CFL wrapup: 10 lessons learned
At 38, Anthony Calvillo still improving
The 98th Grey Cup is done, the parade in Montreal is over and it's time to look back over the 2010 season at lessons learned along the way.
1. You can teach an old Lark new tricks.
Lost in the tumult of the Grey Cup post-game, where Anthony Calvillo revealed he had been hiding a lesion on his thyroid for half a season, was the story of how the Alouettes' quarterback had been so willing to let coach Marc Trestman work with him on improving.
Calvillo was already 35 when the new head coach came to town three seasons ago, with an impressive resume as a teacher of pivots in the National Football League.
Instead of acting like a prima donna (as so many guys with that many years in would have), the man they call AC welcomed the input and improved from darn good to one of the best ever.
Trestman credited his quarterback's deep respect for the game, for himself as an athlete and for his teammates, for the improvement.
A few years ago, Calvillo didn't even make the list of top-50 CFL players of all time, according to a poll on another network. Now he has to be at least in the top-20.
The Riders' Prayer
Playing around with the lyrics of the Lord's Prayer is pretty much old hat, especially in Regina. But this one came in from Rider fan "Rickaroo", the week before the Grey Cup, and we liked it.
Our QB, who art in Calgary, Darian be thy name.
Thy will be done, the game be won, in McMahon as it was in Taylor.
Give us first downs, without interceptions, as we rally against those who intercept us.
Lead us into the end zone, field goals delivered through the uprights.
For green is the colour, football is the game, forever and ever, until Grey's chalice held.
Sorry Rickaroo, God (who must have had more important things to do) gaveth to the Riders, and tooketh away a week later at the Grey Cup, apparently.
2. End of the Laval curse.
Stole this one from Bryan Chiu, the just-retired Als' centre, who said while sitting together in Edmonton that through this new century every time the Université de Laval won the Canadian college championship, Montreal did not take the CFL title, and vice-versa.
Laval won the Vanier Cup in 2003 (Montreal lost the Grey Cup), in 2004 (Als were upset by Toronto in the East final), in 2006 (Als lost the Grey Cup) and in 2008 (Montreal lost the Grey Cup).
When the Larks won the championship in 2002 and 2009, Laval did not make the Vanier Cup national final.
Here in 2010, however, Laval pounded Calgary to win its sixth Vanier this century, and Montreal beat Saskatchewan.
Curse is over.
3. A camel is a White Stallion designed by a committee.
It was kind of fun reading the 225 comments on our story about Calgary's loss to Saskatchewan in the West final, because so many of them contained advice for Stamps' GM and coach John Hufnagel.
Not enough talent. Too much selfish talent. Nik Lewis celebrates touchdowns too much. They all whine too much. Shouldn't have punted with three minutes to go … (Hang on, we're just warming up.) … Stamps are arrogant. Quarterback Henry Burris is a cry baby and can't win the big games (trade him!!). It was the cold weather (build a dome!!). The referees hate the Stamps. Too many cheap shots by Stamps players. Change the kicker (Oh, wait, that was last year).
Nobody can bring it like Calgary fans when the cow chips are frozen and down.
4. The best lessons are often the hardest.
Darian Durant is in just his second year as a starting quarterback in the CFL and already he's taken his team to a pair of Grey Cup appearances.
Would have won one, if the special teams captains (or someone) could count.
Yet there are some grumblings around Rider Nation. Remember, Riders fans, that the sainted Ron Lancaster went to five Grey Cups and only won once (1966).
Plus, as we've mentioned before, most successful CFL pivots say it can take five to seven years to really understand what's happening out there on the Canadian field when you've been trained south of the border.
Durant learns each time out, and the lessons can be harsh (such as that interception against Montreal in the Grey Cup's closing moments). But that's just going to make him stronger.
If it doesn't kill Saskatchewan supporters first.
5. Change? Time to give it a rest.
There is a tough choice to be made in Winnipeg for GM Joe Mack.
The 4-14 Bombers have pretty much been completely remade over the last two seasons, so much so they play like an expansion team. But do you continue to make changes, or is it time to sit with what you have and see how it develops?
There were at least eight winnable games out there in 2010 that could have gone the other way but for a bad mistake here, a loss of concentration there. Is this because the talent is poor and needs to be shaken up yet again, or that they need time to gel?
Says here, let this team gel.
6. Marc Trestman is a stand up guy, even when he's sitting down.
When you ask a question of the Montreal coach, he gives the answer directly to you. It's as though you were the only person in the room.
What most impressed at his press moments during the Grey Cup, however, were the number of times Trestman was given a chance to A) talk about himself, or B) talk about his future.
Only once did he allow a small slip, and that was to make a point about quarterback Anthony Calvillo by comparing him to one of his former students in the NFL. He even apologized for bringing up his past.
There was, in fact, a lot to talk about, because Trestman is already being talked about for the University of Minnesota position (Tony Dungy says he should be the choice), and it's expected a number of NFL clubs will be interested in him as head coach.
But Trestman would not speak to this, even after the game. Not a lot of coaches will do that.
If you're wondering, the Als are far too classy an organization to stop Trestman from taking a fabulous opportunity if it came around.
7. Someone in Hamilton should be kicking themselves.
The club finished 9-9, having lost at least three times when a win was hanging right out there. They could have, should have, hosted the East final, though that's not to say the Kitties could have beaten the Alouettes either way.
Obie's Cats lost to Calgary by a point on two missed field goals by free agent signing Sandro DeAngelis. They rolled up 500 yards in offence at home to the Riders and lost because of five turnovers.
Then there was the two-touchdown lead they blew in a shootout loss to the then 3-9 Eskimos, one week after giving up a 14-point margin in another defeat.
With good talent comes great responsibility, and next year they have to show it and marvel their fans on a regular basis.
8. Sport is like politics. Just ask Gene.
Gene Makowsky is used to getting his toes stepped on as an offensive lineman, so he should fit into politics no problem, assuming he's able to get elected to the Saskatchewan legislature next year.
That would be on Nov. 7. Last week of the regular season. So presumably he'll have the whole Regina Dewdney riding thing wrapped up by the time the Riders host the west semi-final about seven days later.
Save the emails, we're teasing.
The personable (and patient) Makowsky is 37 now, and wants to play at least one more year on the offensive line. Perhaps two.
There is precedent, of course. Red Kelly of the Toronto Maple Leafs served three years as a Member of Parliament in Ottawa, between 1962-1965, and was able to pull off the ridiculous travel schedule.
All Makowsky will have to do is make the trip from Mosaic Field to the nearby legislature.
And besides, lots of guys have part-time jobs during the season.
9. The mark of a truly smartman is his ability to admit a mistake.
Toronto's Jim Barker was coach of the year in 2010, no matter what the vote next March says. He turned around a terrible team, went 9-9, and won the playoff game at Hamilton before seeing his previously strong defence decimated by the Alouettes in the East final.
Getting returner/receiver Chad Owens out of Montreal was great. Signing and developing running back Cory Boyd was pretty terrific. But Jim, though we hung in there with him all year, it's become apparent Cleo Lemon is not your quarterback of the future. Especially given his age and the torn ligament in the finger.
Dalton Bell, on the other hand … W.C. Fields once said: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit … No use being a damn fool about it."
10. The coaching carousel continues.
Richie Hall is out in Edmonton as head coach, but he could show up again in Regina as head coach because he was such a success there as defensive coordinator.
That's unless Doug Berry, who yelled his way through some successful years in Winnipeg and was the Riders' offensive coordinator this season, gets the job in Saskatchewan. People seem to worry about the fact he was fired in Winnipeg, but then so was Hall in Edmonton, so what's the difference?
Dave Dickenson might have been the new man in Edmonton, but he had only two years in as an assistant coach and was running the Calgary attack this year. Stamps took him off the market by resigning the former star quarterback this week.
Of course, everybody loves Scott Milanovich, Montreal's assistant head coach, but he's not going anywhere if there's even the slightest chance Marc Trestman may, for example, wind up as the head coach with the Carolina Panthers.
But if Trestman doesn't leave, Milanovich could still go elsewhere. The problem is that all the jobs might be gone by then and he'll probably want a big salary. That may be why he didn't take the Toronto job last year.
Then there's Mike Benevides, the defensive coach in B.C., who was the hot item last off-season. The weakness there is he had some problems with his D this year, and he's not going to leave the Lions if there is a possibility this coming season will be Wally Buono's last.
You could put all this to music and it wouldn't be any more interesting than it already is.
Final note: Training camps are six months away. Hang in there Ice pick. Your Lions will be back soon.
See you then, folks.