Ricky Foley considers the return of defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler as the Toronto Argonauts’ biggest move this off-season.
Stubler, 66, is in his third stint with Toronto after spending the last two years with the Calgary Stampeders. With nearly 30 years of CFL coaching experience _he’s also spent time in the NCAA and arena football ranks _ Stubler has won five Grey Cups and is highly respected for consistently delivering championship-calibre defences.
Stubler earned his last Grey Cup title with Calgary in 2014. The Stampeders (14-4) were second in the West last year and ranked second defensively in net yards allowed (302.5 per game), points (19.2), fumble recoveries (15) and passing yards (246.6) while being tied for third in sacks (49).
Foley, the CFL’s top Canadian in ’09 with B.C. and a three-time Grey Cup champion, said Stubler’s experience sets him apart.
“He has an answer for everything,” the veteran defensive end said. “You can’t show him anything that he hasn’t already seen and that’s invaluable.
“I don’t think people realize just how big the coach’s role is. To the average fan it’s, ‘Oh, they have new coaches,’ but it makes a huge difference.”
Toronto (10-8) was third in the East last season with a defence that was ranked eighth against the pass (282.8 yards per game), seventh in points allowed (27.7) and sixth in both sacks (46) and net yards (348.6). Head coach Scott Milanovich expects the unit to play fast and aggressively under Stubler.
“I think you’ll see more collisions with balls in receivers’ hands and our guys coming downhill on them and breaking on the ball,” Milanovich said. “I think you’ll see more pick-sixes (interceptions returned for TDs), hopefully.”
Defensive back Keon Raymond, entering his ninth CFL season, joined the Argos as a free agent in the off-season. One reason why Raymond moved to Toronto was to follow Stubler.
“Having Rich here has made for a much easier transition,” Raymond said. “Anywhere I was going to go, I was going to follow him knowing his defensive scheme works and we’re going to be productive.
“He allows you to make this defence your own. It’s like a having a picture that you can paint whatever way you want because he empowers us to do that. It’s all about team defence and I think once we get to that point where we understand it . . . we’re going to have a mural that’s beautiful.”
Toronto GM Jim Barker was busy this off-season retooling his defence. He re-signed Canadian linebackers Cory Greenwood, Thomas Miles and James Yurichuk as well as American Brandon Isaac, national defensive lineman Daryl Waud and safety Jermaine Gabriel while adding Raymond and former Hamilton defensive linemen Brian Bulcke, Bryan Hall and Justin Hickman.
“I feel as if he puts the onus on the players,” Foley said of Stubler. “There’s a lot of responsibility on us to communicate.
“You can scheme stuff up as much as you want but really it’s us out there making calls on the fly. That’s why it’s a really big help having Keon out there and other veterans on the defensive line. It’s easier to communicate and be on the same page.”
Foley, 33, a 10-year CFL veteran, figures Stubler’s defence suits him well. The six-foot-three, 258-pound native of Courtice, Ont., was the top Canadian in Toronto’s win over Calgary in the 100th Grey Cup at Rogers Centre in 2012 and has 56 sacks and 343 tackles over his pro career.
“Personally, I get to stand up . . . I get to put tackles on an island and that’s my strength,” Foley said. “I’m really looking forward to just being in space and not having my hand in the dirt and being able to see everything.”
Most importantly, Foley said Stubler is making the usually mundane and tedious existence that is training camp much more enjoyable.
“That might be the most understated thing,” Foley said. “It’s training camp, everyone is beat up and feels like crap but we’re still out there laughing and joking and having fun because the veterans don’t want to be robots.
“Really, it’s about 12 guys being at their best.”