For the third straight season, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will have a new offensive coordinator: his name is Stef Ptaszek.
Of course, Ptaszek held the title last year but it would be a stretch to say that he fulfilled the duties in the traditional sense. Hired on May 5 after the sudden departure of Tommy Condell, just weeks before the opening of training camp, Ptaszek faced a learning curve that resembled the Chedoke stairs – steep, unrelenting and precarious.
“It was almost an impossible job last year for him,” acknowledged head coach Kent Austin. “He’s come a long way in his understanding,”
After 13 seasons coaching at the Canadian university level, including the last 10 as the head coach at McMaster, Ptaszek had to learn an entirely new offensive system – the one designed by Austin – as well as the nuances of the professional game. The challenges were big – scouting reports on defensive players and schemes for the other eight teams – and small: the names of 100 or so Ticats players, coaches and staff.
“I’ve always been good with not having all the answers and the amount of things I was able to absorb was outstanding,” Ptaszek said. “I was proud of the role I was able to play but that role needs to expand in order to help us going forward. I’m looking forward to doing that.”
Last season, Austin handled much of the game planning, the scripting for practice – what plays the offence will run – and called plays from his headset on the sideline. This year, Ptaszek expects the offensive staff to take over the first two, which should – in theory – allow for the third to follow.
“I think coach Austin knew he had a burden to support us on a regular basis throughout last year,” Ptaszek said. “But we’ve got to be more independent and allow coach to cherry pick when he can step in and feel completely confident when he needs to step out. And that’s different from last year.”
It’s not like Austin doesn’t have other things to worry about. The team will have a new defensive coordinator in Jeff Reinebold – who moves over from special teams – while newcomer Dennis McKnight takes charge of the kick and coverage units.
But how much independence Austin gives Ptaszek, however, remains to be seen: he’s yet to officially hand over the play-calling responsibilities. The former CFL quarterback has always stressed the collective nature of his offensive philosophy but what the Ticats run is usually referred to as ‘Austin’s offence.’
“Game planning is a collaborative effort with all of us, it’s not just me having my fingers in the pie – as long as it’s apple or blueberry,” Austin said. “Everybody has their proverbial fingers in the pie. Roles and expectations as to how the game plan is arrived at is clearly delineated and I have a role in that, Stef has a role in that, the other coaches have a role in that.”
With the benefit of a full off-season, Ptaszek spent the winter studying offensive strategies from across the CFL as well as expanding his knowledge of defensive coverages and concepts. That hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“The thing about Stef is that he has a very high ceiling because he’s very bright. He’s also a guy that’s humble enough to want to learn and he has a great desire to be good,” Austin said. “He worked really hard this off-season and I think you’re going to see a tremendous growth in him.”
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