Published on October 6, 2008 10:01 PM by dbo.
Terry Jones penned an article today on the conservative nature of CFL coaches and the elimination of razzle-dazzle from every team’s repertoire. Actually more of a rant, Jones goes from the lack of big play attempts on second-and-ones to the option play to a list of plays (commentator knowledge of these plays is another article) missing from the CFL for the past 15 years. I like Terry Jones and have been a big fan of his ever since I picked up his book Canadian Pro Football ‘83 with Condredge Holloway on the cover. He is an entertaining, humorous writer who often does make good points about these larger issues. He has the experience and memories to realize these differences over the years. He is right about the conservative coaches but does not speak to what lead to this rise of new conservatism in the CFL.
One of my greatest CFL memories is watching the Toronto Argonauts execute a flea flicker play to complete a fourth quarter comeback against the Edmonton Eskimos. Through the 1980’s, fakes and trick plays played a part in at least half the games by my memory and there were often multiple trick plays in a game. Teams would perform short kickoffs early in the game or to start the second half. There were more options than short kickoffs to the sidelines. Rugby pitch out runs on fake punts. Saskatchewan popularized the shovel pass from the slotback position with Ray Elgaard. Teams had a multitude of plays to use when they needed points in one play. There was a strategy to get the one point needed to tie or win the game. Plays weren’t just one-time throwaways, but were used multiple times per season. The preparation all opposition teams had to make for those plays was an added advantage. Execution of these plays were not 100% successful, but their inclusion was an exciting aspect of the game. By the end of the ‘90’s the art of creating imaginative plays was lost, having dropped to minuscule proportions.
If my memory serves, conservative coaching attitudes started to rise in the late eighties and early nineties. When coaches were asked why they wouldn’t use a free second-and-one play for a deep pass, they would respond that the defence was prepared and it was actually better to surprise them on a third-and-one passing play (which were so risky they were rarely called). Using the whole clock at the end of a half occurred much more often in the 1980’s, until I believe Ron Lancaster’s sage that when you throw the ball, three things can happen and two of them are bad began to be the prevailing reason you should take a knee.
The American expansion then had a huge affect on the CFL. More American trained coaches entered the league, bring more American-style conservatism to the CFL. By the time the league retracted back to Canada, the game became much more physical and with larger players; gone were the days of the all-Canadian offensive lines. The running attack was more prevalent and offenses were more apt to grind out yards on the ground. More emphasis was also placed on the defenses and stopping the high-powered offences. Letting someone score was a failure and not acceptable. Gone were the days of willing to let the last one to score win.
The CFL used to have a component where out-muscling your opponent to score was not necessary, you tricked them instead. You gave a defense a look, hoped they bit and if they did it was likely a score. But winning with your play-calling became passé; it was winning by physical superiority that mattered. Coaches did not want to win a game of chess; they wanted their group of players to be physically superior. I see this aspect from American college football coaching in the CFL. It is believing in the superiority of your team and not accepting mistakes from any side of the game.
Finally, the media and fans also had an affect on the rise of the CFL coaching neo-cons. Not accepting mistakes, whether a turnover, a missed assignment, a defense getting caught on a trick play or an offense calling but missing one, the fans and media will be there criticizing the call. Coaches are influenced by this and would rather be conservative than lose their job on a trick-play gone wrong that cost them a game or a playoff position. With no trick plays, media or fans can’t point to one call that ruined the season.
All of these factors plus many I haven’t thought of, along with the new generation of coaches, have brought the neo-conservative coach into power across the league. There is hope that a shift back to a living-on-the-edge style coach may be upon us. We have already seen this year some successful Hail Mary passes to close out the second half. If some razzle-dazzle returns to the league in the remainder of the year, we may have Terry Jones to thank.