Restless in the big chair

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

For 36 years, somebody else sat in the big office, got the big paycheque, had to answer all the questions.

For 36 years, Rich Stubler loved to go to work and be anonymous, loved to get in his golf games, and often wondered if or when the call would ever come.

The call comes for real tomorrow in Winnipeg. The first game of this Argonauts season, the first game of Stubler's life as a head football coach.

"Personally, this is big for me," says Stubler, standing outside the trailers that house the Argos at under-construction Erindale College. "I've waited a long time to be a head coach. For me, it will be fun. It's a new challenge.

"This is it, I'm happy doing what I'm doing ... I'm coaching a game. I've never really had a job. I've gotten to be a kid my whole life."

Coaching is all he has ever done. From Roaring Fork High School to the University of Colorado. From New Mexico State to Southern Methodist. From Colorado State to Oregon. From Hamilton to Toronto to Edmonton to B.C. to the Arena League in Detroit, then back to Toronto: In all, 15 different football homes in almost four decades of coaching.

And now, for the first time, he gets to blow the whistle at practice.

"I never had a whistle before," he said. "I have to take it off because it doesn't feel right."

It feels differently around the Argos with Stubler in charge. He has run an upbeat training camp. Known as a defensive-minded coach, the Argos have definitely enhanced their offence heading into the season. The daily sermons and hugs from Pinball Clemons have been replaced by a folksy sensibility and a somewhat unconventional head coach who is not about to spend his nights in the office -- although sleeping in the afternoon has become an option.

"Being a head coach is different," Stubler says. "Hugh Campbell used to always tell me that you will have a lot more fun being an assistant coach than you will being a head coach. He was kind of like my father at that point. And, I believe that.

"Personally, I'm working less than I worked (before). I'm sitting in here yesterday, we're game-planning and stuff and I'm bored because everybody else is in a meeting and I'm sitting in here with Adam (general manager Rita). So I mean, I've got to start doing something. I've got start running or something when the meetings start. Just so I can do something.

"You're bored. You don't know what to do with yourself. Now you're overseeing and trying to figure out, how it all fits together. What to say and how you're going to say it. It becomes a different deal."

This is a big season for first-time head coaches in the CFL. Ken Miller takes over from Kent Austin with the Grey Cup-champion Roughriders. Marc Trestman brings an only-American background to football in Montreal. John Hufnagel returns to Calgary, but this time he is in charge. If there is any heat on Stubler early on -- "by in large, I'm here to win," he says -- he doesn't show it.

But he certainly appreciates the situation he is in.

"I've coached for a lot of good guys. I take a piece from everybody I've been with. Norm Chow (UCLA offensive coordinator) is one of my better friends and I talk to him all the time. (He may be) the best coordinator there has ever been in college football. Never had a head job. Why? I don't know. I love Norm to death. But why he is not a head coach some place, I would never have any idea?"

Stubler does believe, as Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock reiterated during the final, that there is nothing new in coaching. Coaches take the best ideas from other coaches, shape them and make them their own.

Which is how Stubler's famed match-coverage defence has come to be.

"There is nothing new in football," the coach says. "If it hasn't been done in the 100 years they've been playing, then its never going to be done. People talk that I developed match coverage. I didn't. I stole that from Ray Malavasi, who was with the Rams many years ago. I went out and studied under him.

"When it finally got down to it, I said: 'How on earth am I going to do this?' He said the only reason I could this is I had Nolan Cromwell (the QB-turned-all-star-safety) playing. I thought: 'Okay, good system, but can I do this? And when we finally went to this (in Edmonton), we brought the right players in to do it."

He believes he has the right people now to challenge for a Grey Cup. He has a new quarterback, a new running back, two new starting receivers. And the best part is, he has the same old defence that got him hired.

"I like our team," says Stubler, undefeated as a head coach. "I can't wait to get this thing started."


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