McMaster had to act quickly to land Stefan Ptaszek

Scott Radley, Hamilton Spectator

When McMaster’s administration was reviewing allegations of sideline misbehaviour by former head football coach Greg Knox a while back, it received criticism for the slow speed of the investigation that eventually led to the coach’s dismissal.

If that languid pace was worthy of the resulting slings and arrows, then getting Stef Ptaszek to agree to return to the university as head coach in rather short order is equally worthy of praise.

Sources tell The Spectator that the man who led the Marauders to their only Vanier Cup championship, before leaving for a job with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, has agreed to return to his old post if terms can be worked out with the school. The university would not confirm any part of the story on Tuesday and Ptaszek could not be reached.

Assuming this comes together, as it absolutely should, this is clearly the best way out of a tricky spot.

While it would always be ideal to have an athletic director in place to make such a hire so the chain of command is properly set — Mac hasn’t yet replaced the departed Glen Grunwald — Ptaszek is the rare exception based on his history with the school.

Between 2006 and 2015, the guy who won Vanier Cups as both a player and offensive co-ordinator (both at Wilfrid Laurier) brought the Marauders from being a pretty good team to national powerhouse status. Along the way, he coached the school to a victory in the 2011 Vanier Cup, which is still often referred to as the Greatest Game Ever. He then took Mac back to the title game in 2012 and 2014. En route, he made the Marauders one of the top programs in the country and ignited interest in the program around the city.

During those years in maroon, he was widely respected in the community, highly regarded on campus and loved by his players. And he won. Since the turn of the century when Laval began to dominate everything, only Blake Nill and Saskatchewan’s Brian Towriss have taken more teams to the national championship game than Ptaszek. That combination of success on and off the field makes him a desirable candidate for a coaching job.

“Stef’s been to three Vanier Cups,” Nill says. “That guy needs to be a head coach.”

Nill is the coach at the University of British Columbia. He hired Ptaszek as offensive co-ordinator this past season when the former Marauder boss was out of work after being let go by the Ticats. He says he’d love to have the Dundas native back but has always known that was unlikely.

The reason for that is the same reason why it was so important for McMaster to act quickly.

There are four head coaching jobs currently open in Ontario university football. Three of them — McMaster, Guelph and Queen’s — are plum gigs. Windsor could be too, though there’s a lot more rebuilding to do there. It’s reasonable to believe the 47-year-old was going to get one of these spots, if he was so inclined. And there was never any reason to believe he wasn’t.

That said, Mac always made the most sense. Even if his first act here will be tough to top.

Ptaszek has roots in town. When he went out to B.C. for the duration of the football season, his young family stayed behind so the whole clan wouldn’t have to be uprooted and his kids wouldn’t have to switch schools. Being able to get a job close to home was therefore ideal.

 He left on good terms. That helps. Leaving campus to take a shot at a dream job that suddenly came available offended nobody even if the timing put the school in a bit of a rush to find a replacement. But there were no bridges burned as he exited. There are no repairs to be made at this point. His return can be close to seamless.

Above all else, some will remember that just before landing that gig out west he said he’d be interested in coming back to Mac and working under Knox. In fact, he sent a note to Grunwald and assistant athletic director Mark Alfano at the time to remind them he was around and available. Clearly, there’s still a little maroon coursing through his veins.

Didn’t work out then. But times change. Sometimes way more quickly than anyone could imagine.

This whole thing could presumably still go sideways if a deal can’t be struck. Yet assuming common sense prevails, good for Mac for bringing in the best man for the job. And doing it before someone else can grab him.

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