Hufnagel credits supporting cast

Coach Hufnagel speaks to the crowd during a Grey Cup rally at Olympic Plaza in downtown Calgary on...

Coach Hufnagel speaks to the crowd during a Grey Cup rally at Olympic Plaza in downtown Calgary on Nov. 25, 2008. (Lyle Aspinall/Calgary Sun/SUN MEDIA)

BILLY POWERS

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

It took less than one year for a major decision by Calgary Stampeder management to return the biggest of possible returns, a Grey Cup championship.

Eleven months and change after they recruited John Hufnagel to be their GM and head coach, they claimed the title with a hard-fought 22-14 win over the Montreal Alouettes a week ago today.

This week, I got to sit with Huff in his McMahon Stadium office to get the lowdown on the amazing turnaround, and you might not be surprised to learn he took little of the credit.The question was how did it happen?

"First, you have good players, a good organization and you don't screw things up, and you just let them go play," Hufnagel said. "Our players had a lot of passion to play the game, and they prepared themselves hard each and every week."

He went on to say "the coaching staff I was able to put together when I got the job here is just an excellent group, and both co-ordinators (George Cortez and Chris Jones) are the best in the league, although I am biased. The young coaches on the staff are tremendous assets."

Preparation is everything.

"At camp, I told the 42 roster players, the four inactives, the guys on the injured list and practice roster players that they were going to prepare each and every week like they were starters because you never know when you're actually going to be on the football field.

"They did an excellent job of staying in focus, and when they had opportunities to play, they were able to perform at a high level."

When I suggested it was he who made Henry Burris a better quarterback -- like he had in the NFL with guys like Tom Brady and Peyton and Eli Manning -- he negated the idea.

"It was all George Cortez with some influence from Dave Dickenson thrown in there. But I did explain to Henry that you do not have to go out and win football games yourself. I want you to manage the game, and it's my job to get the players around you to help you win games. He did cut down on his mistakes, he managed the game very well, and he played with a lot of courage."

I asked about his coaching staff, with two jobs open at the time and a third opening in Edmonton the next day.

"I hope to have everybody back and I expect to have everybody back," he said. "We'll start talking on Monday."

When I questioned him about losing league-leading scorer and Grey Cup hero Sandro DeAngelis to the NFL, his response was "I wish him well and would welcome him back with open arms if he doesn't make it.

"But we have to look ahead and we may have to go and make that a designated import spot and adjust the roster accordingly, because I don't know whether or not we can find a capable kicker that is a Canadian citizen. I just don't know at this time."

Another heading south will be all-Canadian cornerback Brandon Browner, and I wondered if Hufnagel would try to sign him early.

"No, Brandon has made it very clear what his intentions are: To try the NFL. And while he'd be welcomed back if it turned out that way. His spot will be filled by a more than capable replacement if he doesn't," the Stamps boss said.

That, in a nutshell, was my face-to-face discussion with the man I think should be a shoo-in as CFL coach of the year for 2008.

But remember, it's a media vote, so Don Matthews of Toronto could still have a shot. I'm kidding, of course.

One owner is ready to pay off on a promise -- Ted Hellard, the club's managing partner, knows it'll be costly.

"I promised the offensive line if we won the Grey Cup, I'd take them all to Las Vegas. The flights, rooms and drinks don't bother me, but I worry about the food that they can tuck away."

We wrap up on another football note. The head referee at last week's Vanier Cup final in Hamilton was none other than Calgary's own Al Maillot, who I happened to play fastball with years ago in the Industrial League.

We mention it because that was his final game after 30 years with the Calgary Minor Football Association.


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