Ticats coach a no-brainer

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

I don't carry a silk purse, but if somebody made one from a sow's ear, I'd seriously consider it.

I bring this up as the CFL prepares to hand out its annual coach-of-the-year award at a luncheon here in town today.

The three finalists up for the Annis Stukus Trophy are B.C. Lions boss Wally Buono, Mike Pinball Clemons of the Toronto Argonauts and Greg Marshall of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

That's in alphabetical order.

Reverse the order, and you've got the way I rank their performances during the 2004 season.

To put it more succinctly, if Marshall doesn't take home the hardware today, then we'll know it's time to begin drug-testing the Football Reporters of Canada.

Come to think of it, that might not be a bad idea, anyway.

But back to our award finalists.

Wally Buono is one of the best coaches in CFL history, trailing only the venerable Don Matthews in career victories.

But this is not a lifetime achievement award.

DISSIPATED

While Buono did a fine job with the 13-5 Lions in '05, any chance he had of getting his name on the Stukus Trophy for a third time dissipated into the crisp Ottawa air on Grey Cup Sunday.

That's when Buono temporarily took leave of his senses and not only started Dave Dickenson at quarterback against the Argos, but left him in for the entire game -- and left CFL most outstanding player Casey Printers on the bench.

Sorry, Wally. The coach of the year doesn't make that mistake.

And Pinball was only too happy to take advantage, as his Argos upset the Leos 27-19.

But winning the Grey Cup shouldn't be the ultimate measuring stick for the coach-of-the-year award any more than winning the Stanley Cup or Super Bowl are.

Clemons, you'll recall, was the beneficiary of a spending spree (hello, Arland Bruce III) by Toronto owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon, who saw a chance to throw one heck of a party at Cynamon's mansion.

This isn't to downplay Clemon's abilities, or the Argos' accomplishment. But it simply wasn't the coaching job of the year.

In fact, Pinball probably did a better job in 2003, guiding his team through the collapse of former owner Sherwood Schwarz, the takeover of the Argos by the CFL and the eventual sale to the new guys, and still reaching the division final.

Which brings us to Marshall, the guy who'd get my vote, if I had one.

The fact Marshall is the first person to go directly from the Canadian college ranks (McMaster University) to a head-coaching job in the CFL is kind of neat, but it's not the reason he should win.

What he did in leading the Ticats to a 9-8-1 record, one win behind the Argos, and into the playoffs, is.

Remember, this was a team that couldn't beat a rug in '03, bumbling its way to a 1-17 record and turning off even the die-hards in Steeltown.

Taking that over is like being voted captain of the ship once it's hit the iceberg and settled at the bottom of the ocean.

Somehow, Marshall coaxed another good season out of quarterback Danny McManus, no less a miracle than getting the Rolling Stones to write another Exile on Main Street.

Sure, he got some help from billionaire owner Bob Young, who signed a few key free agents. But he got far more players to put the previous season behind them, and believe in what he was doing.

Not to mention repair their shattered psyches.

From a sow's ear to a silk purse.

And all this as a rookie CFL head coach.

Was there even a need to vote on it?


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