Sure, there are no more head coaching vacancies in the CFL, but that doesn’t mean the big-name shuffling is done this off-season. The hirings of Corey Chamblin in Toronto, DeVone Claybrooks in BC, and Orlondo Steinauer in Hamilton have set off a bit of a chain reaction league-wide, which means some recognizable names are on the move.
It didn’t take long for Claybrooks to start making his mark on the Lions. Just a few days after his hiring became official, the Lions announced seven coaches wouldn’t be back with the team in 2019. Most notable in that group is defensive coordinator Mark Washington; he’s reportedly set to be replaced by Rich Stubler on Claybrooks’s staff.
Washington spent five years at the helm of BC’s defence, which followed six years with the team as defensive backs coach. During that time, Washington forged a solid reputation for himself and was always one of the first names mentioned when talking about top coordinators in the league.
I can’t help but feel intrigued by the possibilities of Washington joining Steinauer’s staff in Hamilton, which is an option all of a sudden. The Tiger-Cats announced last week 77-year-old Jerry Glanville would not be returning at defensive coordinator, which opens up a very attractive position.
There’s no shortage of links between Washington and Steinauer. Born less than three months apart in 1973, both patrolled CFL backfields at the same time with Washington’s playing career ending a year before Steinauer’s in 2008. Both guys started coaching at the same time and both climbed the ranks to coordinator quickly, so as an outside observer, I’d love to see what these two could do on the same coaching staff.
Of course, Washington isn’t the only qualified candidate by any stretch of the imagination. What about Mike Benevides, who was released by the Edmonton Eskimos earlier in the off-season? Benevides has heaps of experience as a DC and spent three seasons as head coach of the Lions between 2012 and 2014, which would make him a solid hire.
A couple of relative new kids on the block have thrown their hats into the ring, too. Future Hall of Famer Nik Lewis will reportedly take his first coaching job in BC, joining former teammate Claybrooks as receivers coach. If you’ve ever spent any time around Lewis, you’d know he’s a big time student of the game, so the transition to coaching seems natural.
You can scratch one of those new names off the list, though. Despite overtures from the Argos, Ryan Dinwiddie has reportedly elected to stay on as quarterbacks coach with the Stampeders. Toronto had courted Dinwiddie for their vacant offensive coordinator job, but knowing how involved he is in Calgary’s offence, you can understand his decision.
I was prepared for this off-season to be a crazy revolving door of players knowing how many free agents we were looking at. I wasn’t expecting the same to be true in the coaching ranks, but it’s made for some really interesting storylines over the last few weeks.
The road less traveled
In a lot of ways, new Calgary Stampeders defensive coordinator Brent Monson has traveled a rather unfamiliar path. Many of Calgary’s coaches in recent years have followed a very similar progression: going from being a player to a position coach and then climbing the ranks. DeVone Claybrooks, Josh Bell, Corey Mace, and current head coach Dave Dickenson are all perfect examples. Monson’s road to defensive coordinator couldn’t have been more different.
Instead of battling on the field for most of his adult life, Monson worked his tail off and climbed the coaching ladder starting right at the very bottom. Hired by the Stamps as a video assistant in 2009, all Monson could do is pay his dues and work his way up.
“I had never really filmed anything in my life, I just wanted…a foot in the door,” Monson told me last week. “I just wanted to learn off all the coaches there and did the video stuff and when I was done with the video stuff I was just trying to get with the coaches as much as possible to try and learn.
“At that point I didn’t really want to be in video, I just put my head down and locked in and did whatever I was told to do and just said ‘yes coach’ to whatever was asked of me and tried to learn and kind of just be a sponge.”
It’s not like Monson didn’t play the game, because he did, and at a pretty high level. But not everyone is blessed with elite athletic ability; everyone who works in sports as a non-player likely had a realization at some point the professional athlete dream just wasn’t going to happen. For Monson, it came after high school.
“I played at a pretty good high school in Hamilton, but then moving to college I just wasn’t the best athlete, but I still loved the game and wanted to be around it. I played [with the] Burlington Braves while I was in university…and as I did that, I started coaching high school football in Hamilton. At that point I just learned that I loved it that much, coaching not playing. I wanted to just focus on coaching, so I stopped playing and I just locked in and I started coaching.”
And, whether you’re a player or a coach, everyone needs that first big break to get the wheels in motion on a successful career. Monson’s journey to Alberta was never planned; in fact, working for a CFL team was the furthest thing from his mind.
“It’s funny how Calgary found my resume,” Monson reflected. “I wasn’t necessarily applying there as a video assistant; I was sending my resume to every single college in the United States to try and get a graduate assistant position.
“Somehow they got my resume from a guy that used to work in the video office in Calgary that was down at Northern Arizona at the time. We met up in Hamilton when they were in town and went from there.”
At just 33, Monson already has almost a full decade of CFL coaching experience under his belt, which is a big reason the Stamps pegged him as a replacement for Claybrooks. Monson has big shoes to fill at defensive coordinator, but he’s busted his back end to get where he is. I’m really curious to see how things play out.