The timing couldn’t be better or worse for the football lifer, Scott Milanovich, all depending on your perspective.
The new Argo coach looks like he stepped right off the set of Friday Night Lights. He sounds a little like coach Eric Taylor from Dillon High, looks a little like the television character, even if he speaks more Pennsylvania than he does Texas.
You meet him and instantly wish everyone could get to know him, hear his story, celebrate in his promotion and then you realize it’s the Argos and you wonder, who out there is listening, who out there wants to know about the new Argo coach?
Time was, this was a huge day, be it Forrest Gregg or Don Matthews or Pinball Clemens or Bob O’Billovich or the return of Leo Cahill. The start of something new. A new reason to believe. The natural excitement that goes along with a coaching hiring.
But if a tree falls in the forest and no-one hears it...
Or an Argo coach is hired and we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming...
Except that’s not Milanovich’s fault. He has nothing to do with attendance, buzz, history, or interest in the team he’s about to coach. This son of a high school football coach is here to do what he was hired to do: Win football games. And in watching him, listening to him, reading first impressions — you can’t always tell who can do the job at press conferences but often you can tell who can’t (see Bart Andrus, John Ferguson Jr., Rob Babcock) — this is someone you want to root for, someone you want to believe in.
When I think football, I think about the vagabond life Milanovich has lived in the game. He grew up in football country, 30 minutes north of Pittsburgh, in the state that brought you Johnny Unitas and Dan Marino and Joe Namath and Joe Montana, and this quarterback from Butler Senior High named Milanovich. He was a quarterback. His dad was a high school coach.
Not unlike Bill Belichick or Wade Phillips or the twin Ryan brothers of Toronto fame, he would sit with his father as a 10-year-old, the projector playing above the garage, a sheet taped to the wall was used as the screen, and there he began to break down film.
“I grew up thinking my dad was the greatest coach of all time,” said Milanovich. “It was a great way to grow up.”
The first year he signed up for football, they put him on the offensive line. He didn’t like that. He waited for junior high, and by then he got to play quarterback, which is what he played in high school, college at Maryland, in the NFL for Tampa Bay, in NFL Europe for Berlin, in the Arena League for Tampa ... before heading to the ill-fated XFL, where he happened upon an offensive coordinator named Jim Barker.
Barker, now a general manager and former Argo coach, had him as the backup quarterback to Tommy Maddux and instantly he discovered something about Milanovich. His first meeting with Milanovich, after a team meeting, went from 9:30 at night to 4:00 in the morning.
“He had a lot of questions,” said Barker. “As the season went on, it became obvious that he’s got a great mind. He gets it.”
When Barker left for Calgary, he brought Milanovich along with him. In his second game quarterbacking the Stampeders, Milanovich came back after halftime and announced: “I’m done, I can’t do this anymore.”
The next week Barker made him the quarterback coach. “He’s been a coach ever since.”
“And about a week after that, I was calling the plays,” said Milanovich. “He (Barker) may not remember this, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was late in the season and we weren’t very good and he sat me down and he said ‘You’re going to be an offensive coordinator in this league very soon. And if you’re not a head coach in this league in one or two years, you did something to screw it up. Well, it took four years. But Jim’s a big reason why I’m here.”
He is here now, in ambivalent football country, a coach looking to make a name in a place where his team barely resonates anymore. That can’t be Scott Milanovich’s concern. He’s here to win football games, become a name people know. How much of a somebody he becomes is dependant on him, but also on you.