Ticats skip tops in CFL

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

He graduated from a top Canadian college coach to being named the best head mentor of pro football in all of the country in just one full semester.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats Greg Marshall was named the CFL Coach of the Year at a luncheon held at Canad Inns-Polo Park yesterday.

"Wow!" an emotional Marshall exclaimed just after CFL commissioner Tom Wright made the announcement before a sold-out crowd of 560.

Marshall received a standing ovation as he made his way to the mike.

"I was very surprised," he said afterward. "I had to kind of catch my breath there while Tom was opening the envelope. My heart started racing and it was very exciting. It was a special moment.

"I appreciate being part of a great organization and that was a reflection of our organization -- and not just the football part. We have a special team in Hamilton right now that (new owner) Bob (Young) and (president) Dave (Sauve) have put together. Coach of the Year is really Team of the Year."

Marshall, 45, turned a team that was 1-17 in 2003 into a playoff squad with a 9-8-1 record last season. He beat out Mike (Pinball) Clemons of Toronto and B.C.'s Wally Buono.

"It was an honour to be nominated with Wally Buono, a CFL legend, and Pinball, a CFL icon," said Marshall, who earned 19 of a possible 30 first-place votes from the Football Reporters of Canada. "It was an exciting year and I learned a lot."

Clemons, who led the Argonauts to the Grey Cup, received 10 votes while Buono got just one.

Although the honour most often goes to the coach of the Grey Cup victors, Clemons was not surprised.

"The bigger surprise was what he was able to do as a first-year coach," he said. "You have to marvel at being able to come in as a university coach into the environment that existed (in Hamilton) and to bring it the distance that it travelled in a one-year timeframe. That is truly a remarkable accomplishment and certainly worthy of the accolades that he received (yesterday). When you have walked that mile, it is truly a respectable feat."

And excuse Hamilton GM Ron Lancaster Sr. if he was slapping himself on the back for gambling on the unproven Canuck coach.

"The big thing in coaching is to be able to reach the players because you're dealing with different personalities," he said. "To step into a professional organization like he did and to build it as fast as he did tells you that it's something he did want to do all the time.

"You really aren't surprised because you see what he's trying to accomplish. To make the playoffs in the first year, yeah, we're a little bit surprised at that. At least I was."

Marshall, whose middle son, Brian, celebrated his 14th birthday yesterday, was asked what he will do for an encore.

"We'd like to win the Grey Cup," he replied. "That was our goal this year. People said to me, 'In your wildest dreams, did you think about winning nine games?' In my wildest dreams, I thought about winning the Grey Cup. It may not have been realistic to go from 1-17 to Grey Cup champion. But in the CFL, you've just got to make the playoffs. So, for an encore, get to the playoffs and take another run at it."


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