EDMONTON - If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
It's what former Edmonton Eskimos defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler did Thursday, becoming the new defensive co-ordinator of the B.C. Lions.
Stubler's new team beat his old team 40-23 in last year's West Division final, on the way to winning the Grey Cup.
If they weren't the team to beat then, they definitely are now.
"Obviously, when you're the defending champion, that makes you the team to beat," Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed said during a phone interview from his family getaway in Phoenix, Ariz., where he is spending the holidays. "Sometimes success brings change. When you enjoy some success, there are obviously going to be opportunities for coaches and players that you worked with to be courted somewhere else.
"That's just a part of business. When you look around the league, I have never in my life seen this much change in terms of the turnover with staff and players. Never in the 17 years I've been associated with the league have I seen this.
"But we're now in a unique situation where we're looking to fill in some pieces, and I think that we have the resources available to make certain we do a good job of that."
Whether that means going out and finding a Stubler-like mind to run the Eskimos match defence, or promoting from within remains to be seen.
"The biggest thing to me is that we find or get the right combination of guys," Reed said. "My first priority is going to be finding a defensive-backs coach. That was obviously a need that we had even last year in terms of developing our defensive backfield."
Stubler's departure could also change the landscape of the returning assistant coaches.
"It may," Reed said. "I have a very clear idea in my mind right now which direction we will go defensively.
"In terms of titles, we'll organize that the right way."
Now in his second year as a CFL head coach, Kavis isn't opposed to the idea of adding the role of defensive co-ordinator to his own responsibilities.
"It's one of those things where I am going to have influence on the defence regardless if Rich had returned or not," Reed said. "I'm just that guy where I'm not going to be overbearing, but I'm going to make certain that the first and foremost priority is defensively, as we were last year.
"I told Rich the same thing, it's going to be a defence where we're fundamentally sound and the guys are taught a system where they can function in. Let's not reinvent football, but let's make sure that we put the guys in a position to be able to succeed."
And succeed they did, improving defensively from worst to challenging for first in just one year under Stubler's system, going from giving up a league-worst 545 points in 2010, to finishing second overall in 2011 with 401 points allowed — just 16 more than the league-leading Lions.
Edmonton's defence ranked in the top three of 12 different statistical categories, including interceptions (25-1st) and quarterback sacks (39-3rd).
"We've just got to be able to pick up our hats, don't cry about it and move forward," said Reed, who expects to announce his coaching staff as early as Monday or Tuesday. "We already have all the guys mostly under contract."
ON THE MOVE: A source close to the league has the Eskimos working on a deal to bring Hamilton Tiger-Cats offensive lineman Simeon Rottier back to Alberta. The Westlock native and Golden Bears alumni was drafted first overall by the Ticats in 2009.