Make it Maciocia

Edmonton Eskimos new head coach Danny Maciocia poses for a family photo with his daughter Juliana,...

Edmonton Eskimos new head coach Danny Maciocia poses for a family photo with his daughter Juliana, who's being held by his wife, Sandra, following a news conference yesterday at Commonwealth Stadium. (Edmonton Sun/Walter Tychnowicz)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

If Danny Maciocia is successful, he's going to be one of the great Canadian sports stories of all time.

Heck, he became a pretty good one yesterday when it was finally made official that the 37-year-old had become the new head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos.

Maciocia is a short, stumpy guy who wasn't born with the body to be a football player.

He's a guy from Montreal who came out of bantam football to junior football to quit his job and spend his first two years in the CFL as a volunteer coach with the Montreal Alouettes.

To end up as the 15th head coach of the league's flagship franchise eight years later, when you think about it, is amazing.

He's one year older than Hugh Campbell was when he took over an Eskimo team which, like the one Maciocia takes over, had won a Grey Cup a year back and needed some tweaking to return to form.

I believe seeing a lot of himself in Maciocia is one reason CEO Campbell, along with COO Rick LeLacheur, chose Maciocia as the last coach he'll hire before he calls it a career.

"Danny knows the Eskimos, the system and the league a lot better than I did when I came here. And he speaks two more languages than I do. I think he's going to do very well," said Campbell.

AN EXCITING TIME

"I think this is an exciting time in our history. It's great to have a Canadian and a young man who has his whole career ahead of him in the position. He's the right guy for this time in our history," added Gluey Hughie, the former Saskatchewan Roughriders star receiver who came out of Whitworth College in Washington to become head coach here and win five Grey Cups in a row.

Maciocia is the Eskimos' first Canadian-born head coach since Annis Stukus, who was Edmonton's first head coach in 1949.

With Wally Buono in B.C., Greg Marshall in Hamilton, Jim Daley in Winnipeg and now Maciocia in Edmonton, that's four Canadian head coaches in the league next year.

"The perception of the game of football is that it is run by Americans," said Maciocia. "It's been a tough thing to live with. In Montreal, I'd be in meetings and American coaches would say 'And where have you coached?' I'd say bantam football and junior football.

"I'm proud of where I came from. To be hired as a head coach, especially of this team, means an awful lot."

This is a guy who went overseas and coached the Bergamo Lions for two years and to two titles in the Italian League and a guy who coaches Team Canada, our U-19 team in the international tournament every year at the Super Bowl.

And he's not going to let a little thing like becoming a head coach in the CFL stop him from doing that again this year.

"I'm going to do it. I made a commitment," he said.

The Eskimos didn't hire Maciocia because he was Canadian. The point is that they didn't make it a reason not to hire him, especially combined with the fact he wasn't a player.

"Growing up in Canadian football, Danny has really earned his stripes," said LeLacheur.

"He's an up-and-comer with a lot of energy. He's a player's coach. He has a very good relationship with Ricky Ray, and if Ricky is available to come back to the CFL we're going to go after him, absolutely."

A GENUINELY NICE MAN

Unlike Tom Higgins, a genuinely nice man fans never really liked for some reason, the fans will be cheering for Maciocia big time.

How can they not? He's Canadian. He's an unbelievable story. He's about as fan- friendly as you can get. And the media is going to enjoy his time here, too.

"There are three kinds of coaches," he says. "There are the ones who don't read the papers. There are the ones who say they don't read the papers, but really do. And there's guys like me who read the papers and admit it.

"I enjoy the fans and the media. I have a lot of my father in me. I idolized my father. I learned a lot from him. He was constantly in the spotlight," he said of the Quebec MLA for 21 years, who is now a City Council member in Montreal.

"My dad coached me through it," said Maciocia of the interview process.

"It wasn't easy to deal with this. My dad coached me up. I phoned him Sunday night when I could finally tell him I was going to be named head coach for sure. I had to kind of make it a short call when I heard him start to break up."

Maciocia says he's coaching a team which has averaged just under 12 wins a year for the last three years and says there's no reason to expect anything less than that.

"I understand the expectations here. I'm not kidding myself. I intend on this team being special in 2005," he said.

This is a team which, counting Ron Lancaster's final season, just hired a fifth coach in the last nine years. That's very un-Eskimo. But Maciocia, especially if he's able to deliver Ricky Ray back to the Eskimos, has a good chance to have a nice, long run here.

"After the interview process for this job, the season itself should be a cinch," he laughed.


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