

And Dave Dickenson, a Stamps QB legend, moves down the field from offensive coordinator to head coach in Calgary.

It’s just a little coach’s musical chairs to add intrigue to the 2016 CFL season.  And once the music stops and the game begins, you can expect all hell to break loose.

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