Marshall back for more

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:55 AM ET

HAMILTON -- It doesn't change any, Greg Marshall said.

From the time the Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach was a tot in Guelph playing football in the backyard against brothers Blake, Scott and Brett, the newness of a football season has remained unchanged.

"When we started beating on the neighbours, that's when we had to play among ourselves," Marshall laughed in reference to those days four decades ago, while 74 Ticat players trudged off the McMaster University field after practice yesterday. "I was oldest and Blake was youngest, so we played the two in between."

It is another time of renewal for the ex-Mustang great. This time, he hopes his squad can cap the spectacular turnaround of his rookie season two years ago and the fall-off of last term with a playoff run.

He would like to see this season's results at least between his 9-8-1 season when he was named the Canadian Football League coach of the year and last year's 5-13-0.

"I think one of the things we learned from that first season was a combination of the guys working really hard and also pulling a few rabbits out of the hat," he said. "We were a better football team, but five or six games came down that could have gone either way. Last year, we didn't win the close ones and got a lot of bad breaks."

Almost every team was a better football team than the Cats of three years ago. Hamilton established some futility records in losing 17 and winning one before Marshall came on the scene.

Hope springs eternal in all sports but none as much as football. The dynamics permit fast turnarounds -- and not just on the field.

Marshall added Joe Paopao, former head coach of the now-defunct Ottawa Renegades, to his staff, for example. The Throwin' Samoan is the Cats' offensive coordinator and effectively second in command.

The Ticats seem to be developing a good-cop (Paopao), bad-cop (Marshall) leadership. Few coaches in the CFL get as excited as Marshall on the sidelines.

"He's under control and you think that's kind of his personality," Marshall said of Paopao, "but he coaches hard. I've been impressed with the tempo of practices. In fact, the first day I thought was the best practice we've had since I've been here."

It's only been three days in, but a number of players have made an impression on their head coach. He mentioned offensive lineman George Hudson, Wayne Smith, Fabio Felice, Demetrius Walker.

He especially cited running back Josh Ranek as "every bit as good as we thought,"

"He's one of those players that when things aren't going well or it's a windy day or a rainy day, we know we can put the ball in Josh's hands and he'll bang it in there hard."

Marshall was impressed with Corey Holmes and Anthony Davis and several more and soon, as coaches often do, he pretty well went down the roster.

As mentioned, hope springs eternal.

It certainly did for ex-Mustang Roger Dunbrack, who escaped Ottawa before the demise to find himself living a childhood dream.

"This is the team I worshipped when I was growing up, so to get a chance in my eighth year last season to finally come home was an enormous thrill," Dunbrack said. "Especially with the attendance growth and enthusiasm.

"We truly have a home-field advantage, especially on defence. We say 'Make noise,' and the place just goes nuts."

Marshall reached into the past to bring Dunbrack in -- although not as far back as his childhood. Marshall coached Dunbrack with the Mustangs and knew better than anyone what he was getting.

Dunbrack rotates with Adriano Belli and DeVonte Peterson.

"We don't miss a beat with Roger in there," Marshall said. "He really impressed our defensive coaches last year."

The Ticats remain unbeaten. Tomorrow, the Toronto Argonauts.


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