July 27, 2012
Creehan putting his stamp on Ticats defence
By BILL LANKOFF, QMI Agency
HAMILTON - Like father, like son.
Denny Creehan was never short of a word during his tenure as a CFL coach with the Ticats and Stampeders.
He had a rapier tongue; the quickest lip this side of Buddy Ryan, and could dissect officials, opponents and — when they weren’t playing up to his standards — his own players with the precision of a master surgeon wielding a scalpel.
Evidently the long-time CFL and NCAA coach has passed on more than a vast football knowledge to his son.
Casey Creehan can be heard exhorting his players above the normal din of a Hamilton Ticats’ practice at Ivor Wynne. Since signing on as defensive coordinator this season, Creehan, has been trying to put his stamp on a Hamilton defence that had lost some of its steel.
He is direct. Loud. He is demonstrative. He is intense. Where head coach George Cortez comes across militarily aplomb, his assistant can be seen screaming encouragement, or chest-thumping with linebackers to celebrate a particularly successful foray into Ricky Ray or Travis Lulay’s grillwork.
“Every coach has their own style, I have mine but the people you learn from you kind of mimic,” said Casey, Thursday, after the Ticats’ final practice before a date with the Roughriders Saturday. “I’m sure there’s things I say and do that are a chip off the old block. He’s probably calmer than I am because he’s been through more wars than I have. Maybe when I’m 62, I’ll calm down a little too.”
His father now is athletic director and head coach in charge of reinventing the football program at Aldeerson Broaddus College in West Virginia.
Casey is in charge of reinventing old-time Ticats’ defence where the holy trinity consisted of intensity, toughness and resilience.
“This is a game played at top speed, so it has to be practised at top speed. What I’ve found about pro athletes is that if you are honest with them whether they agree with you, or not, they have to respect you. My thing is with them, don’t give them any grey area. Be honest.”
Casey and father have always been close. They talk. They share strategy. They even worked together in Calgary, with Casey using that as a springboard to a coaching career that has taken him to Montreal, Winnipeg, and now to Hamilton where the defence has waffled in few seasons between Corey Chamblin’s man-to-man and Greg Marshall’s zone preferences.
Creehan’s defensive philosophy is predicated on getting pressure with four guys up front — sometimes easier preached than practised.
“Yeah, there’s a blueprint I’d like to slap down on the table. But if I don’t have those type of players then I have to do what the personnel dictates. As a coach you have to be able to take the talent that you have and bend your scheme to fit them; not try to bend them to fit your scheme,” he said.
“In this league with the wide field if you start bringing your perimeter players you expose your back end. The best defences I’ve been associated with in this league are those that can generate a four-man pass rush. So, that’s the blueprint for which we’re striving.”
There is another over-riding factor to Creehan’s philosophy. Success, he believes, ultimately comes down not to what you do on defence, but how you do it.
“Especially in this league with the offences being so multiple and playing the same teams so often, you have to be brilliant at basics. You have to get better at the fundamentals. As the year goes by and you’re playing the same guy three or four times, and you’ve played the same guys for six or seven years, it’s hard to out-fox them. So, you have to execute better,” he said.
“Sure you add wrinkles to make it interesting for the players, but when you get to the end of the season and you can’t out-scheme guys anymore you have to be able to beat them with fundamentals.”
And, fundamentally, as Creehan moulds this defence there have been surprises:
Hamilton released former sack specialist, Steve Baggs, reportedly for financial reasons, although the Ticats said the decision was football-related.
And, there have been bumps — such as surrendering 81 points in back-to-back season-opening losses.
In two wins since, the defence has stiffened. Creehan has been high-fiving, leaping and chest-thumping, and so the question, as the Cat’s try to put the bark back into the dog is this: Is it possible to teach intensity?
“You can to a point,” Creehan said. “But professional athletes have to be self-motivated as well. My biggest thing is play fast, play physical. That’s what I expect from my players. We have those players and we’re getting better at it every week. Of course, we’ll probably never be satisfied.”
Never? Here’s betting satisfaction is just a Grey Cup away.