- Free Agency
The world has in most regards come to a stop as we try to get a handle on COVID-19. Most of us have been impacted in how we do our jobs while trying to social distance and it’s no different for GMs, coaches and scouts in the CFL, who will have to take part in drafts this year without the guidance that a combine provides.
The league cancelled its combines — the final global combine in Mexico City, its regional Canadian combines and the national CFL combine, presented by New Era — on March 12. With the global and national drafts still scheduled, plus the ongoing matter of scouting and signing new players, football personnel people across the league are, much like the rest of us, in a new and uncomfortable spot with their jobs.
“It kind of grounds everything. Everything’s at a standstill,” BC Lions GM Ed Hervey said from Vancouver. (Full disclosure: We spoke prior to a member of the Lions staff testing positive for COVID-19.)
“But there’s still video. We’re used to getting accurate height, weight, measurables and sizing up guys as we see them live in the interview process. It’s going to be challenging but these are challenging times for everyone and it’s much larger than football.
“I’m sure there are people out there that are trying to figure out ways to get around and do their jobs and be effective at it.”
Ottawa REDBLACKS head coach Paul LaPolice is at his home in Winnipeg, where his family is still living after he’d spent the last four years as the Blue Bombers’ offensive coordinator.
“Technology has certainly made it easier over the years,” LaPolice said. “You certainly want to work. You can work from home to do a lot of things.
“Certainly in our draft prep we’ll be able to watch tape of all these guys and either we are contacting them or the league sets a time for us to go through and have conversations with these guys.”
The hardest part for LaPolice will be getting acclimated to finding that work/work-at-home balance. He and his wife have three kids at home, girls that are 12 and 6 and a boy that’s 9.
“(Normally) when you go to work you go to work, but you can’t just go work for 10 hours (at home),” he said. “It’s a little different when they’re just kind of kicking around.”
That’s meant some early rises, to get some quiet time at home before the rest of the family gets up.
“That’ll be the hardest part for a lot of the coaches, trying to find rhythms,” LaPolice said.
“When you go to your office, you usually have a pretty good amount of time to do whatever you need to do. Single guys, guys with no kids or families, it’s usually a little bit easier but it’s a lot harder when you’ve got kids kicking around.”
One thing that helped both organizations was that they were able to get some extended time with their coaching staffs in before everything was shut down. Both head coaches had their staffs in during the winter to work together, open up playbooks and to build some chemistry. That’s important for two clubs with new head coaches and many new faces working for them.
“The better part of it was the whole process of, ‘We’ve got one car for four coaches. Who’s picking who up, who’s traveling together, where are we going to dinner tonight?,'” LaPolice said.
“The staff relationships, I felt like that was awesome. Seeing the staff come together and interact excites me. I think I have a very experienced staff, very good coaches and we’ll do our best to adapt, improvise and overcome.”
In BC, former REDBLACKS head coach Rick Campbell did the same thing, spending two weeks with his staff.
An obstacle that’s out of the teams hands will be how their players are staying in shape. With team facilities and public gyms closed, players will have to get creative with their workouts, or just simplify them.
“This is the time when players are starting to ramp back up into training and throwing and catching,” LaPolice said.
“I think that could have an impact because certainly, (the virus is) a scary thing to see. I know the draft’s important, but so is your family’s health and your health. I’m sure the players are going to be affected in what they can do.”
“Guys are going to have to do the old school stuff: Sit ups, push ups, the pull ups, the dips, run. You can still run yourself into shape,” Hervey said.
LaPolice’s words ring true for his staff and all of us. As we learn to deal with these changes we’ll have to adapt, improvise and overcome.