TORONTO - In Edmonton, Ricky Ray went from toast, to the milquetoast, of the town.
An all-star talent, Ray was perceived as being too quiet, too laid-back to the point of unseemly detachment. Too taciturn.
That lack of public display in intensity was seen as a flaw in leadership by Edmonton fans. It has been the one blip on an otherwise Hall of Fame career. Just don’t tell that to Danny Maciocia.
“I think what it was is that Edmonton is a blue collar town and it doesn’t really fit in with a California guy who is kind of laid back. I think people in Edmonton relate more to someone out-spoken and brash like Jason Maas (the quarterback Ray replaced). But you’ve got to be careful when you’ve got someone as special as (Ray),” said Maciocia.
Today he is the head coach at the University of Montreal. But for eight seasons he watched and coached Ray first as Edmonton’s head coach and later, as director of football operations.
“Sometimes guys lead with character and what they do on the field,” he said. “I’ll tell you what coaches hate. They hate guys that come into the locker room all rah-rah and then can’t back it up. That’s what drives coaches crazy. Ricky Ray will give the (Argos) leadership.”
There was some speculation in 2010 that Ray was on the downside of his career when he had his worst pro season, finishing with an 82.3% quarterback rating that included 16 interceptions and 11 touchdowns.
“As coaches and organizations we shouldn’t impose on players schemes and plays that they’re not comfortable with. You’ve got to play to a player’s strengths. I don’t think we did that with Ricky in 2010,” said Maciocia, who left after the season and has just concluded a wildly successful debut season in the university ranks.
Ray has always had a long release. The joke is you can go for a beer when he starts to throw and be back in time to see him release the ball. In reality, given a decent offensive line, it never has been a problem.
Maciocia calls him one of the best touch passers in the league. “He doesn’t need much (room) to hit a receiver in full stride ... Arm strength is good from zero to 50 yards. Anything over 50 yards it’s not as good as Henry Burris or Steven Jyles.”
The one problem he might encounter in Toronto is that unlike in Edmonton he doesn’t have an all-star receiver like Fred Stamps to catch the ball. He isn’t noted for his foot speed or elusive running, but Maciocia said he can still burn unwary defences. He has scrambled for 560 yards the past two seasons, averaging 6.2 yards a carry last year.
“He’s regarded more as the prototypical stand back there and throw quarterback. But he’s underrated as far as what he can do with his feet. He can make things happen,” said Maciocia. “If he’s at two and six or two and eight he can still move the sticks with his feet.”
While he had heard speculation, Maciocia said he was surprised his former club would make the deal. Toronto, with Ray, is a better team today than it was yesterday without him. For the Argonauts, and their future, that’s all that matters.
“He’s been around for almost 10 years but people forget he’s only 32. This is still a guy who has a lot of years left in him,” said Maciocia. “He’s like A.C. (Anthony Calvillo) or (Travis) Lulay. The type of player you can build a team around.”