Corey Chamblin says he isn’t the best football coach in his family at the moment.
With his two young sons playing flag football back home in Arizona while Dad runs the defence for the Toronto Argonauts, Chamblin’s wife Samantha stepped in to serve as head coach and offensive coordinator. How’d she do? They are heading to the playoffs as the fourth seed in a 14-team league and have the highest-scoring offence.
“I’m super proud of her. She had to take a step and do something unbelievable so it’s rewarding to see the work she’s put in and the fruit that’s come from that,” Chamblin said this week as his team prepares for Sunday’s East Final. “Except now she’s telling me what we should be doing.”
Chamblin knows a little bit about the ups and downs that come with rapid ascension and more or less instant success. After a largely uneventful six-year career in the NFL – he played 11 games with the Jacksonville Jaguars while bouncing around several practice squads – Chamblin took his first coaching gig as a positional assistant in 2006. Six years later, he was the head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and one year after that, a Grey Cup champion.
But despite that title – played on home soil in the 100th year of the franchise – Chamblin was fired less than two seasons later after an 0-9 start. Still on the Saskatchewan pay roll, he returned to the United States to do some professional development and personal soul searching.
“I had a great run as a coach at a young age and it was important for me to get back to the point where I was ‘Corey’ and not ‘coach’ anymore, separate the role from the person,” he said. “Sometimes you can get so caught up in that role you can forget that your needs, your family’s needs must come first. There are still sacrifices that have to be made but now I can balance things better.”
Chamblin started a website called Gameday Connections aimed at developing networking opportunities for coaches and athletes on and off the field. He spent time with other coaches, including friend and mentor Mike Tomlin, the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He weighed his options in both American college football and the NFL.
Then Marc Trestman called.
The newly-minted head coach of the Argonauts had Chamblin on a very short list of potential defensive coordinators, despite the fact the two had never coached together. They spent much of their early get-to-know-you conversations talking not about football but about their philosophical approach to life.
“A lot of it was on a personal level: this is who I am, this is what it is,” Chamblin said. “Marc’s very detailed on how he wants certain things done. We may say things a different way but we have the same end result in what we believe. Both of us have head coaching experience so we meet there because we have the team in mind.”
So Chamblin returned to the CFL and has helped the Argonauts to a remarkable defensive turnaround. After finishing in 2016 season dead last in points surrendered – the team was 5-13 – Toronto was second in net offence allowed, tied for first in sacks and, mostly importantly, 9-9 and first in the East Division.
“He brings energy and finds ways to motivate you every day,” said defensive end Shawn Lemon “He finds that small thing and gets in your mind before practice and has you work on the little details. He keeps you on edge.”
Chamblin says facing his old team in Sunday’s playoff game with a trip to the Grey Cup on the line won’t carry any extra emotional significance.
“Would I have liked it to turn out differently? Yes. But my quality of life is a whole lot better as a person and as a coach because of the lessons I learned in Saskatchewan,” he said. “There’s nothing I would do differently because I wouldn’t end up here.”
Sounds like something Coach Samantha would agree with.