No rest for Argos trio

Argos coaches at the Argos practice facility at Erindale College. From left, Marcello Simmons, Rich...

Argos coaches at the Argos practice facility at Erindale College. From left, Marcello Simmons, Rich Stuber, and Kent Austin. (SUN/Ernest Doroszuk)

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

Spring ice, harder than the taxman's heart, still sheaths the Argonauts practice field at the U of T's Mississauga campus. Inside one of the trailers that serves as the team's office, Rich Stubler, Kent Austin and Marcello Simmons are engaged.

Stubler, the club's maverick defensive co-ordinator, is telling Ian Sanderson that he can absolutely find him a new Ford truck back in Texas for $10,000 cash. Sanderson is the director of football administration, a money guy.

He offers a lunch, on the spot, if Stubler can produce so much as an ad.

Office manager Lynne Holmes smiles. She has heard all this before.

Austin, the Argos offensive co-ordinator and a long-time CFL quarterback, is squirreled away in his office going over game film.

"Data-mining" he calls it, a term he invented when he worked in the telecommunications business.

Special teams co-ordinator Marcello Simmons doesn't leave the comfort of the big blue exercise ball he uses as his only chair. He too has been deep into the tape.

The Argos are 90 days away from the kickoff of their exhibition season and there is little 'off' to the off-season.

The coaches were back at work a few days after the club's Grey Cup parade, breaking down film, assessing who had progressed, who was standing still and who was slipping incrementally backward.

That done, they turned their attention to grading and cataloguing opposing players , particularly those who might become available via trade. There is a CFL combine evaluation camp in Ottawa next weekend.

The CFL draft is on April 28.

The wonder of a football office in winter is the dynamic, goofy energy about the place. Freed from the confines of the next game or practice, unencumbered by the needs and health of players, its a freeze-dried lab for coaches, particularly Stubler, Austin and Simmons, the three co-ordinators assembled under vice-president of football operations Adam Rita.

Sometimes, just for fun, Austin will dream up a new offensive scheme.

"Then I'll bring it to the guys on the other side of the ball and say, 'Go ahead, shoot it full of holes.' "

Stubler commutes north once a month from Texas for just that interaction. Even when he's home, he is in contact, by phone or along a chain of e-mails with coaches and players.

"It's just like we're in a meeting," he said. "Somebody is on somebody about something."

Even in a trailer adjacent to a frozen field, there remains a sense of imminent, welcome competition not too far over the horizon.

"We've got to be better this year," said Rita of his upset Grey Cup club. "We've got a bull's-eye on our butt."

Scour the earth. You will be hard pressed to find three more different men than Kent Austin, Marcello Simmons and Rich Stubler.

"Just like in a family," Simmons said. "You have different type of people. Part of our job is to get along."

Austin is Tennessee smooth, a multiple CFL all-star who, as a quarterback for Saskatchewan, B.C., Winnipeg and the Argos, stood tethered in the pocket and dissected defences for 36,000 yards.

After football, he went back home to Nashville and developed computer platforms for two telecom startups, but the game kept calling him back.

As a quarterback and a coach, he is a superb technician. Austin views videotape the way a biologists views a microscope.

"You have to know the philosophy of the team you're playing. Are they a pressure team, do they not pressure? Do they blitz? When they do, is it an all-out blitz or a zone blitz? If they've got a noseguard whose better than our guy up front, we've got to account for that. Can a guy cover a player for 10 yards and then will he drop off him? What routes does he struggle with? Dees he have the ability to chase a guy across the field?"

Videotape is the theoretical basis of every decision, every play call, every personnel decision. It is irrefutable and, if you haven't got the players to implement what you have found, damned near useless.

"Football isn't complicated," Austin grins. "People are complicated."

Rich Stubler is 56 and has been a football coach since he was 20. His dad was a football coach at Colorado.

Stubler, 56, is all Texan. There is, about him, an absolute sureness. He is distrustful of statistics.

"Someone will hand me a stat sheet after a game, I'll turn right around and hand it back. I don't want it. Did they change the score? No? Then why do I want it?"

The Argos were last in running yards allowed all season long.

"Why should that be a problem?" Stubler said. "This isn't the NFL."

In fact, Stubler's emphasis on using a veteran backfield and a fast, mobile linebacking corps created a ravenous, opportunistic defence.

Yet even that was a puzzle.

The Argos almost never used a straight man coverage and instead relied on an system where a receiver entering a zone activated a defender for coverage.

In the CFL, sooner or later, everyone passes. It's what the game is built for and Stubler, entering his 19th year in the CFL, knows it.

The off-season, he says, is a fine opportunity to investigate and re-invent but he doesn't devote an instant to doubt or regret.

"I never say, 'why did we do that?' Second-guessing has no relation to our job. Second guessing means being one of the many instead of one of the few."

It is, instead, about staying ahead.

"Right now, someone somewhere is looking at our back end, figuring out how they can beat it."

Marcello Simmons' handiwork was an essential component of the Argos' Grey Cup win over British Columbia.

The Lions and punter Duncan O'Mahony were so intent on keeping the ball away from Bashir Levingston and Arland Bruce that they constantly surrendered field position.

"The off-season," he said, "is when you take your inventory. You see what your scheme is, and how you can better it. Maybe it's by putting players in different positions and entirely different scenarios."

Simmons' degree from Southern Methodist University is in advertising. As an Argo for six of his seven CFL seasons, he worked in for a Toronto-based agency.

He loves coaching but doesn't see himself as a career coach. Just 33, he already operates an apparel company. Quieter than the ebullient Austin, smoother than Stubler, Simmons is a businessman, a studious, cautious guy behind a pair of wire-rimmed glasses who sees his job as more sales than anything.

Austin brought technical background from the telecom world and employed it for football.

You get the sense Simmons is using the lessons of football to vault into the wider world.

"As a coach you're a salesman," he said. "You have to sell your players your scheme. My guys have to take what I've sold them and use it.

"It's paid dividends, for them and for me. We're getting sized for our Grey Cup rings in a couple of days."


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