They're real Eskimos

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

Danny Maciocia finally feels like he's coaching Eskimos now as opposed to the Eskimos. There's a difference.

And as they say in Maciocia's native Quebec, vive la difference.

"They are Eskimos in that locker-room now. I can feel it. I can sense it. I can see it in the way they react with one another in the room and the way they practise. It's the first time I can trust that they are all on the same page. I believe they are now. I don't think they were four or five weeks ago."

That's a mouthful event for a motor-mouth son of a politician.

ROOKIE MISTAKE, MAYBE

Maciocia says he did not understand why so many people wanted to tell him he couldn't make so many changes in the off-season and not have that hurt him along the way. Rookie mistake, maybe. But it's where you end up at the end of the season. And he's headed to Calgary for the final game of the regular season completely convinced his team is going into this game and the post-season where he wants them to be.

"Despite the number of changes we made I thought we could just change the names on the jersey and just go out and play. It wasn't that easy," he said of what turned out to be an astonishing 26 players on this team who weren't Eskimos last year and played at least one regular season game so far this year.

But now it's crunch time Sunday afternoon in McMahon Stadium against Tom Higgins's Calgary Stampeders. The winner will host a playoff game. The loser will finish third.

Maciocia says he's going into his first post-season as a head coach with a comfort zone and a confidence in his team he didn't know if he'd have a month ago.

Part of it was giving the players ownership.

"We have a leadership committee," he said. "It had to meet twice this year. It's not a committee I want to have to call in. If there is a problem in the locker-room, it's their locker-room."

The point is that at the end of the day the players play. And now they're about to play the games that pay.

Now they're about to play the games where the starting quarterback and the back-up special teams player make the same money.

"The guy sitting next to you is holding your money," said Maciocia of the way he puts it to his players. "You better make sure he's straight and is good to go."

It's $5,800 for making the final via the semi-final - $6,000 if you finish first. Plus there's $6,000 to the Grey Cup loser and $12,000 to the Grey Cup winner.

At the stage of the season when you look forwards not backwards, Maciocia admits it's been a journey to get to where he thinks he is with his first team.

"I've lived more this year than some coaches do in four or five years," he said after the TV camera crews cleared from his pre-practice media session yesterday.

"It's been a great experience."

Whatever happens from here, the Canadian who never played football, who started his pro coaching career as a volunteer, says he's excited to get to the must-win games which make or break coaching careers with his team together and ready, he totally believes, to rock and roll.

It's mostly about team, not scheme, going into this one, says Maciocia.

"I really believe they know what we're going to do and we know what they're going to do. It's like turn over the cards and here we go. You go first," he says.

HIS OWN OFFENSIVE CO-ORDINATOR

As his own offensive co-ordinator Maciocia knows the game within the game is against Denny Creehan's defence.

"They play so much zone it's unheard of," he said. "I have an opinion on why they do it, but I'm not going to express that opinion. They take everything over the top away. We're going to take what they give us."

Maciocia is confident his club has come together to handle everything they see now.

"It's taken longer than I first anticipated. But I'm happy where we're at right now. We don't fear anybody," says the coach of the team which will go into the playoffs having won their last game against everybody in the playoffs if they win this one.

"The last three games have been ideal. They have been playoff-type games. I said our last four games would define us."

This one is the fourth.


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