Jason Maas says friends and family have asked him if he’s nervous going from a coach of an expansion team to head coach of the defending Grey Cup champions.
“Talking to several people in my close-knit circle, that was the one question that came up,” Maas said Wednesday on a conference call.
The Edmonton Eskimos, who beat the Redblacks to win the 2015 Grey Cup, gave Maas his first head-coaching gig in December when Chris Jones departed for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“I knew it was the right job for me,” Maas said. “When you take over the defending Grey Cup champion, that means you have some quality people here. I look forward to that challenge and building on that culture that they’ve established here and continuing winning.
“I know what kind of organization we are here. I just want to be a part of that. There’s pressure every year in Edmonton to win. I know everyone’s goal is that, but it is true here.”
The former quarterback has closed a football circle as he was an Eskimo for a combined nine seasons and a member of Edmonton’s Grey Cup teams in 2003 and 2005.
“In my grand scheme of thinking, it was always to get back to Edmonton at some point,” Maas said. “Obviously this was a dream job for me.”
CFL main camps open May 28. The Eskimos kick off defence of the Grey Cup at home against the Redblacks on June 25.
Maas says he’s already drawing on the vast experience of defensive co-ordinator and assistant coach Mike Benevides. The B.C. Lions were 33-21 and made the playoffs the three seasons Benevides was head coach from 2012 to 2014.
“We talk daily. Sometimes a couple times a day,” Maas said. “He’s a world full of knowledge.
“He’s got a bunch of it being in the league for as long as he has and coaching as long as he has. He’s done everything _ special teams, defensive co-ordinator, position coach to head coach. He’s been successful at every step. I definitely rely on him.”
The 40-year-old from Beaver Dam, Wisc., heads into 2016 with continuity where it counts at quarterback. The Eskimos re-signed pivot Mike Reilly to a two-year contract earlier this month.
After missing two months of 2015 with a knee injury suffered in the season-opener, Reilly went 10-0 upon his return as a starter to conclude the regular season. He was named the Grey Cup MVP completing 21-of-35 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns.
“We’re athletic, we’re a big team,” Maas said. “We’ve got the continuity back for the most part. They’re winners, they finish.”
The Redblacks wanted compensation for Maas’s departure, but the CFL announced earlier this month there would not be any. Maas said it wasn’t a distraction.
“I was never really concerned something drastic would happen about it,” Maas said. “I felt I was always going to continue to stay head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos.
“I certainly was hip to the fact and listening and hoping that we weren’t going to have to give up any compensation because it would ultimately hurt our club. That was the only reason I kept paying attention to it.”