June 9, 2014

Steinberg’s MMQB: Special guests hightlight camps

CFL Network


As the first week of training camp wraps up, there have been a ton of great stories developing coast-to-coast.

Winnipeg has a great battle on their hands at both quarterback and running back, while the Stampeders have two high profile pivots going toe-to-toe.  How will a much younger Riders team tackle the task of defending their Grey Cup?

And how will a motivated Ottawa team come out of the gates in their inaugural season?
These are questions we’ll get to answer over the next couple of weeks on your favorite Monday destination.  The Monday Morning Quarterback is back for another 26 consecutive weeks, and we couldn’t be happier.  

To kick off 2014, we thought it would be fun to look at some special guests who have highlighted camps across the league, because there have been some very notable appearances.

Getting His Fix

Paul LaPolice is more than content to be in the studio at TSN but that doesn’t mean that the competitive fire on the field has left the former CFL head coach.

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Familiar surroundings

Football coaches are meant to be in athletic gear on football fields.  As outstanding a job Paul LaPolice does breaking down football on TV, he still belongs at field level for opening kickoff.  

The former Head Coach of the Bombers has been a guest coach in Toronto since camp began, and if you’re Scott Milanovich, how can you say no?
I’ve maintained for quite some time that I believe LaPolice was fired prematurely in Winnipeg.   Yes, his team was out to a 2-6 start in 2012, but he had the chute pulled on him eight games after an appearance in the Grey Cup.  

Let’s not forget LaPolice turned around a 4-14 team in 2010 and lead them to a 10-8 record the following year, culminating in a shot at the title.  

The guy can coach, and knowing the issues the Bombers have had at quarterback, you can’t help but wonder how an offensive mastermind like LaPolice might have helped normalize that situation.
Now, that’s no knock on new Bombers Head Coach Mike O’Shea, because he hasn’t even coached a down yet.  Those prior thoughts are more to illustrate the benefit the Argos are most certainly getting by having a tenured CFL mind added to their training camp brain trust.
LaPolice has been involved with some high-powered offences since getting his start in Canada in 2000.  He helped shape the electric Bombers in the early 2000’s with the likes of Khari Jones and Milt Stegall helping the team set team records in 2002.  

He was also instrumental in helping Darian Durant secure a West Division all-star nomination in his first full year starting as Riders offensive coordinator in 2009.
Yes, the Argos boast a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Ricky Ray, but that doesn’t mean adding LaPolice’s eyes and offensive acumen is a bad thing in Argos camp.  Both he and Toronto Head Coach Milanovich come from offensive backgrounds, and the sharing of knowledge between two respected colleagues like that is never a bad thing.  

LaPolice’s presence with the Argos will only last a few weeks, but you can guarantee a meeting of the minds like that will pay dividends down the line this season.

Hammer Nails Down Gig

Coaching was never part of Robert “Hammer” McCune’s plan. However, less than a year removed from his playing career he finds himself as a guest coach with the Stamps.

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It works out for LaPolice, as well.  He has decided to step back from coaching for a little bit to focus on family, despite fielding offers over the last year plus.  

This arrangement in Toronto allows him to scratch that coaching itch, but it also gives him some great, free insight for whenever he decides to return to the sidelines.
“I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve learned a lot,” LaPolice told us here at CFL.ca last week.  “They do a good job here offensively so it’s been great to help out where I can and I’m happy to be charting plays for them like a little GA [Graduate Assistant] or something.”
I think it’s safe to say that’s one overqualified graduate assistant.

That’s not all

LaPolice isn’t the only coach lending his expertise this month.  Former Lions, Alouettes, and Bombers Head Coach Dave Ritchie retired a number of years ago, but that isn’t stopping him from joining the defending Grey Cup champs in Saskatoon.
Ritchie has a relationship with Riders General Manager Brendan Taman going back to their days in Winnipeg, so why not bring in an experienced voice in a camp all about change.  From Rey Williams to Weston Dressler and Kory Sheets, it’s going to be a different looking Saskatchewan team.  

Yet, new faces won’t change the expectations in Riderville for 2014 after winning it all in November.
Ritchie is serving as a defensive assistant throughout training camp, aiding an area very much in flux.  From the retirement of Williams to the departure of Craig Butler to Hamilton, there’s the potential for a lot of growing pains early for the Riders on D.  

Just like LaPolice, adding an extra set of eyes to coordinator Richie Hall’s defensive staff can do nothing but good.
In Kamloops, the BC Lions have welcomed Willie Pile this month.  The hard-hitting former Argos linebacker has been helping to oversee the entire Lions defensive group.  It’s a group with some fresh faces that could benefit from veteran eyes like Pile.  

The five-year CFL vet has worked with players who have stood out at different times, including DB’s John Hardy-Tuliau and T.J. Lee.
And don’t overlook the impact Robert McCune might have in Calgary.  Despite not having a gig right now, the hard hitting linebacker lead the Argos with 99 tackles last season and could strap up and give anyone on the field a run for their money right now.  

A guy who has recently been in the trenches now watching from a different perspective is always a positive thing.
McCune can also lend some insight to new Stamps Defensive Coordinator Rich Stubler.  This is a defensive group made up of versatile players that can rotate through different positions, something that became a Stampeders norm in McCune’s time with the team under coordinator Chris Jones.  

Stubler’s a pretty bright defensive mind himself, but having a guy like McCune could end up being very helpful.  He was extremely versatile in his time with Calgary, and can absolutely lend a few subtle insights as to how best to utilize players to their utmost.