U Sports Football: The first domino falls…

When I sat down to start writing this earlier this week, I wrote about potential landing spots for several U Sports coaching candidates, as you will read. However, halfway through writing the draft, I basically had to scrap it and begin re-writing, as the coaching carousel began to turn quicker than I could type.

The McMaster Marauders welcomed back Stefan Ptaszek as their new (again) head coach this week, beginning the domino effect of coach movement throughout the country’s university football circuit. Ptaszek was previously head coach for the Marauders from 2006-15, winning the greatest Vanier Cup ever played in 2011, and making two more appearances in the national championship in 2012 and 2014. He has won two more Vanier Cups in an illustrious career, one as a player in 1991 and one as an offensive coordinator in 2005, both with Laurier.

Ptaszek left the Marauders in 2016 to become the “offensive coordinator” for the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and spent the 2018 season as the OC for Blake Nill’s UBC Thunderbirds. His return comes on the heels of McMaster University dismissing Greg Knox after an in-game incident involving an official.

With three other OUA schools looking for head coaches, there are some very intriguing possibilities about what could happen with these positions, as well as fallout of assistant coach movements. I don’t have a lot of evidence at my disposal, but here are some theoretical possibilities of where some coaches could, I emphasize COULD, end up for the 2019 season.

The Guelph Gryphons are looking for a head coach. I had pegged Ptaszek as a possible candidate, but obviously his return home to McMaster makes sense and rules him out here. Defensive Coordinator Adam Grandy makes sense from an internal hire perspective, but I would anticipate the Gryphons making an outside hire.

After Joe D’Amore’s resignation from Windsor, the Lancers are also likely looking elsewhere for an outside hire.

Where it gets interesting is what might happen at Queen’s University. Pat Sheahan had been there for eighteen years, winning a Vanier Cup (2009) and CIS Coach of the Year (2008) in his time there. Where he ends up and who ends up at Queen’s will be interesting to watch. I believe this will be the next spot filled, as the other OUA teams with vacancies might want to wait and see and possibly benefit from what happens at Queen’s.

Pat Tracey is rumoured to be done as UBC’s defensive coordinator, and the longtime Queen’s assistant could perhaps be ready to return to Kingston in the head position. But it would be interesting to see what ramifications that could have on the coaching carousel.

Offensive coordinator Marcel Bellefeuille is, to me, the most intriguing and perhaps important individual in this off-season. Might he make the jump back up to the CFL for a coaching position as a coordinator or head coach? He has six years of offensive coordinator experience, five years as a position coach, and three years as a head coach at the professional level. Not to mention his sparkling time as a CIS coach previously, winning a Vanier Cup in 2000 as head coach of the Ottawa Gee-Gees. Does an outside hire keep him on staff at Queen’s? Will he want to stay at the U Sports level as a coordinator? There are many factors here with Bellefeuille, who very well could look at Guelph or Windsor as possible landing spots if Queen’s doesn’t promote him this off-season and if his CFL interests have dwindled.

Another coach in the OUA circle who could be throwing their hat in the ring might be Ryan Bechmanis, the former DC at Carleton who now also calls Queen’s home. Tom Flaxman was the offensive coordinator at McMaster but with Ptaszek coming back to presumably run the offence, does Flaxman look for a head coaching gig? Another Marauder name, Jon Behie (OC, Waterloo) might be the next up-and-coming young gun in the same mold as Mike Faulds, who has done incredible work at Laurier since arriving. Behie and Warriors’ DC Darrell Adams sparked Waterloo’s program into one of the more exciting in the OUA this past season, boasting an unbelievable passing attack and could legitimately pose a threat to the perennial OUA powerhouses in 2019. Will they both want to stay and see their work through at Waterloo, or does Guelph, Western, or Queen’s (or another program) sway them to lead their program to the future?

Kyle Quinlan was Ptaszek’s quarterback in the 2011 and 2012 Vanier Cups, and was the co-offensive coordinator with Flaxman at McMaster this past season. Rumours have circulated that Quinlan might be on his way out of Hamilton, so could he be looking to return to his home area and take on a role as coordinator or head coach with the Lancers? Or might he look closer to where he played his university ball and head off to Guelph? It is also possible the rumours are false and Quinlan might be happy to remain a Marauder under a familiar head coach.

Another candidate, however somewhat unlikely in my opinion, is Steve Snyder, the offensive coordinator for the Western Mustangs. In only two seasons at Western he has made a pair of Vanier Cup appearances. That being said, Greg Marshall is not getting younger and you have to wonder if Snyder might be groomed for the eventual replacing of Marshall.

Other coaches who may be ready to step into or transition into other programs could include Shad McLachlan (DC, Acadia), Ryan Sheahan (OC, Calgary), Kelly Jeffrey (Mount A, 2008-15), Jim Daley (Special Teams, St FX) and Donnavan Carter (Special Teams, U of Toronto).

Of course it is not even December, so some programs may not have made up their mind in terms of beginning to make changes to their coaching staffs, so there may be even more vacancies than there are now. Also, if any coordinators leave their respective programs for other locations, that would open up the chance for even more movement around the country.

The other thing that may have an impact on the university level is the new salary cap for coaching staffs in the CFL. This could lead to having some very good, experienced coaches looking for work north of the border in 2019. In some ways, it might serve some teams well to play a bit of a waiting game in terms of wanting to see if there are any high quality candidates for either coordinator or head coach positions on the market. With that in mind, I think we can all understand the benefit of having coaches in place as quickly as possible for recruiting purposes. I won’t even try to begin to predict which CFL assistants might be available as the coaching carousel there hasn’t begun yet with BC and Toronto actively looking for head coaches, and other teams potentially looking for coordinator candidates starting this week.

The coaching watch in U Sports has not been this intriguing in quite some time; even despite minimal head coaching vacancies, it will be interesting to see how the CFL carousel affects the university level, if at all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.