Argos coach's road to Grey Cup almost gambled away

Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich speaks to the media at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont.,...

Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich speaks to the media at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont., Nov. 22, 2012. (JACK BOLAND/QMI Agency)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:52 PM ET

TORONTO - Scott Milanovich is not adverse to gambling.

It is part of who he is and how he approaches his job as head coach of the Toronto Argonauts. It was part of who he was when he young and naive and playing quarterback at the University of Maryland.

The success story of Milanovich -- rookie head coach leading Toronto to the 100th Grey Cup game in Toronto -- cannot be told without the accompanying bumps in the road. It's part of what makes him so direct and so engaging.

"I don't know if anyone's road is easy," the Argos coach said.

Or as quarterback Ricky Ray said Thursday: "Everyone has their story."

Twice, in Sunday's Eastern final, Milanovich gambled on third down, going for the larger prize but coming away empty-handed each time -- except he wound up the winner in Montreal.

Earlier in his life, all full of boastful youth and a college star's naivete, his football career, his life really, almost unraveled when the University of Maryland caught him gambling on college football and college basketball games, turned their information over to the NCAA, and at first Milanovich was suspended for eight games for what now seems little more than misdemeanor.

Now, looking back, it seems like nothing. Back then, it probably seemed like everything.

He was the star quarterback at a school known for quarterbacks: Neil O'Donnell and Frank Reich and Stan Gelbaugh (remember him?) and Boomer Esiason had come before him at Maryland. He was just the latest. Until his world -- dramatically but temporarily -- came crashing to a halt.

"There's always setbacks," said Milanovich, sitting on a Grey Cup podium, looking back. "There's moments like that throughout your career. There's moments like that (difficult moments) in your coaching career."

He then told the story of a pass he threw as a college sophomore. The game was against Virginia. It was the first start of his college career and he looked the part. "It was late in the fourth quarter and we were losing and I went to throw." The ball should have been intercepted. "But it went right through his hands and our receiver caught it and went 80 yards for a touchdown. And I stayed in the game."

He stayed until he missed the four games -- originally the suspension was eight -- but not without thoughts of leaving Maryland, heading early to the NFL draft, dropping out of school (which he basically did for one semester) and no doubt never thinking that one day he would be a professional head coach, days away from the championship game. How different might his life had turned out if he made the wrong decision.

The gambling he does now comes on third and short. Do you kick or do you go? The gambling he did at Maryland -- the suspension in retrospect deems greater than the crime -- was for reasonably small amounts on games that didn't involve his school. He and some teammates were involved. Milanovich may have gotten busted because, according to one story, he tried to get a girl's attention by bragging how much he gambled on a game. He exaggerated the amount, apparently. He wanted to look like a big shot, as if being Maryland's starting quarterback wasn't big enough: Kids, they make these kind of mistakes.

Now he coaches the same kind of kids, with eyes wide open and an open mind on a CFL team that won its last Grey Cup with a team of second-chancers. Milanovich's Argo team has no one suspended for life from the NFL the way Bernard Williams was in past Argo days.

He talks about how fortunate he has been, to have his father as coach and mentor, to work with Anthony Calvillo in Montreal, to be coached by Tony Dungy and Clyde Christensen in Tampa (Christensen is now Andrew Luck's coach in Indianapolis).

This is Grey Cup Week in Canada, Thanksgiving Weekend in the United States: Right now, as an American in Canada, he couldn't ask for anything more, fully comprehending where he is and where he has been.

"I have a strong support system," said Milanovich. "My family has always been there for me. My teammates (in the past) were always there for me. And it's kind of like we always talk about. It's not the last play, it's the next play. Keep your eyes focused on what's important.

"Be honest and admit you make mistakes. And when it's time to move on, people respect that."


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