Making sense of Paopao’s return and October’s “promotion”

Dig out your Hawaiian shirts because the Throwin’ Samoan is back in Ottawa.

Two weeks after being blindsided by Jamie Elizondo’s surprise departure for the XFL, the Redblacks have decided to fill the hole at the offensive coordinator position with a two-pronged approach; reaching back into the past and giving one of their own a faux-promotion.

In a move sure to trigger some in the fanbase, the Redblacks have added Joe Paopao to their staff as running backs coach. Best known for his colourful shirts, cheerful demeanour and fondness of hitch passes, Paopao has been around the CFL game for three decades and boasts a wealth of experience.

That’s not to say he brings a winning pedigree with him, because frankly, he doesn’t. As a player, Paopao started 94 games at the quarterback position, going 38-54-2. As the only coach in Renegades history (John Jenkins doesn’t count since the team was suspended before he ever took the field), Paopao led the team to a 23-49 record over four seasons.

From there, Paopao moved into the USports ranks, coaching Waterloo to a 3-13 record in two seasons before being let go. He spent the 2014 season as a receivers coach with the B.C. Lions before moving to back to university and the NCAA as Simon Fraser’s offensive coordinator. In the three seasons he spent as SFU’s offensive coordinator, Paopao’s team went 0-29.

Despite his lack of success at nearly all levels of football, Paopao is universally beloved by his players, as evidenced by former Renegade (and current Redblacks stadium announcer) Mike Sutherland’s Twitter thread.

To make space for Paopao, the Redblacks shuffled Beau Walker from running backs coach to quarterback coach. While easily overlooked, the move may be a wise one. Walker has been an offensive assistant with Ottawa for the past three seasons and before that spent time with Nebraska and Oregon State.

Having Paopao in the fold isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Redblacks. First and foremost, he was hired as the running back coach and in his system, ex-Renegade running back Josh Ranek posted three 1,000-yard seasons. If he’s purely a positional coach, his positive attitude and experience could be a benefit. But as his radio interview made clear, Paopao will also be expected to mentor and aid receivers coach Winston October, who will now handle play-calling duties for Ottawa.

On paper, handing October the play-calling reigns makes a lot of sense. He’s got significant CFL experience as a player, has been coaching since 2007 and focused on the offensive side of the ball since 2014.

According to Martin Comtois, even though October will be acting as the offensive coordinator, head coach Rick Campbell won’t name him as such, choosing to instead go with a committee approach.

This follows in the rich tradition of exactly zero championship teams who have done the same. In all seriousness, how could this possibly end well?

It’s fine and dandy to say that you’ve got an existing system and playbook and simply need someone to direct the attack, but being a coordinator isn’t recycling the same plays every week. Innovation, tweaking and implementing game plans tailored to exploiting an opposing defence is necessary.

If the Redblacks do indeed go with a “by-committee” approach, it raises a ton of questions. Who’s drawing up plays during the week of practice? Who’s putting together the game plan? Who’s making half-time adjustments? When it comes to time for a crucial third down, who has final say on the play call?

Without a clear chain of command, the devil will indeed be in the details.

There’s no denying the Redblacks were dealt a terrible hand. Losing a talented offensive coordinator like Elizondo six weeks out from training camp was a crushing blow, further compounded by the number of offensive starters the team lost in free agency.

Given how deep into the off-season we are, it’s not like the Redblacks had a ton of options to fill the sudden void created when Elizondo left. Coaching positions around the league have been set in stone for months, along with staffs at USports programs. But I’m not sure that adding a nostalgic name and dumping more responsibility on an existing staff member without giving him the actual job title is the solution.

Ultimately Campbell and general manager Marcel Desjardins deserve the benefit of doubt; they didn’t stumble their way to three Grey Cups in four years by accident. But if things do go sideways, they’ll have no-one to blame but themselves.

Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).