To compensate or not to compensate should not even be a question

maas_jason-1040x572It wouldn’t be the CFL without a little controversy, right?

After Chris Jones bolted Edmonton for Saskatchewan, there was some chatter about how Edmonton should be compensated for losing their head coach. It came and went with most Esks observers muttering a, “Yeah, it sucks, but this is the way it works.”

Fast forward a week, and we have a full-blown war on our hands over a coach leaving to become head man somewhere else. In this case, it is Jason Maas leaving his post as offensive coordinator in Ottawa to become Jones’ replacement in Edmonton.

Normally, these things are open and shut. Coach wants to move up in the ranks, be it from position coach to coordinator or, in this case, coordinator to head coach, he will be released from his contract and allowed to accept the promotion. It has been a time-honoured tradition pretty much as old as the game itself.

It seems as if Ottawa is trying to change those rules.

Depending on whose version of events you believe, either Ottawa told Edmonton in advance that compensation would be required to hire Maas or Ottawa did not inform them until after they already having spent a few days interviewing Maas. Regardless of how things played out, Ottawa has no leg to stand on when asking for compensation.

Five of the nine current CFL head coaches came via other CFL teams: Mike O’Shea was Toronto’s special teams coordinator before being hired by Winnipeg, Scott Milanovich was Montreal’s offensive coordinator before becoming Toronto’s head coach, Rick Campbell ran the defense in Calgary before accepting Ottawa’s offer to be their head coach, and of course we know the stories of Maas and Jones. And if you really want to get picky, Buono first landed in BC in 2003 after leaving Calgary.

Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton never asked for compensation when those other teams came looking for a head coach. They knew this was just the way things went. A coach wants to move up, you let him. Simple.

Apparently not, according to Ottawa.

The Redblacks want to change the rules of the game. They want coaches who are under contract, but seeking a promotion, to be subject to compensation. Why they think the rules should change for them, I do not know. But I do not know of one other instance in CFL history where a team asked for or received compensation for a coach leaving for a bigger role elsewhere.

And it should not start now.

Perhaps the league needs to get something in writing to stop situations like this from happening. But up until eight days ago, this wasn’t even on the radar, and up until last night it had never even been an issue. I mean, it wasn’t an issue when the Redblacks went pilfering and hired Campbell away from the Stamps for nothing… or Maas from the Argos… or Mark Nelson from the Als… or… you get the point.

Calls for compensation, much like Canadian political parties who advocate for changing our electoral system to a proportional representation model, only seem to come when the system works against you. Governing parties don’t advocate for changing how House of Commons seats are assigned, just like Ottawa didn’t complain until it was their coach that another team wanted. Ottawa had no problem with the compensation-less system when they were ransacking other teams for coaches, but they seem to have a problem now when it is their coaching staff being raided.

If teams do not want coaches to leave for bigger roles elsewhere, they can sign them to lucrative, longer term deals and put no-movement clauses into them, like the Ticats did with Orlando Steinauer. The Ticats took a beating from some over their handling of the Steinauer situation, and what they did could have repercussions in the future, but that was how they tried to ensure coaching continuity from year to year. Ottawa is traveling down an altogether different road. They are fine with Maas leaving, but only if they get something in return.

This whole thing seems seedy and underhanded and could have league-wide repercussions depending on how this all plays out. For Ottawa, future coaches may think twice about signing anything but a one-year deal with them, knowing that should they perform well enough to warrant a promotion, Ottawa might hinder their employment chances.

In fact, this whole thing could lead to more one-year deals for assistant coaches across the league or, even worse, less upward mobility for coaches under contract. If teams are going to be forced to part with money or a player or a draft pick to hire a proven CFL coach, then we will get more hires like Dan Hawkins and Jeff Tedford and less of the Scott Milanovich variety. That is not good for anyone.

This whole thing will likely lead to a written rule, even if such a rule needs not be written. Handshake deals and gentlemen’s agreements apparently still mean something to eight of the nine CFL teams, but because one won’t play ball, we will now see something in writing.

Anything less than a codifying of what already takes place will be a step back for the league and a major hinderance to attracting top-level coaches to the league.

A bad precedent could be set, but let’s hope the league is smarter than that and makes it known that compensation for promotion will not happen.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.