As the greatest player ever to be found and developed by the Calgary Stampeders, Jeff Garcia knows a thing or two about John Hufnagel's ability to groom talent.
And when the club makes official the worst kept secret in Canadian sport today, Garcia says the Stamps will be guided by a head coach who is one of the business' best at getting the most out of players.
For an underachieving team like the Red & White, nothing could be more important.
"I'm living proof he can see something in a young player and help him become successful," said the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback via cellphone. "He was one of the guys who was in my corner and thought I could play in the CFL, and there definitely weren't a lot of teams that thought that."
Competing with two others behind Doug Flutie to be the club's third-stringer in 1994, Garcia knew he was one exhibition game away from being cut. But a stellar quarter vs. Sacramento kept his pro football dreams alive. From there, Garcia learned and benefited from Hufnagel's offence, shone when filling in for an injured Flutie and eventually kick-started a Pro Bowl NFL career with a Grey Cup win in 1998, two years after Hufnagel left his post as the Stamps' offensive coordinator.
"From what I experienced in the time I was there, we had an innovative offence that was ahead of the game most of the time," said Garcia of Hufnagel's pass-happy spread set that has since become a pro football staple. "He did a great job putting us in place to be successful and a great job preparing us. He called the game so well, too -- he was always well on top of it."
Crossing paths with Hufnagel a few times while both were in the NFL, Garcia says 'Huff' is only going to be better as a coach given the wide range of experiences he's had south of the border.
"His knowledge of the offence and how he was able to coach and spread that to the players allowed us to be successful," said Garcia of a Stamps organization that dominated in the '90s thanks to tremendous personnel, brilliant quarterbacking and solid coaching.
"We were well-coached and had a great scheme."
Granted, Fred Fateri could probably have implemented an offence Flutie could've run with success. Besides, he was a star before he got here. But the way Hufnagel used Flutie from 1990-95 allowed the little magician to shatter several prominent CFL records.
After seven years as the Stamps' offensive guru, Hufnagel departed for his only head coaching gig, as boss of the Arena League's New Jersey Red Dogs.
Two years later, the former Stamps/Roughriders/NFL quarterback did stints as quarterbacks coach in Cleveland, Indy, Jacksonville and New England, where he was a Super Bowl winner, before taking over the New York Giants offence.
In what has become a public relations nightmare, word was leaked to the Sun Hufnagel was signed to a lucrative, long-term deal by Stampeders ownership several months ago to replace Tom Higgins and head up football operations.
And while most believe he's a good signing, it'll take time for the club to recover from the way it was handled.
"He's not the type who wears his emotions in his sleeve," said Garcia of Hufnagel, undoubtedly furious his signing was leaked.
"I think you knew when you disappointed him or upset him. It wasn't how he said things -- it was just the look he had. He isn't the type to scream and yell but had a great way to get his point across. The more you got to know him, the better the relationship developed."
His next football relationship starts today at 1:30 p.m.