Grey Cup notes: Saga of coach poaching almost forgotten

 

 
 
 
 
Calgary Stampeders head coach and GM John Hufnagel (left) and Toronto Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich smile during the news conference Wednesday ahead of Sunday's Grey Cup Game in Toronto.
 

Calgary Stampeders head coach and GM John Hufnagel (left) and Toronto Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich smile during the news conference Wednesday ahead of Sunday's Grey Cup Game in Toronto.

Photograph by: Frank Gunn, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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TORONTO- Amid all the mutual admiration expressed by the opposing head coaches in Sunday’s Grey Cup game, there were at least a couple of flesh wounds for the media to prod with their pointy ballpoints.

One was the signing -- the Calgary Stampeders would say tampering with and poaching -- of John Hufnagel’s 2008-11 defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones by Toronto’s rookie head coach, Scott Milanovich.

The two had been roommates when they worked together on Marc Trestman’s Montreal Alouettes staff -- and they made a pact that whichever one of them got a head coaching job first would hire the other.

Only problem was, the Argonauts didn’t ask Hufnagel’s permission first, and the Stamps’ head coach was taken by surprise when Jones handed in his resignation last December.

“That’s yesterday’s news. What I said, I said, and I’m not changing what I said. Move on,” Hufnagel said.

Milanovich acknowledged the misdemeanor.

“For the most part, that (pact between him and Jones) is true,” he said. “That was two friends talking. I talked to Coach Hufnagel about this after the situation. I wish it would have happened differently.

“What originated as Chris calling to congratulate me turned into more than that. And I could have handled it better with regard to the Stampeders and Coach Hufnagel. But Chris Jones is a good friend of mine. And I’ve know from all the years I competed against his defences how hard he is to prepare for. Our families are close. If I had to choose someone, Chris was the guy I would have wanted as defensive coordinator.”

NOW, ABOUT CLEVELAND: Asked whether either head coach, both old quarterbacks, had seen the other play, Milanovich, 39, said that growing up in Pennsylvania he knew that his father -- a high school football coach -- was familiar with Hufnagel’s exploits at Penn State, but he had never seen him in action.

“I know (Hufnagel) saw me play, in Cleveland,” said Milanovich, who was in Browns’ camp when Hufnagel was their quarterbacks coach. “We were together for a bit, and I was released right before my contract became guaranteed, so there’s another story line. I can answer the question what Coach Hufnagel must have thought of my abilities.”

He laughed.

“I wasn’t a very good player. I hung on as long as I could and was fortunate to be with some good coaches -- Coach Hufnagel, Coach (Tony) Dungy, Coach (Jim) Barker, and kind of learned the coaching craft.”

POCKET MEN: After both coaches referred to the abilities of Calgary’s Kevin Glenn and Toronto’s Ricky Ray to move around in the pocket and extend plays, Hufnagel was asked how he would have described his own mobility as a player.

“I was a lot more immobile the older I got,” he said. “When I was at Penn State, I was a running quarterback. But I never paid any attention to stretching and I got stiffer with age.”

And his estimation of Milanovich?

“He wasn’t very mobile, either.”

SPEAK UP: The news conference was a little awkward because Hufnagel, 61, suffers from a fairly significant loss of hearing and couldn’t make out many of the questions, having to have several repeated, despite the use of microphones.

He handled it with aplomb, however, and had some clever responses.

Hufnagel had grabbed the Grey Cup by the handle during the pre-newser photo op, while Milanovich steadfastly refused to touch it.

Asked if he wasn’t superstitious about such things, Hufnagel said: “I think my name’s on it.”

Indeed, he not only coached the 2008 Stamps to their win over the Alouettes in Montreal, he and Tom Clements shared the quarterbacking for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in their 1984 Cup win over Dieter Brock and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Edmonton.

Milanovich also has two rings from the Als’ victories in the 2009 and 2010 Grey Cups.

GOOD RIDDANCE: Hufnagel’s assessment of Argos quarterback Ricky Ray?

“Let’s put it this way: I was pleased to hear the announcement of the trade. I saw enough of him in Green and Gold.”

SHAKEY’S GHOST: In honour of longtime Toronto columnist and radio commentator Jim (Shakey) Hunt, who asked the question annually, both coaches were queried as to their thoughts on players having sex prior to the Grey Cup game.

“I have two young daughters at home right now who are probably watching this press conference,” said Milanovich, smiling, “so my take on it is going to be: I believe in abstinence.”

Not to be outdone, Hufnagel offered this:

“About a quarter way through the season, when our lineup was a revolving door, we had the motto: ‘No excuses, just results.’ And then when the new season started, that being playoffs, our motto became: ‘Don’t do your best, do whatever it takes.’ Hopefully, that answers your question.”

The Argos will have a curfew Thursday, Friday and Saturday even though Milanovich said: “Hopefully our guys have got the city of Toronto’s nightlife out of their systems through that three-game losing streak we had. I’ve just tried to impress upon them that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and you don’t want to have any regrets. They’ve got the rest of their lives to party.”

“This is not the first road trip they’ve taken,” said Hufnagel, who will have a curfew the last two nights. “I expect them do the things that are necessary throughout the day and evening, too, to give themselves a chance to win this game. They’re grown men. I respect that, and I have not been disappointed.”

HOLD THOSE TICKETS: It might not be a good idea to bet against a Calgary horse getting into the lobby of the Fairmont Royal York hotel sometime this week, regardless of the hotel’s policy and determination to prevent it happening.

“I’m not quite sure that’s been, uh, finalized,” Hufnagel said. “We’re fighting to the end.”

One source said the hotel had been presented with a choice of scenarios: “Do we just do it and apologize later, or do you try to help us make it happen?”

Officially, the word is no. Unofficially ...

GLORY DAYS: Milanovich paid a nice tribute to his father, who taught him the game.

“I had a fortunate upbringing. My dad was a high school coach in Western Pennsylvania. It was the biggest game in town, I guess, other than the Steelers, and the only show in town on Friday nights,” he said. “I thought the world of my dad. He used to take me on the job and we’d watch film together on an old 16-millimetre projector on a white bedsheet.

“It was a great environment for me to grow up in, and those players for Butler High School were my heroes, I didn’t know any difference between them and Terry Bradshaw.”

ccole@vancouversun.com

 
 
 
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Calgary Stampeders head coach and GM John Hufnagel (left) and Toronto Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich smile during the news conference Wednesday ahead of Sunday's Grey Cup Game in Toronto.
 

Calgary Stampeders head coach and GM John Hufnagel (left) and Toronto Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich smile during the news conference Wednesday ahead of Sunday's Grey Cup Game in Toronto.

Photograph by: Frank Gunn, THE CANADIAN PRESS

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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