by Jarrett Rusnak
Whenever Don Mathews took over a new team, one of his first moves was to cut a popular veteran player. Sometimes these players resurfaced with new teams and were productive for a season, but they would quickly fade away shortly thereafter. ‘The Don’ meanwhile went on to coach his teams to 231 regular season wins, 19 post season wins, and 5 Grey Cups. Players feared him, respected him, and most significantly, they produced for him.
For two seasons in the 90’s, I had an opportunity to watch Mathews run the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I was responsible for videotaping the Roughriders’ practices and as a result, had a front row seat to all the teams’ player moves (Jim Popp was Director of Player Personnel at the time). The Riders’ posted 11-7 records in both those seasons. Kent Austin was given the reins to the offence and wound up passing for over 12,000 yards during that time.
The team was a loose, cocky bunch. Characters were allowed to be themselves. Eccentrics were permitted to do their thing. The only thing that mattered was winning, and winning came about by being accountable to fellow players and coaches. That, in a nut shell, was Don Mathews’ recipe for success.
There was also a constant stream of players coming and going out of Regina. Not only was The Don looking for consistent improvement, but with each new prospect showing up unexpectedly on the practice field, Mathews was sending his players a message; “if you fail, someone better will take your livelihood away.”
For a football player, feeling safe in a locker room is a very bad thing. Accountability fades. Instincts dull. Competitive edge slips. Focus blurs.
Toronto Argonauts’ head coach Scott Milanovich pulled the trigger on a bold move this week. Not only was tailback Cory Boyd the CFL’s leading rusher when he was cut, but his face graced many of the team’s marketing materials. Cory Boyd was a fan favourite and marquee player by any definition – and he was sent packing. If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone.
The character of a man is revealed through his actions. With this move, Coach Millanovich shows his players, his coaches, his bosses, and the fans of this team, that he has what it takes to lead the Toronto Argonauts to the Grey Cup sometime in the near future.
I would not be surprised if that future was realized in November 2012.