TORONTO - If Sunday’s Grey Cup game is anything like the coaches press conference, it might not be a bad tilt at all.
Not much was expected out of the annual session on Wednesday, which included a picture of both coaches with the Cup and then half an hour of questions and answers about everything from Xs and Os to their thoughts on sex before the big game.
Calgary’s John Hufnagel and Toronto’s Scott Milanovich were engaging, thoughtful and funny when the opportunity presented itself. That’s not always the case when it comes to the guys who would rather be in the film room, but perhaps they realized this was the 100th Grey Cup and the time was right. They’re not the most quotable coaches in the three-down loop, but on this day they were pretty good.
The coaches are a couple of no-nonsense guys from Pennsylvania. Both are former quarterbacks, neither has a Twitter account that we’re aware of, and they don’t give paint-peeling pre-game speeches. While Hufnagel is 61 years old and Milanovich is 39, they aren’t much different in the big picture. This week is not about them. They obviously have egos, but it’s tough to see them.
“My name being on that Cup is not important. I have two rings, and I also lost one to this gentleman sitting next to me,” Milanovich said. “What is important for me is for our players’ names to be on it. This is about them. It’s never been about me. It’s about our players. It’s about what (GM) Jim Barker did bringing everybody in here. It’s for our organization.”
Milanovich may be the rookie boss, but he’s been down this road so many times before as Montreal’s offensive co-ordinator that he knows the lay of the land. He’ll no doubt have butterflies on Sunday, but it won’t be because he’s not prepared. Hufnagel does have an edge in experience, but he’s been a head coach only three years longer than his counterpart.
“I haven’t talked to anybody else (for advice),” Milanovich said. “When I was with Montreal, I was very fortunate Marc (Trestman) kept me very involved in the day-to-day operations of what he was doing to the point of making itineraries for Grey Cup week and scheduling up his time and what he would be doing. So I had pretty good experience.
“It’s all about budgeting and managing your time, and I had some pretty good plans from the past to go on.”
There is a bit of negative history between the two, as Milanovich stole Hufnagel’s defensive co-ordinator, Chris Jones, last December in a bit of old-fashioned CFL thievery that led to a $5,000 tampering fine for the Argos. Both men tried to downplay the incident on Wednesday.
“It was two friends talking,” Milanovich said. “I talked to coach Hufnagel about this after the situation. I wish it would’ve happened differently, but it originated as Chris calling me to congratulate me and it turned into more than that.”
Hufnagel, despite being the victim, wanted to talk about it even less.
“That’s yesterday’s news,” he said. “I thought we were talking about the 100th year anniversary Grey Cup. What I said, I said, and I’m not changing what I said. Move on.”
And soon they did, a couple of no-nonsense coaches from Pennsylvania going back to their war rooms in an attempt to get Canadian football glory to fall on their players. Both are eminently qualified to do just that, which means their coaching battle should get more attention than they no doubt want it to receive.
It doesn’t sound like John Hufnagel or Scott Milanovich are overly concerned about their players being distracted this week.
The Argos will have a curfew beginning on Thursday, while Calgary’s will kick in on Friday night. Until then, they can have fun but cannot forget why they’re here.
“For the next few days they’re aware of what they need to be doing,” Hufnagel said. “This is not the first road trip that they’ve taken, and I expect them to do the things necessary throughout the day — and the evening — to give themselves a chance to win this game.
“They’re grown men. I respect that, and I have not been disappointed.”
Milanovich has a different situation since his players are at home, but they will spend the bulk of their week in a downtown hotel to keep them focused on the task at hand.
“Hopefully our guys got the city of Toronto’s nightlife out of their system during that three-game losing streak we had,” Milanovich deadpanned.
“I’ve tried to impress upon them that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t have any regrets. They’ve got the rest of their lives to party.”