Stefan Ptaszek is taking his talents to Kits Beach.
The former McMaster Mauraders head coach has spent the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats but will return to the Canadian university ranks as the OC of the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.
In doing so, the 46-year-old is turning down at least one head coaching opportunity – sources say the University of Toronto coveted the 46-year-old for their top job – in order to take a coordinator position. But after two years with the Ticats and having already won a Vanier Cup at Mac, Ptaszek is ready for a different challenge.
“For my personal health, the UBC offer is the one,” Ptaszek said. “A year to catch my breath, not that it’s going to be easy, but it’s right in front of you: get first downs and touchdowns. It’s not head coaching where you’re fundraising, recruiting and all that other stuff. I’ll help recruit and get ready for the season, but I get some time with my family.”
While Vancouver – and Kitsilano Beach – are a long way from his home in Dundas, Ptaszek has worked out a family-friendly arrangement with head coach Blake Nill that will see him stay in Ontario until just before the start of the 2018 USports season.
“I get six months right now to be the best dad and husband I can be and head out to Vancouver in the summer and start supporting Coach Nill and the Thunderbird program,” Ptaszek said. “I sat down with my family and picked the option that was going to be the best for my three children and my talented wife. That’s always going to be the trump card.”
UBC and Ptaszek agreed to a one-year deal but both sides are open to making it a long-term relationship.
While Ptaszek has spent the majority of his coaching career in Ontario, he actually got his start with the Thunderbirds while doing his MBA in 2001 when then-head coach Jay Prepchuk hired him to be special teams coordinator and receivers coach. After finishing grad school and coming back to Ontario, Ptaszek was hired as the offensive coordinator at Wilfrid Laurier University for three seasons (2003-2005), winning two Yates Cups and a national crown in 2005.
That success earned him the head coach job at McMaster University where he spent 10 years (2006-2015), winning three Ontario University Athletics championships and one Vanier Cup title in 2011. During that time the Marauders set a Canadian University football record for the longest win streak at 21 games. And he was the CIS Coach of the Year in 2012.
Then an opportunity with the hometown CFL team came about and Ptaszek took the offensive coordinator position with Hamilton. He learned under two former CFL quarterbacks and offensive minds in Kent Austin and June Jones.
“Two brilliant guys that I got to work with and they were so different,” Ptaszek. “Kent’s offences and ways to break down defences were as layered and as cool as you’d ever see and there was a brilliance to it all. With June, there was a simple brilliance to it and the rules, it’s not complicated even a little bit. There are pieces that all football players can execute, the rules actually aren’t that hard and once they’re implemented right it’s really tough to defend.”
Ptaszek will leverage the new teachings in his offensive philosophy and scheme.
“June was such a huge protection guy and I learned a ton from and I never thought this before, but as an offensive coordinator your first job is to protect your quarterback and then you go from there. When you start to build a game plan, that’s where you start and I absolutely believe that having watched June go to work,” Ptaszek said.
The 18 game CFL season is a marathon compared to the eight-game USports regular schedule and that should make things easier on family life.
“You get a little beat up, especially in Ticat land it was not always the smoothest ride,” Ptaszek said. “A USports season will be an exciting, pleasant change.”
UBC has an elite passer in place to run Ptaszek’s scheme that has produced some gaudy quarterback numbers. Michael O’Connor enters his fourth year as a Thunderbird since transferring from Penn State University. From his CFL experience and being around some special quarterbacks, Ptaszek feels O’Connor could be a Canadian who possesses pro calibre traits.
“He is the real deal,” Ptaszek said. “He can make all the throws, I’ll tell you that.”
For Ptaszek, coaching O’Connor at UBC while still being able to spend time with his family is the ideal combination at the perfect time. Not quite a day at the beach but close enough.