HAMILTON -- A 50 year journey has come to an end.
On Monday, longtime CFL player, coach, GM and executive Bob O'Billovich announced his retirement.
“He was definitely one of the toughest coaches I played under; he worked us hard and often. We had very few days off and he was a very consistent coach. Ultimately, out of all of the coaches I had, he was my favourite. After leaving football, I learned to appreciate all of his qualities. He knew the game better than most. He had the best eye for a coach; player after player, he would bring the best into the league," said former Argos lineman Dan Ferrone.
"I have nothing but admiration for him as a person and a family man. Getting to know him after football, he has a tremendous sense of humor which I never knew he had while playing for him. He was a guiding light on how important being a family man is on your success in the game,” he added.
The man affectionately known as "Obie'' spent the last five seasons with the Ticats - four as GM before being promoted to vice-president of football operations in 2012.
"Little did I know when I joined the Ottawa Rough Riders this would be the beginning of a 50-year relationship with the CFL,'' O'Billovich said. "I had no idea how it was to all work out.
"I know in this computer up here (O'Billovich's head) there's a lot of memories, thoughts and people who, along the way, made it such an enjoyable experience.''
But O'Billovich leaves with one regret.
"I was really hoping when this day came it would be after we had brought Hamilton its 16th Grey Cup,'' O'Billovich said. "Everything happens for a reason and I think it's time to give some of that time to my family and start coaching my two little grandsons.
"I don't know what's going to happen but God has always taken good care of me and I'm trusting him to lead me in some other direction.''
Hamilton president Scott Mitchell praised O'Billovich for a career he says is worthy of the highest possible honour.
"I don't think there's any question this organization is a much, much, much, much better organization today than it was when Bob got here,'' Mitchell said. "One thing I'm going to do if nobody has yet is make sure that application goes out today for Bob to be in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.''
O'Billovich could be inducted as a builder following a one-year waiting period. O'Billovich has no immediate plans for his retirement but said he has options.
"Maybe I could write a book, maybe the league wants me to be an ambassador for the CFL,'' he said. "My family wants me to get a TV series for a coach's family, a reality show.''
Expectations in Hamilton were high last year after O'Billovich hired offensive guru George Cortez as head coach, acquired quarterback Henry Burris and signed free-agent receiver Andy Fantuz.
But the Ticats (6-12) missed the playoffs, which resulted in Cortez being fired and Kent Austin being hired as director of football operations, GM and head coach.
O'Billovich's deal with the Ticats expired at season's end and he opted against staying on as a consultant. Twice O'Billovich was named the CFL's top coach (1982, 1987) and remains Toronto's all-time winningest coach (89-79-3 record).
But O'Billovich remains indebted to the late Ralph Sazio, the longtime Hamilton player, coach and executive who hired O'Billovich as coach of the Argos more than 30 years ago.
"He became a mentor and friend and we formed a great partnership,'' O'Billovich said. "After a 31-year drought in Toronto we won the Grey Cup in 1983 and that will always be a cherished memory.''
With files from the Canadian Press and Argonauts.ca Staff