Marshall isn't about to rest on his laurels

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

He's only got one season under his belt as a pro coach but Greg Marshall has been around football long enough to know that personal honours are transitory things.

Of course, he's delighted to have been nominated for the Canadian Football League coach-of-the-year award. Of course, he'd love to win it.

But after having played the key role in extracting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from the worst season in the club's 136-year history, he's not about to bask in the glow.

Stand still on the football field and you're likely to get run down. Stand still as a coach and you're like to get run off.

"Sure, it's nice to be recognized, particularly with guys like (fellow-nominees) Wally Buono and Michael (Pinball) Clemons," says Marshall, who went directly from success as head man with the McMaster University Marauders to downtown Hamilton and the Ticats.

If you're sensing a "but," it's there. The rookie Canadian coach's pragmatic side comes out.

Unless the Ticats build upon their impressive comeback from a 1-17 season with last summer's plus-.500 football, none of it will mean anything. Particularly if the head coach no longer is head coach.

It happens all the time. The echoes of wild adulation for his coaching acumen had barely faded when Don Matthews got the axe. And he is a record five-time winner of the CFL coaching Oscar.

Nope, recognition is nice but strange bounces can happen in the game with the oblong ball.

Take Buono. He owned the football hearts of Calgarians with his success at the helm of the Stampeders. A dynasty was underway just like the ones they used to have to the north in Edmonton.

Three Grey Cups, two coach-of-the-year awards and what happens? Buono is history as the result of a whimsical owner and now heading to the B.C. Lions.

Not that erratic ownership is a Hamilton problem. Multi-millionaire Bob Young arrived with an open mind as well as an open wallet when he took control of the cash-strapped Tiger-Cats.

But he's a businessman, too. Results more important than coaching honours are expected.

"Sure, we all were very pleased with how the season went," Marshall said. "The start was great, but then losing five in a row was tough. But we rebounded well and were better than anybody our last nine games."

They were ousted in the playoffs by the hated Toronto Argonauts, but a 9-8-1 season on the heels of a 1-17 campaign is pretty impressive stuff for any coach, let alone a rookie with minimal CFL playing experience and zero CFL coaching background.

One of the most promising Canadian running backs to arrive in the CFL in decades, Marshall was injured early and often and never really got a chance to show his stuff with the Edmonton Eskimos.

His impact as a head coach has been as thunderous as the former Western Mustang and Canadian university MVP's concussive rushes. Read into it what you will.

Marshall is aware a coach is measured on what his team is doing this year, not last. The appetites of soldout Ivor Wynne Stadium fans have been whetted.

"The expectations are high," Marshall says. "But so are those of the coaching staff. We're in the process of signing our free agents -- we don't have many -- and we know we have to be a little bit better."

All his assistants are in place. Ownership is sound. He's got a season under his belt.

In other words, things are looking pretty healthy around the Ambitious City.

The coaching bauble next week would be nice, but not essential.

The only essential thing for a pro football coach is winning.


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