January 7, 2017

Chamblin on CFL Future: ‘I think everyone up there knows about me’


Corey Chamblin is heading to the American Football Coaches Association convention in Nashville, Tenn. this weekend in search of a coaching job. Or at the very least, a few more connections that will lead him to a spot on someone’s sideline once again.

The former Saskatchewan Roughriders’ head coach and burgeoning internet entrepreneur is stoking the fire that burns within; one that has him bound and bent to return to life with a football team. In the meantime, he’s been carving out a niche on the web with a new website called GameDayConnections.com.

“I can’t retire, he says, a little exasperated at the suggestion he might leave a coach’s life behind and flesh out an existence as a digital guru. “I’m 39.”

Arthur Ward/CFL.ca

Corey Chamblin’s four-year stay in Regina included a Grey Cup in 2013 (Arthur Ward/CFL.ca)

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With Chamblin’s name percolating in CFL circles a little bit this off-season – as it did a couple of times during the 2016 regular season – now seemed a good time to catch up with the league’s 2013 Coach of the Year to see if he is poised to head north once again.

In reacquainting ourselves with Chamblin we find a man who has been calculating and manouevering since being fired midway through the 2015 season, less than two years after leading the Roughriders to a Grey Cup victory. Chamblin has since been based in Arizona, where he has been building his website; one that allows like-minded sports people, both professional and amateur, to connect. Meantime, he has been endeavouring to learn more about coaching so he can “do it better,” and crossing paths with more than just a few Canadians in his daily travels.

In a long conversation that meanders from the present, to the future, to the past and back again – “make sure you clean it up for me. I like to ramble,” he says at one point – it becomes clear that the man who led the Roughriders to a storybook championship in their own stadium a little over three years ago has not been sitting idle, nor has he been sulking.

Will Corey Chamblin be back in the CFL? Not right now, it seems, barring something unforeseen.

Chamblin’s name has been connected to rumours involving the Hamilton Ticats and the vacant defensive coordinator’s position, opened up when Orlondo Steinauer left the team for a job at Fresno State. “Kent hasn’t called me,” says Chamblin of Hamilton’s head coach, Kent Austin.

It seems he’d be a bit surprised if Austin did.

“There are guys already in that building that already know that scheme,” he continues, doubting that the Ticats would want to bring in new philosophies at this point. “And that scheme has produced a lot of championship-quality football or them. Either (Austin’s) gonna move (Special Teams Coordinator Jeff Reinebold) over or do something with the guys already on that staff because he already has it.”

“I don’t know that there are jobs open in the CFL, at the higher levels,” says Chamblin, after saying that he has had “no phone calls” with any CFL franchise hierarchy. “Every (team) has a head coach and has a coordinator,” he says. When asked about the possibility of an assistant’s role, below a coordinator, he replies: “That has to fit.”

“At the end of the day, in about 50 years, they’ll forget about all the bad and they’ll still be remembering that 2013 Grey Cup. And hopefully I’ll be a legend by then.”

– Corey Chamblin

Therein lies a key consideration for Chamblin as he prepares to return to what he’d like to be a more active coaching life. Living with his wife, Samantha, and young sons Karter and Keaton in a cactus-strewn suburb about sixty kilometres outside Phoenix, Chamblin is measuring opportunity, not prepared to uproot family life just to take a cheque.

Whether it’s the CFL or a position in the United States, Chamblin won’t go merely to add the title ‘coach’ to his name.

“Is it a job just to take a job? Or is it gonna help me grow, professionally? If it’s not gonna help me grow professionally, then I can just go work a high school job down the street,” he says.

The view Chamblin has when he steps through his back door at home might be seen by some as a sort of metaphor for a coach who has been out of a full-time sideline job since the day he was fired in August of 2015, after the Riders stumbled to an 0-9 start.

“You walk in my backyard, it’s literally the desert,” he says, laughing, as he describes life in ‘Canada South.’ “They call it Canada South because there’s nothing but Canadians,” he notes of an area that is chock full of wintering snowbirds, so many of them from the West. “I’ve got a neighbour up the street and he’s actually from Winnipeg,” he points out. “Hilarious.”

Nevermind about that desert imagery and an attachment to Chamblin and a perception of his circumstances. Metaphor shmetaphor. Although his contract with the Roughriders reportedly calls for him to be paid through 2017, Chamblin has not been idle. If the world of full-time coaching has been a bit drought-ridden, he’s nevertheless been busy and looking to be busier still.

“I’m not comfortable with sittin’ at home cashing paycheques,” he says. “If anybody knows me, I’m a grinder and I’m an active worker.”

Chamblin has spent the last year or so conceiving, constructing and then launching GameDayConnections.com, a site that he hopes is bringing players and front office types together for mutual benefit. “We created this,” he says, “to help coaches and athletes at every part of their transition. It’s an easier way to stay connected and find the things you need.”

Newly-released players can upload their game reel for coaches to see. Job opportunities can be posted or pursued. Myriad filters can direct people to others they might not have otherwise ever come across. Chamblin, a defensive backs coach with the Calgary Stampeders from 2008 to 2010, says he connected with someone through the site just the other day.

“I’m like ‘dude, I don’t remember you from Calgary but I bet you know (current Stampeders receivers coach) Pete Costanza.’ It was an instant connection and we talked for about an hour. I never would have met that coach if he wouldn’t have connected in the Calgary network.”

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

The former Riders head man is waiting for the right fit for a return to the CFL (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

Helping others connect might be the main thrust of Chamblin’s online brainchild but he has also found it to be beneficial to his own goals, those centred around his return to a coaching gig.

“I’ve done a lot of professional development, in going to different places and learning from different coaches,” he says, pointing out that he believes his year and a half away from full-time coaching work has been impactful in some positive ways. “I definitely have that fire to be in the right situation to be able to use all those things that I’ve learned.”

If there is regret on Chamblin’s part where the Roughriders are concerned, it isn’t evident and it is notable that he never did bring up the past himself, focusing on the here and now instead. He is willing, however, to talk about it when prompted. Chamblin says he harbours no bitterness over his firing two years ago this September. “I still wear my CFL garb down here,” he says brightly.

Instead, he calls his firing “disappointing.”

“The disappointment (was) that there wasn’t any belief that we can right the ship. Here’s our first taste of adversity and we don’t get a chance to come through it. I thought I did enough early in the career that would’ve warranted me more time to get back to another championship.”

That would have been a difficult thing for many to offer, though. The team was winless at the halfway point of the 2015 season and there were harsh criticisms of the way the Riders were headed under the direction of both Chamblin and General Manager Brendan Taman, who was also fired that day.

“No matter how (the critics) see it, how mad they get and all those things, I took advantage of the opportunity that was there in ’13 – we didn’t get it done in ’14 or ’15 – and that’s all that I have to look at. That part of my life… that door is closed. There was some good, there was some bad. At the end of the day, in about 50 years, they’ll forget about all the bad and they’ll still be remembering that 2013 Grey Cup. And hopefully I’ll be a legend by then.”

Chamblin isn’t laughing after that last line. He’s not joking and that tells you a little something about the determination he’s feeling about a return to active coaching duty.

With few, if any, attractive CFL opportunities currently existing, Chamblin will carry on with his website and his personal network building, occasionally crossing paths with someone wearing Sasky green in stark contrast to the desert backdrop of his desert neighbourhood. He had a woman from Saskatchewan do a double-take, recently, at a fast food joint.

“She said ‘I know you’ and I said ‘no you don’t know me.’ And she actually did. She must’ve been a fan of mine,” he says and this time he is laughing. “I didn’t have many but she was one and she was pretty excited.”

That’s because of the dream season of 2013, of course. Chamblin is banking on building that kind of success again, somewhere.

“As far as me seeking a job in the Canadian Football League, that’s all about connections,” he says.

He won’t need his own website to foster those connections, either.

“I think everyone up there knows about me,” he says. “I think they have my number.”