Rich Stubler makes his return to Toronto this Friday, his ill-fated run as Argonauts head coach still fresh in the minds of those he alienated within the organization.
Looking back on Stubler the head coach, the Argos owed him a debt of gratitude, a long-awaited promotion after Stubler’s defence basically served as the catalyst to Toronto’s 2004 Grey Cup championship.
If ever an assistant deserved a shot at being the man, it was Stubler — or so it seemed.
But almost from the moment he took control in 2008, something was amiss, the lines of communication suddenly closed, a feeling that the power entrusted with Stubler began to inflate his self-importance.
After a 4-6 start, Stubler was fired, the wounds he left behind still deep.
There are certainly those remaining with the Argos who hold a grudge, but there are others who remain forever grateful.
As a defensive co-ordinator, no one can question the legacy Stubler left in Toronto, and it could be argued across the CFL.
“One of the most creative minds this league has ever seen and will likely ever see,’’ defensive back-turned-linebacker Jordan Younger began on Tuesday following Argos practice.
“Coach Stubler’s way of thinking was so fresh and so new that for about four years nobody, no team, could adopt to it. Football is such a sport of trends that you can now spot an element of Stubler’s defence in just about every team in our league.”
Complicated yet simple, those were the words Stubler often conveyed to his players.
When he did provide a rare interview, Stubler would summon those very words to the media in describing a scheme that would yield yards, but very few points.
“To this very day I can see coach Stubler explaining his defence in a way that was comically easy,’’ Younger added.
“Easy to explain, but it was really complicated, almost impossible to read because it broke all of football’s rules.”
Undersized linebackers began to blitz from different angles, drop back in coverage, schemes would give the appearance of a zone look, it was as revolutionary as it was effective.
The only thing missing was a creative nickname to describe Stubler’s defence.
“The best way to describe it was it kept the opposing quarterback on his heels,’’ Younger continued.
“A QB never knew who was going from where.
“Another aspect to it was coach Stubler would find versatile players, guys who were capable of doing a lot of things.”
One of those players was Byron Parker, who returns to the lineup this Friday after missing the last two games nursing a sore shoulder.
One of the first things Parker plans on doing at Rogers Centre is to reach out to Stubler, who serves as Wally Buono’s defensive line coach with the Lions.
“I can’t speak for other people within the Argonauts organization because I know they have different opinions of him, but coach Stubes means everything to me,” Parker said.
“He’s the reason why I’m playing football when no one wanted to give me a chance and probably shouldn’t have given me a chance.
“But he saw something in me no one saw. Even after he left here, I always kept in contact. On Friday, I’m going to make a point of going over to the sidelines, shake his hands and give him a hug.”
What Stubler saw in Parker was an athlete capable of making plays from the corner position once Parker learned how to play defence.
Parker remembers how Stubler insulated this athlete when he arrived in 2005, helped groom Parker with the help of veterans such as Orlondo Steinauer, Mike O’Shea and Adrion Smith.
When Bart Andrus served as head coach last season, Parker wasn’t allowed to play to his strengths, ultimately being dealt to Edmonton.
Under Jim Barker, Parker has the freedom to take chances because the rewards often lead to a touchdown.
That’s another aspect to Stubler’s defence that is overlooked when he’s judged simply by his run as head coach in Toronto — that rare ability to not only force turnovers, but also score touchdowns.
Steinauer coaches the defensive secondary on Barker’s staff, while O’Shea oversees the team’s special teams.
“Steinauer has his way of doing things, but he’s a Stubler disciple,” Younger said.
Added Parker: “You can’t take away what Stubler accomplished here as a defensive co-ordinator because all the records speak for themselves. In my opinion, his legacy will be remembered as one of the greatest co-ordinators ever.”