April 8, 2019

Steinberg’s MMQB: Adversity equals opportunity for REDBLACKS

Patrick Doyle/CFL.ca

No one is going to suggest this has been an ideal off-season for the Ottawa REDBLACKS. In fact, the East Division’s most consistent team over the last four years is facing its most difficult season since their expansion year of 2013. With adversity comes opportunity, though, and it’s up to Ottawa to focus on the latter.

The latest chapter for the REDBLACKS came last week when highly regarded offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo jumped to the XFL. It’s a move that understandably hasn’t gone over well in Ottawa, as Head Coach Rick Campbell was caught totally off guard. Elizondo is joining Marc Trestman on a new Tampa Bay organization, which was news to Campbell.

» O’Leary: Elizondo leaves REDBLACKS scrambling
» Sanchez: You want to have a guy that knows QBs
» The Waggle: Breaking down Elizondo’s departure

“Usually people call, one head coach to another, and say, listen, I’m thinking about hiring someone,” Campbell told the Ottawa Sun. “It catches you even more off guard because there’s no communication or anything.

“You kind of feel duped, it’s like a choreographed move to kind of spring it on you. I’ve never heard from anyone, all I heard was from Jaime saying he had a job and he was gone. It’s not typical for people to do it this way, bolting for another job. This usually doesn’t happen if it’s not for a family reason, especially when we’re six weeks from training camp.”

What’s done is done, though, and all Campbell and the REDBLACKS can do is react. Reacting is what the team has been doing ever since a 27-16 loss to Calgary in the 106th Grey Cup presented by Shaw. Ottawa has already said goodbye to key pieces Trevor Harris, William Powell, SirVincent Rogers, Greg Ellingson, and Diontae Spencer this off-season. Adversity doesn’t get much more pronounced than this.

But let’s spin it positively for a few minutes, because there’s reason to. First of all, we’re talking about an organization that has approached things the right way since inception. Campbell and General Manager Marcel Desjardins have formed a dynamic duo over the last half decade with the hardware to match.

The Waggle, Ep. 152: Life after Elizondo

With the news that former offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo suddenly left the REDBLACKS for a role south of the border, Donnovan and Davis debate the timing and etiquette of the move, as well as where Ottawa goes from here.

If I were a fan, there would be very few individuals I’d feel more comfortable in leading my team through an uncertain future. And, as an organization, a healthy dose of adversity can serve to strengthen things, if it’s handled the right way.

Let’s be honest; since a 2-16 inaugural season, there haven’t been many misses for the REDBLACKS. They’ve nailed virtually every free agent signing, been very strong in the CFL Draft, and have played in three of the last four Grey Cups.

2019 will serve as a new challenge for the group, and even if it serves as a transition year in wins and losses, I’m quite certain it’ll make them better in the long run. I’m not writing off Ottawa for the coming season, but there’s a chance this might be a down season. With this group, though, I see far more up in their future.

The CFL remains viable and strong

Two things struck me with last week’s news the Alliance of American Football was ceasing operations. More than anything, I felt bad seeing the cruel side of business cost hundreds of talented players a place to play. It also underlined another very important fact: the Canadian Football League remains one of two viable professional football leagues and that’s not changing anytime soon.

When news broke of a couple new upstart leagues in North America, some wondered how detrimental it would be to the CFL. No knock on the AAF or the soon-to-be-launched XFL, but at no point have I ever been worried about an actual threat to the CFL. There’s a reason this league has been around for 61 years and counting.

Sure, new leagues present a challenge for CFL teams, mainly when it comes to procuring talent. The AAF did, and the XFL will, give players more options for employment if things don’t work out in the NFL. The CFL has dealt with this before, was ready for it when the AAF formed, and will remain ready when the XFL launches. This league has so many things going for it, which is why it continues to thrive, regardless of other options.

Randy Ambrosie addresses the media during the State of the League news conference in Edmonton (The Canadian Press)

Because it’s Canada’s national league, the CFL will always have an identity going for it. With a mandated player ratio from this country, the league will always be the primary option for top Canadian players, save for those with NFL opportunities. Because Canadian players and top USPORTS athletes go on to succeed in this league, interest in this country will always be high.

The league’s history is a major checkmark, too. With more than six decades of successful operations, the CFL is firmly entrenched in nine of the biggest markets in the country with a 10th in the offing.

Yes, there have been ups and downs since 1958 and some franchises are currently stronger than others. But long standing associations, with strong name value, in eight cities (plus an incredible ninth in Ottawa) ensures fans coast-to-coast know where to turn for high level ball.

And let’s not forget how highly regarded the CFL is by players and coaches on both sides of the border. Only truly elite athletes succeed in this league, and we’ve seen it chew up and spit out numerous “big names” over the years. Just ask Johnny Manziel, Akili Smith, Ricky Williams, and Chad Johnson, among many others.

It works both ways, too, as we’ve seen numerous players go south of the border and succeed. Sure, there are the easy ones like Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia, and they’re great examples. But let’s not forget a guy like Cameron Wake, who started with the BC Lions before becoming a five-time Pro Bowler in the NFL.

It was definitely too bad to see the AAF cease operations last week, because I believe the more football jobs the better. But with two strong and established professional leagues in the CFL and NFL, it’s hard to be an upstart in this day and age. I firmly believe the XFL will run into very similar challenges when it launches in about a year.

The fact is, if you’re a football player turning pro, there are two choices if you’re looking for work in a stable league, and there’s one on either side of the border.