Hope game hasn't passed Huf

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:49 AM ET

Last time John Hufnagel coached a CFL game, the Macarena was still popular.

We're not sure with who, but somebody liked it back in 1996.

We were all listening to Alanis Morrissette belt out -- or is that screech? -- You Oughta Know while blathering about Chuck and Di's divorce, celebrating that Donovan Bailey gave us reason to watch Olympic track and field, lamenting the Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup win in the team's first season away from Quebec and anticipating the future of a 20-year-old Tiger Woods after he won his third straight U.S. Amateur title.

Yes, it's been that long since the Calgary Stampeders GM/head coach patrolled a CFL sideline in earnest.

It's been that long since he was the offensive guru who made the Stampeders an offensive juggernaut each and every outing.

And, man, the game's changed.

While taking part in a conference call yesterday -- the State of the Franchise address -- Hufnagel admitted Canadian football isn't what he left behind to first work in the Arena Football League and then the NFL.

The biggest difference is on defence.

Namely, he pointed out, the speed today's defenders have compared to when he designed an offence for Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia.

"You don't see, in my mind, as many big plays as there were when I was coaching the Calgary Stampeders," Hufnagel said. "It's a lot harder to create the mismatches we were once able to create."

The next biggest difference, he suggested, was the diversity in defensive schemes.

Sure, on first down it's much the same, but ...

"As soon as you get in second-and-long situations, they have a number of packages they can throw at you, which really wasn't part of the game," he said.

Now, though, the onus is on Hufnagel to design the schemes needed to take the Stampeders to the next level. Sure, the bulk of the work will fall on offensive co-ordinator George Cortez and defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones, but Hufnagel is the one pegged to be the Pied Piper.

Of the Stampeders' additions this off-season, he's the biggest, and he'll be counted on to lead the Stamps from good to great.

Fans want Hufnagel's second stint in the Stampede City to be akin to his first. Six times in the seven years he was with the team, the Stamps finished atop the West Division.

"All the focus should be on the players," he insisted.

In the CFL, that always begins with the quarterback.

Henry Burris elevated his game last season, and the next test is for Smilin' Hank to get to the next level.

Hufnagel insists the way Burris regrouped after a horrible start, both for himself and the team, is a big step for the future.

"The sign of a really good football player is the ability to change that, and he did. From that point on, he played excellent football. He had injuries and that affected the end of the season, but all in all I thought he took a step forward in his overall play," Hufnagel said.

EXTRA POINTS

Stampeders FB Gerald Commissiong announced his retirement yesterday in order to pursue professional opportunities away from the game. Calgary was anticipating the decision, and it's one reason Jonathan Lapointe was chosen in the draft to go with Rob Cote ... Import offensive linemen Antonio Hall and Ben Archibald signed with the team. Hall played Saskatchewan Roughriders from 2005 to 2007, seeing action in 2006, while Archibald spent time with the New Orleans Saints.


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