10 things we learned this CFL season | Football | CBC Sports

CFL10 things we learned this CFL season

Posted: Monday, December 3, 2012 | 12:51 PM

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The Drew Tate saga taught us something about John Hufnagel's coaching skills and the CFL's handling of concussions. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press) The Drew Tate saga taught us something about John Hufnagel's coaching skills and the CFL's handling of concussions. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

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From the Drew Tate saga, to Hamilton's stadium issues, to Jim Barker's big year, here are 10 takeaways from the 2012 CFL season.
Thoughts on a CFL season gone by:

1. Jim Barker is an elite GM

Had a nice chat with this year's best GM last week, a couple of days after he won the Grey Cup.

This was, you may not realize, Barker's fourth big ring, one as an offensive coordinator with Montreal, and the others as an administrator and finder of talent in Calgary and Toronto, the latter skill easily his best.

No question 2012 was the USC grad's best outing, as he brought in Scott Milanovich to head coach and Chris Jones to coordinate the defence, traded for QB Ricky Ray and then completely rebuilt a roster that was more than two-thirds new by playoff time.

Barker also put up with a stupid campaign by some internal idiot to downplay his skills and set up a possible firing. Good luck with that, whoever you are.

After all this, the GM refuses to buy he's elite. Sorry Jim, you are up there with Wally Buono in B.C., and Jim Popp in Montreal, a step ahead of John Hufnagel in Calgary among the big four

And that sets him up in the way the other two are. Now, anything less than making the division final will be a big disappointment.

Not to worry, though, because Barker has created something Argo fans haven't seen since the post-war years -- a chance at a consistent winner. That's what elite administrators do.

2. Yes, big boys almost cry

Scott Milanovich is not given to standing in front of the media and exposing his emotions for all to see, so it was quite something to see tears beginning to form as he spoke to a handful of media about 30 minutes after winning a Grey Cup.

When he started to chat about what it meant to the players and the coaching staff as a whole, about how they will always have a bond in victory, about how much they worked and sacrificed to earn that ring, and how all of that was why he became a coach in the first place, Milanovich let himself go.

Not a lot, but enough to tell us more about who he is inside than any arm waving or screaming by a much more demonstrative coach.

3. Quebec City is back in play

At the Grey Cup in Edmonton two years back, your correspondent grasped the microphone and asked commissioner Mark Cohon about the possibility of putting a future expansion team in Quebec City, given the massive explosion of football in the province from the minor level through high school and college.

Not a chance, in so many words, said Cohon. They already have their football (Laval Rouge et Or) and besides, Montreal has the regional rights (to the whole province?).

That set off speculation the university and its heavy hitting corporate supporters had warned the CFL off the capital of La Belle Province.

If that was the case then, it's not any more. Cohon suggested, without being asked, at his 2012 chat at the Royal York that Quebec City might make a fine place to put a team in future.

Hmmm. Something has changed, and that something may, it says here, be a quiet inquiry by someone in Quebec with a lot of money who isn't tied in with Laval.

4. If you build it, they will come. Even to Guelph?

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats will be playing some, most, or all of their 2013 home schedule at the University of Guelph, where the 4,000-seat Alumni Stadium awaits a temporary upgrade to around 15,000, plus whoever can be put into end zone entertainment tents or invited to stand hither and yon.

This while the new Ivor Wynne (or whatever they will call it) rises on the rubble of the old site, to be ready (cross your fingers) for 2014.

A neat little number in the press release was the suggestion that a drive from the "outskirts of Hamilton" to Guelph could be done in 17 minutes. Problem: no one lives on the outskirts of Hamilton except some farmers.

For everyone else it's 45 minutes up Highway 6, or more than an hour if coming from the Niagara area, from where many fans commute.

Better hope somebody at the league office with a sense of humour doesn't book the Cats for a Friday night game with a 7 p.m. kickoff, causing an already massive traffic headache to escalate to a debacle.

Expect to see the Labour Day Classic played at Toronto's Rogers Centre, where a quick switch from Sunday afternoon baseball to Monday night football can be done for a price.

And perhaps one in Moncton, if that city will pony up the appropriate funds.

This is going to show how dedicated Cats fans really are.

5. Maybe John Hufnagel knows more about QBs than we do

When Drew Tate was anointed, with almost no pro resume to speak of, the starting pivot for the Calgary Stampeders this season, the head coach/GM of the club brought in Kevin Glenn from Hamilton as an experienced backup.

Good move, we said.

When Tate went down in Week 2 vs. Toronto with a bad shoulder injury and was thought to be out for the season, Glenn was ready to step in.

Good move, we said.

When Tate surprised everyone by coming back with a few games to go, Hufnagel gave him a chance to regain his job and named him the starter for the West semifinal.

Bad move, we said. Glenn had earned the spot and should be given the chance.

When Tate won that game, and then mysteriously came down with a badly concussed right wrist (that he used to throw the winning TD), Glenn came back for the West final, beat B.C., and marched to the Grey Cup.

See, we said. Told you so. Except we were wrong. He was not very good in the Grey Cup, and shouldn't be Calgary's starter moving forward. Still the same old inconsistent guy.

Only fair to say Hufnagel was right.

6. Concussion-like symptoms lead to a loss of intelligence

Doctors are straight-forward about this -- there is no such thing as concussion-like symptoms. You either have a concussion, or you don't.

Did Drew Tate have a concussion or not? Was Arland Bruce III really ready to come back from his concussion, coincidentally just as the B.C. Lions needed him most for the West final? Was Shea Emry really ready to return to the Alouettes this season after missing almost all of 2011 with a concussion?

Don't know. Not in their heads.

This I do know. Perception is everything, and the perception is the CFL is soft on concussions. What happened with Tate in the West semifinal was a perfect case in point.

He took a big hit. He was dizzy. He stayed in the game. He told an interviewer he couldn't remember the first half. He repeated that in the dressing room afterwards. Calgary denied it was a concussion and said he would start the next week.

And suddenly he had a broken bone in his right wrist. All could be perfectly legit. But it smelled bad.

Kevin Glenn played for the Stamps earlier despite saying he was suffering headaches.

Commissioner Cohon has to step in and set a specific, legitimate, unbreakable protocol for dealing with hits to the head. Handing out a card, as the CFL did, to teams explaining what to look for and what to do doesn't help if everyone ignores it.

Don't wait for a tragedy.

7. Time to end Groundhog Day in Montreal

Note to Jim Popp: You must anoint a replacement for quarterback Anthony Calvillo, give him lots of playing time while backing up your star, who turns 41 next year, and thus avoid the trouble Toronto fell into with Damon Allen.

Les Argos, you recall, stuck with the ageless Allen until he was 44 and then had no one ready to replace him for four seasons.

Find a QB. Adrian McPherson. Josh Neiswander. Stephen Garcia. Someone from around the league.

Now's the time.

8. Losing, schmoozing.

Whoever was responsible for Hamilton's terrible defence this season, the one that gave up 576 points, it apparently wasn't coordinator Casey Creehan.

We know this because Tim Burke, now officially the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers with the interim tag removed, brought Creehan back to DC the lousy defence in Manitoba (531 points given up).

Burke says the trouble in The Hammer was injuries. No one can coach a defence with too many injuries.

But they can keep a defence from quitting on its coach, the way the Cats did in Toronto in Week 18 when the team had to win while facing the third- and fourth-string Argo quarterbacks.

Happiest guy in the room when the phone rang and Burke asked for permission to talk to Creehan must have been Hamilton head coach George Cortez. Saves him the "we're going another direction" chat.

9. Elizabeth, Regina

Two things that struck me as cool during Grey Cup week.

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, sent greetings from Buckingham Palace on the occasion of the 100th Grey Cup, pointing out that both the trophies fought for that weekend (Grey and Vanier) were named for her Governors General.

So is the Stanley Cup, by the way.

Bringing us to the site of the 101st Grey Cup, named by Princess Louise for her mother, Queen Victoria, when the former was here as the wife of the, you guessed it, Governor General -- the Marquess of Lorne.

With all of this Royal blood, how could next year's party in Regina be anything but fabulous?.

Note: Princess Louise, historical notes say, despised Ottawa when she was there. More than enough to make her popular on the prairie.

10. There are always questions for the off-season

Try to answer these:

Will Ottawa and Hamilton's new stadia be ready for 2014?

Who will be Ottawa's first general manager?

Will Anthony Calvillo retire? (Says here, no).

Does Jim Barker get an extension as Toronto GM? If not, what lucky team scoops him up?

Can Hamilton and Winnipeg learn to love defence again?

Who quarterbacks the Bombers?

Where does Edmonton find a GM?

Can Drew Tate stay healthy enough to be a star CFL pivot?

Do the Lions rebound?

Is the return of the Canadian running back a coincidence, or are they here to stay?

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