Hufnagel caps season with coaching honour

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:20 AM ET

Winning a Grey Cup in his first year as a head coach in the Canadian Football League speaks volumes about Calgary Stampeders bench boss and GM John Hufnagel.

So, too, does the fact his name will be engraved on the Annis Stukus Trophy he received yesterday in Hamilton as the 2008 CFL Coach of the Year.

Good thing those awards say it all, because you won't hear Hufnagel talking much about his personal accomplishments without directing credit right back to the team he led to the championship.

"It's an honour to receive this award, but it doesn't just belong to me," Hufnagel said. "It belongs to our entire organization. From our ownership group to our coaching staff to our support staff to our players to our fans, everyone had a hand in our individual and team successes in 2008. I'm proud to represent all those people here today."

Stamps QB Henry Burris represented the players he guided. The league flew him in to present the award to Hufnagel.

Seeing those two together on the stage at the annual luncheon was a small glimpse at the kind of chemistry the coach brought to the Stamps' locker-room.

Beating out fellow freshmen coaches Marc Trestman of the Montreal Alouettes and the Saskatchewan Roughriders' Ken Miller in the Football Reporters of Canada voting, Hufnagel made his mark on the team with words. Strong ones, at times, as he expressed his ideas on what they needed to do to improve.

He also listened.

"I tried to be as clear with my communication to the players so they fully understood. I really tried very hard to establish a trust factor between the locker-room and the coach's office -- whether it was my office, or the co-ordinator's office, or the position coach office," said Hufnagel, who led the team to a league-best 13-5 regular-season record.

"I'm striving to even improve on that.

"My mind, my eyes were opened up since I became a head coach about the importance of effective communication. That, for me, is the starting point of the success that we had this past year."

Burris and the rest of the members of a solid team Hufnagel inherited when hired as GM and head coach in December of 2007 responded.

"It has been a pleasure to work with coach Huf and learn from him this past year," Burris said. "He raised the level of expectation and accountability within our team and guys obviously responded well.

"From the first day of camp, he earned respect and led us to the championship."

Culminating with the 22-14 Grey Cup win over the Als in Montreal in November, Hufnagel knows a repeat performance won't be easy.

"I think it's very difficult to win in the Canadian Football League year in and year out. That's what makes Wally Buono's accomplishment so outstanding, that he has been able to do that," said Hufnagel, who served as an assistant under Buono when the current B.C. Lions coach claimed back-to-back coach of the year honours in 1992 and '93.

Other Stampeders coaches who have won the award include Tom Higgins (2005), Jack Gotta (1978) and Jerry Williams (1967).

"Just because you had a good year one year, doesn't automatically mean you'll have success the next year, but that is the ultimate challenge -- having success year in and year out."


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