So 2011 is in the books and that leaves one job. Here are 10 things learned as the Canadian Football League heads to the 100th Grey Cup season:
1. Mediocrity is better than nothing. For a while.
Coach Marcel Bellefeuille did what he was asked to do in three years at Hamilton, coaching an embarrassment into a playoff contender.
Then mediocrity set in. The fans in Hamilton were thrilled with the M word for a season or two (18-18), but this year (8-10) those empty seats started popping up again, and it was time to change.
Some writers who should know better having been pushing talented, but inexperienced, Mike O'Shea as the Tiger-Cats' new bench boss because he'd be, like, cool. From here, it says a coach with experience and a winning record might be nice.
How about Kent Austin? He won a Grey Cup in Saskatchewan, and has been running the Cornell program. There's already some low-level chat about that, by the way.
How about Greg Marshall? No, the other one. Not the one they already had as boss, the one they already had as defensive co-ordinator.
2. Pilot to Bombardier ... Pilot to Bombardier ...
Writer Jim Bender had a great interview with Jamie Barresi, after the latter was fired as offensive co-ordinator of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last week.
"I'm very bitter about it," Barresi told him. "I don't know what his motives are, but there were a lot of things behind the scenes going on that I'd rather not discuss."
"His" in this case refers to coach Paul LaPolice, who was under fire for his play calling out in the lakes district as the Bombers topped the league in two-and-outs.
At first, the whole thing seems like a silly over-reaction. The Bombers had a great year, going from four wins to 10, beating the above-mentioned Ticats and making the Grey Cup where they were in it until the late going in front of a hostile crowd.
Barresi was able to score enough points to win, despite many injuries, including losing runner Fred Reid for the year and being down to his third-string quarterback for a while.
What happened? Check the quote. There were a lot of things behind the scenes going on that they'd rather not discuss. In all the league's teams.
3. When your trainer is your MVP, there's a problem.
Short and Don Sweet: The injury-riddled Montreal Alouettes failed to make the Grey Cup for what would have been the ninth time since 2000, and let's be honest, the CFL (and a bunch of media, for that matter), were happy because it was getting repetitive.
But you'd better think twice before writing them off for next year.
Check the nine-game injury list on the Als' website. There are 11 players there who can flat-out play. Next season they'll be healthy and that means the team will be up to its ears in guys who can, you know, flat out play.
4. A man's grasp should not exceed his reach, or else the Grey Cup is unattainable.
Back at the mid-season bye week, Jim Barker, the Toronto Argonauts head coach, went off to New York for some well-deserved time off, something he had every right to do.
But he took Barker the general manager with him, when the latter could have been down at NFL camps talking with agents about sending their athletes who were late cuts up to the Just West of the Big Smoke (Mississauga).
Not to mention chatting up guys who have spent a couple of years on NFL practice rosters - a key source of CFL import talent.
If you talk to Barker, one on one, you are instantly charmed ... not sure he knows this. Face to face, the man can flat-out sell. This coming season he'll be out selling full time, and that's got to be good for a team that has a lot to do after a five-win season.
Wally Buono can pull off the GM/head coach double because he has an outstanding, experienced set of personnel assistants in Roy Shivers and Neil McEvoy to help.
5. Don't blame me, I'm the MOP.
Back in Week 16 at Toronto, the Stampeders had lost a key game to the Argos, a defeat that would cost them a chance to host the West final.
QB Henry Burris, who lives life on a competitive teeter-totter, had been benched at halftime (for the season, it turned out) in favour of Drew Tate, and was being asked afterward how he felt.
Burris, who had tossed for 65 yards and two picks that night, reflected on how he was, after all, the Most Outstanding Player in the CFL the year before and would be ready to go next week if they wanted him. What he meant was "How could they bench me when I was the MOP last year?"
How? Too many inconsistent games. Too many turnovers. Too much Bad Henry as opposed to Smilin' Hank (the touchdown machine).
He's going elsewhere and could be a fine pickup. But only if Burris leaves that MOP in the sock drawer, instead of wearing it around his neck.
6. Who's on first ... in Regina?
The fans in Regina are too loyal for this to be funny, but what a Laurel and Hardy mess the Riders made of things out on the prairie this year.
It's still not completely clear, but the hard work of the Rider media seems to point to former coach Ken Miller (as the VP of football operations) as the guy who made the final decision to hire Greg Marshall to replace him, over the objections of GM Brendan Taman.
Then Marshall was fired after a 1-7 start, Miller came back to get "the men" into the playoffs and they went 4-6, though the first two were "emotion" wins because everyone was so happy to have Miller back.
All of this missed the point entirely. The Riders fell apart late last year and needed to be rebuilt, and no one realized this until too late. Marshall's record was a little below where the team should have been, but not that far.
From Week 13 on, these guys were awful. Terrible. Taman has a lot of work to do and the key, it says here, is to realize the green and white are not "a few players away." They need to be retooled.
Rider Nation deserves nothing less.
7. Canadians can flat out run (who knew?)
When Edmonton's Jerome Messam went over 1,000 yards for the season in the first week of November, he became the first Canadian to hit that mark since Sean Millington did it in 2000.
Canadians have for too long been kept from the running spotlight because they were considered not as prepared, or talented, or experienced as their American counterparts.
Well, next year there could be three Canucks over the magic 1,000 yard mark, including Messam (195 carries for 1,057 this season), Jon Cornish (119 carries, 863 yards, and installed as Calgary's No. 1 halfway through 2011), and Andrew Harris (96 carries, 458 yards and just emerging as B.C.'s main man at playoff time).
Messam copped the league's top Canadian award in Grey Cup week at Vancouver. In 2012 he'll be in for a heck of a battle.
8. Some stars are born
There has been lots of talk the last few years about where the next generation of star quarterbacks would come from in this league. They're starting to arrive, babe.
Travis Lulay took the B.C. Lions to a championship in just his second year at the helm, and out in Vancouver long-time league observers are saying Mr. Aw Shucks is the real star deal.
Drew Tate took over from Henry Burris in Calgary and did not look out of place, with a 63.9 per cent completion rate, though his 3.2 per cent interception number needs work.
Alex Brink in Winnipeg (63.6 per cent completion in 140 attempts) can do the job and given a year or two may be a strong regular starter.
Steven Jyles could finally emerge in Toronto. And Darian Durant is set for a comeback in Saskatchewan.
9. Meanwhile, over in Ottawa ...
One of the best chats of the year came with three dedicated Ottawa CFL fans while waiting for the plane out of Vancouver following the Grey Cup. (Note to bosses: Next year I refuse to take the red eye home from the Rogers Centre to Front Street, no matter what it costs).
They had some great ideas for 2014, including a key one of making sure the team works hard at getting into the Hull community across the river in Quebec, where there are Alouettes fans who could easily be poached with the right approach.
That means a bilingual nickname, some Quebec players who Hull fans can relate to (hardly difficult given how good the development programs are there), and perhaps a bilingual head coach.
There are some solid options. First, there's Marcel Bellefeuille, just relieved in Hamilton. Then there's Glen Constantin, at the Universite de Laval, who has merely won five Vanier Cups in six visits to the national championship game.
Last time, the Renegades (2002-2005) made almost no impact across the Ottawa River. Can't happen again.
Also key, they said, was to ensure the expansion draft gives Ottawa a chance to build a competitive team as quickly as possible, because the city won't support a loser for too long.
(Send political jokes to the comments below).
With the Friends of Lansdowne group's objection to the new stadium down to a Hail Mary pass at the Ontario Court of Appeal (decision in about two weeks), it looks like the new Ottawa franchise will be ready to go under Jeff Hunt's ownership by 2014.
10. Nobody knows nothin'
And finally, the annual humiliation of revisiting our pre-season predictions.
Let's see, in the East we had Montreal at 11-7 (the Als were 10-8), Hamilton at 10-8 (8-10), Toronto at 10-8 (6-12, ouch), and Winnipeg at 6-12 (10-8 and trip to the Grey Cup).
Nobody picked Winnipeg, so if we're dumb, we're all dumb together.
In the West, it was Calgary at 12-6 (they were 11-7), B.C. at 10-8 (11-7, we told you they'd be good), Saskatchewan at 9-9 (5-13, missed that by a kilometre), and Edmonton at 4-14 (finished 11-7, forgive me, oh Eskimos fans).
That's -21, plus 3-2 in playoff predictions, up from 1-4 last year.
Don't bet on me.
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