Leading up to Vanier Cup week, as Stefan Ptaszek was working on figuring out his football future, he sent an email to the coach of the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds to see if there might be a role out there for him.
Within moments of hitting send, a text popped up on his phone. A note from that same head coach. Who hadn’t yet read the email, but who had almost simultaneously had the thought that Ptaszek might be able to help his program.
Based on that spooky kismet alone, you could understand the 46-year-old Dundas resident’s decision to head west in a surprise move to become offensive co-ordinator of the Thunderbirds. But his decision was based on way more than that.
“It’s weird that the alternative across the country is one of the most family-friendly options I have,” he says.
So why is it such a surprise?
Ptaszek has long made it clear his preference has been to stay close to home, so he wouldn’t have to uproot his young family. He has three children in school and his wife works in the area. Picking up and chasing the football dream affects more than just him. Especially when it’s about as far away as it could get.
Except the deal he struck will allow him to stay in Ontario until just before the season, giving him six months at home with his kids.
It’s also a surprise, because Ptaszek said he’d be interested in a return to McMaster in some capacity. While insisting he wasn’t gunning for head coach Greg Knox’s job, he said he’d be happy to come back as OC, while also working in some other area of the university.
He met with Knox, but quickly realized it was going to be a tough fit, particularly since he didn’t want to bounce anyone out of a current position. It’s worth noting that Mac’s current offensive co-ordinator is Kyle Quinlan, who quarterbacked Ptaszek and the Marauders to their 2011 Vanier Cup. They are close. He didn’t want to take his protégé’s job.
Knox says he and Ptaszek are also good friends and they had a long talk about figuring something out, but the opportunity at UBC was simply too appealing.
“We spoke at length about what would work for him,” Knox says. “We would certainly love to have Stef back in maroon.”
With the Thunderbirds he’ll be working with head coach Blake Nill, with whom he’s quite familiar through years of competition and working together on national teams. But he’ll be landing in a situation that will require some work. UBC was fifth in scoring in the seven-team Canada West Conference.
That said, he’ll be overseeing an offence led by fourth-year quarterback Michael O’Connor, who led the Thunderbirds to the 2015 Vanier Cup.
Going there as a co-ordinator rather than returning to the Marauders where there would’ve been massive expectations; or to the University of Toronto, which is looking for a head coach and reportedly had interest in him, is also better right now for his “personal health,” Ptaszek says.
The past season was a grind. Which is an understatement. Things didn’t start well for the Ticats and they swirled downhill until Labour Day, when they finally won a game. In that environment, you are doing everything you can possibly think of to turn things around. Which is exhausting.
“It was not easy,” he says.
But he knows football. The man is a three-time Vanier Cup champion. He won in 1991 as a wide receiver for the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, he won the 2005 Cup with Laurier as the school’s offensive co-ordinator and he famously led McMaster to the 2011 title.
He has coached teams to five Yates Cups as Ontario champion. And under his coaching, the Marauders set a Canadian university record by winning 21-straight games. He left to join the Tiger-Cats prior to the 2016 season.
His contract with the Ticats will expire on Dec. 31. He will then do some consulting work for the team, until he heads west on Aug. 1.
“Stef did a great job for the organization, and I know both Kent (Austin) and I have very positive things to say about him as a coach and person,” said Ticats head coach June Jones. “I’ve always done the offensive co-ordination wherever I’ve been, so that job wasn’t available. Stef and I had a very positive discussion and we felt that he deserved to be a head coach or co-ordinator moving forward.”