In Tabbies he trusts

JIM BENDER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

You have to admire the honesty of a man given the thankless task of turning a terrible Tabbies team around.

Yet new Hamilton head coach Charlie Taaffe has never been accused of using smoke and mirrors, especially during his brief but successful sojourn as the Montreal Alouettes head coach (1999-2000).

"I don't have a magic wand that you wave and all of the problems are erased," Taaffe told reporters during a CFL state-of-the-union teleconference call on the eve of training camp. "Building a team is like building any organization. It starts with trust, mutual respect and treating people the way you want to be treated -- with dignity and with an open and honest communication."

That worked for Taaffe in Montreal, where he earned CFL coach of the year honours twice and took the Als to the 2000 Grey Cup, losing to B.C.

New Tiger-Cats GM Marcel Desjardins, who had been the assistant GM in Montreal, lured Taaffe back to the CFL because he believes Taaffe is the man who can put some teeth back into the Pussycat Dolls, who finished 4-14 and out of the playoffs last year.

"With the changes in Hamilton, and I have known Marcel going back to Montreal together, it seemed like a good fit," Taaffe said during a break at training camp last week. "I was very impressed with (club owner) Bob Young, the fan support and all of the other positives away from the field. The only thing that hasn't been a positive was on the field and I saw it as a real challenge."

Taaffe did admit he discussed the Montreal head coaching position with Als GM Jim Popp last season.

"Jim Popp and I are friends and we had a brief discussion about it," said Taaffe, who signed a three-year pact with Hamilton. "But I'm really happy being here. There's a chance to take a program and turn it around here. In Montreal, there was not as much room for growth."

Taaffe, who took over the head coaching reins from Dave Ritchie (who then landed in Winnipeg) in Montreal, had immediate success, leading the squad to identical 12-6 seasons. He left abruptly, taking an assistant's job at the University of Maryland.

"I had four great years in Montreal and won a lot of games there," said the Albany. N.Y., native, who started as the Als' offensive co-ordinator. "I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed it. But I left because of family and it made more sense to return to the States because I had a lot of years invested in the U.S. (college) retirement system.

"I was not unhappy with Montreal or with the CFL. I love the CFL game, particularly the offence."

Taaffe's wife Jan and son Brian will remain at their Baltimore home. It's Brian's senior year at high school and the young quarterback is being heavily recruited.

"My son's a better quarterback than I was, definitely," said Taaffe, a former college QB. "Now I'm seeing it from the dad side of it. My son's with me here in training camp. He's been up here working out and throwing to the receivers and stuff."

Taaffe had planned to take a year off to serve as a volunteer coach at his son's school last season but answered an SOS from Pittsburgh's Dave Wannstedt instead.

Now he'll concentrate on the task at hand in Steeltown.

"I really don't think this team's that far away, judging from the tape I saw. It's a fresh start, with a new administration and a new coaching staff. Coming off a 4-14 season, changes are necessary but there is still a lot of veteran leadership on our club -- guys like George Hudson, (Rob) Hitchcock and (Mike) Morreale.

"But training camp is really where you form your team and all your team bonds. Training camp is critical to us."


Videos

Photos