Hogs high on coachBoss Brennan has open-minded approach to teaching
By DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun
Offensive lineman are universally considered the most likable players on any football team.
Approachable, easygoing, friendly -- these heavyweights of the game are usually the best players to chat with.
Problem is, rarely does anyone bother.
Even though a rock-solid o-line is crucial to a team's success, the opinions of these beefy galoots tend to get overlooked.
Not so with the Calgary Stampeders.
Coach Carl Brennan, in his first CFL season after eight years with the Laval University Rouge et Or, is always eager to hear what his linemen are thinking.
"The way I approach it, it's a team effort," Brennan said yesterday as veteran o-linemen Jamie Crysdale, Jay McNeil, Jeff Pilon, along with rookies Greg Schaefer and Travis Arnold, finished grunting through a lengthy practice and headed for the locker-room.
"As a first-year guy, I've got some stuff to learn and I think I can learn some of that from them. I throw out ideas and if they say, 'OK, maybe we can do it that way,' that's fine with me."
Brennan won two Vanier Cups (1999, 2003) at Laval while also working as a guest coach with the Edmonton Eskimos last spring before being hired this year by Stampeders GM-head coach Matt Dunigan.
Crysdale, who along with McNeil and Pilon have a combined 28 years of CFL experience on their resumes, said he enjoys providing input while Brennan appreciates the feedback.
"A lot of good coaches have come out of Laval and Carl brings with him a lot of good ideas," said Crysdale, 35, the senior citizen of the line in his 12th CFL campaign.
"What he's giving us the ability to do is play with the blocking schemes we're trying to use. It's really nice working with a guy like that who's open-minded enough and sees we bring a lot of value to the table with our experience.
"Why not try to combine the two to make us that much better?"
Pilon, in his fifth season with Calgary, is also smitten with his coach.
"This is probably the happiest I've been playing football in a lot of years," said Pilon.
"Carl respects you as a player and respects our thoughts on the game. Of course, we're not going to tell him what to do but we're out there and know what's going on. If we see it on the field, we come back and talk to him and he can make the adjustment to help us be the best we can be.
"In the past, it was written in cement, this way or no way. Now, with Carl, he let's you be the player you are and gets the best out of each person.
"You can't step on the coach's toes and he always has the final say. You have to approach it right and you can't undermine what the coaches are doing."
McNeil, toiling in his 11th season as a Stamp after re-signing with the club in the off-season, is working under his fifth line coach in Calgary.
He said Brennan's willingness to listen to players' views on blocking schemes has made this an enjoyable season despite the team's 2-6 record.
"He understands that some of us have been around for a long while, so he says, 'If you guys have any ideas about a better way to do it, then let's do it,' " McNeil pointed out. "He's a good coach and he hardly ever questions things and we like the way he coaches. Occasionally, we say we've done it a different way in the past and it seemed to work and he's open-minded about it, so that's great.
"We're a team out there and it's a good feeling."
Brennan also considers himself lucky to have worked so long with o-linemen, noting hogs at Laval were just as affable as the pros he's encountered this season.
"It was the same when I coached college and maybe it's the nature of what they do," Brennan explained.
"They're the unsung heroes and maybe that's part of it. They're unselfish and want to do whatever it takes to make it work."
Including offering up a little free advice for the coach and that's OK with Brennan.