July 23, 2012
Milanovich not sweating return to Montreal
By IAN SHANTZ, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Ricky Ray had his hyped homecoming to The City of Champions.
That didn’t exactly go as planned, as the Argos and their shiny new quarterback left Commonwealth Stadium with a loss to open the season.
Fast-forward a few short weeks later and a similar, perhaps equally thick early-season plot line is set to play out, albeit from the sidelines.
Scott Milanovich gets to go back to The City of Saints.
It’s where Milanovich, Toronto’s rookie head coach, spent five seasons helping guide the offence of a true juggernaut.
With the Alouettes, he was fitted for a pair of Grey Cup rings.
It’s a place he entered wet behind the ears in terms of coaching in the Canadian league and it’s a place he was given the chance to flourish — and certainly did.
The Alouettes might be the enemy on Friday, but for Milanovich, Sin City will always be close to the heart.
It’s only natural the emotions could stir once Milanovich arrives at Percival Molson Stadium.
“I spent a lot of years there,” said Milanovich, who took the controls in Toronto in the off-season. “That might trigger something. But once that game rolls around there’s just so much to focus on that I really don’t think it’s going to be playing in my mind.”
If Milanovich is feeling nostalgic leading up to his homecoming, he seems intent to dial down the hype, preferring to treat it as just another game.
“This game is not about me ... or anybody else who is going back to Montreal,” he said. “This game is about us and them, two teams that are tied at 2-2 and need to get a win.”
Not that the 39-year-old coach should need reassurance, but if anybody can attest to what it feels like to come home to where it began, it’s Ray.
“He obviously knows a lot of people on the other side of the football,” said the Argos pivot, who dealt with a daily media circus that come with his first trip back to Edmonton. “That’s probably the toughest thing, is trying to stay focused in your normal routine.
“I tried to do that in Edmonton, where I just did what I normally did, and not feel like you’ve got to see everybody and say hello,” the veteran player added. “Just wait until after the game to do that. He’s going to be fine.”
While Milanovich’s return will come with fanfare, much like Ray’s did, it is simply part of the game.
“Everybody who has played football has bounced around and it’s not like he’s been in one place forever,” Ray said. “(The anxiety of returning) is on your mind, but as athletes we’re trained to block out a lot of things and stay focused. I think he’ll be able to do that.
“I don’t know how he’s going to handle it, but that’s how I handled it.”
Milanovich isn’t the only Argo with an attachment to Montreal. Heck, half the Boatmen’s coaching staff shares an Alouettes link. Defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones held similar positions with the Alouettes from 2002-2010, while offensive line coach Stephen McAdoo spent three seasons there. Ray’s old Edmonton buddy, Toronto quarterbacks coach Jason Maas, had a cup of coffee with Montreal, and general manager Jim Barker’s first full-time coaching gig in the league was with the Als.
If that’s not enough, safety Etienne Boulay, who had spent his previous six CFL seasons there before being cast off and subsequently acquired by Toronto a week ago, will return to his birthplace for the first time in Scullers gear on Friday.
Still, take away all the niceties and reminiscing and it comes down to this: The Argos are batting .500 along with Montreal and Hamilton four weeks in. A somewhat surprising log-jam has begun in the East and for the Argos, who, after Friday face three western opponents in August to go along with a bye week, it’s all about gaining some separation in their own division sooner than later.
“There’s a three-way tie right now at the top, so all these Eastern Conference games are important,” Milanovich said. “(Montreal) is not a team that loses focus ... I expect them to be playing at their best.”
TIES TO MONTREAL
The connections between the Argos and Alouettes, who do battle on Friday in Montreal, are like Ricky Ray’s passes: There are a lot of them. The following are Argos linked to the Alouettes heading into Friday.
Head coach Scott Milanovich
Montreal’s QB coach in 2007, offensive co-ordinator/assistant head coach from 2008-2011
Defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones:
Montreal’s defensive line coach in 2002, defensive co-ordinator from 2003-2007
Offensive line coach Stephen McAdoo:
Montreal’s offensive line/running backs coach from 2003-2005, co-offensive co-ordinator/offensive line and running backs in 2006
GM Jim Barker:
First full-time coaching job in CFL in Montreal in 1996
QB coach Jason Maas:
Spent part of one season in Montreal (2007)
Safety Etienne Boulay:
Montreal from 2006-2011
Tackle Chris Van Zeyl:
Drafted by Montreal in 2007 (third round, 18th overall)
Tackle Jeff Keeping:
Signed with Montreal as free agent in 2008, missed season to injury, released Dec. 11 of that year
Receiver/returner Chad Owens:
Signed to Montreal’s practice roster in 2009, dressed in one game and traded to Toronto during 2010 training camp.