Relationship with Trevor Harris presents ‘huge advantage’ for Elks head coach Jaime Elizondo

Jaime Elizondo’s business card might say head football coach, but the man in charge of the Edmonton Elks thinks that is somewhat of a misnomer.

“We’re ultimately not in the football business, we’re in the relationship business and that’s where it really starts. We sit in a locker room with a bunch of guys as coaches and it’s all about building authentic relationships, real relationships, and the relationships that are built throughout the locker room, throughout the building, are the ones that really create championships,” Elizondo said on The Jason Gregor Show Thursday.

“Whatever plays we draw up or schemes we draw up, no matter how we teach or how we coach it, it all starts in those relationships.”

Not all relationships are created equal, however, and when the Elks take the field with their antler-emblazoned helmets for the first time this year, it is Elizondo’s relationship with quarterback Trevor Harris that will be put on display.

Elizondo held the role of offensive coordinator for the Ottawa Redblacks from 2016 to 2018, appearing in two Grey Cups and winning one in 2016. In his first season, he guided a Redblacks’ offence that saw four receivers eclipse the 1,000-yard mark — Greg Ellingson, Chris Williams, Ernest Jackson, and Brad Sinopoli.

Now the starter in Edmonton, Harris spent three seasons under Elizondo’s tutelage in the nation’s capital, setting a single-season career-high for passing yards with 5,116 yards in 2018. That same season, Harris threw for single-game CFL playoff record six touchdowns in a 46-27 win over Hamilton in the East Final.

In total, Harris has accumulated 13,096 passing yards and 68 touchdowns, while completing over 70 percent of his passes with Elizondo calling plays. The rapport they’ve built could translate to instant success in 2021.

“It’s a huge advantage. It starts with just having the confidence with each other to be able to say, ‘I like this,’ ‘I don’t like that,’ ‘I want to try this,’ or ‘Hey, can we look at it this way?’ I think that’s the huge part,” Elizondo explained.

“When you come into any organization as a play-caller or head coach, that dynamic with any quarterback, there’s kind of a dating process where you’re trying to get to know one another, what you can say and how they interpret it. I coach them hard. Can I get on him? How does he respond? The beauty for Trevor and I is we’ve worked together and we know exactly how we both like to operate.”

The two have bonded as Harris has blossomed into one of the league’s best passers. He made 13 starts in his first season in Edmonton in 2019, completing 343-of-478 passes for 4,027 yards with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. He set two new CFL playoff records in the 2019 East Semi-Final, completing 22 consecutive passes and 92.3 percent of his throws.

“Trevor’s really grown over the past two years, just in the season that he played here but also in the off-season and all the work that he’s done,” Elizondo added. “I think we just love being around each other and love talking football. That’s where some of it starts is just the comfort of liking the guy and being around the guy.”

The quarterback holds a special place in any head coach’s heart but Elizondo has a roster filled with similarly strong relationships — a solid foundation for a Grey Cup contender.

“That extends down to guys like Greg Ellingson and Jonathan Rose on defence,” he emphasized. “All the guys that I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know, they’re great players to be part of this. I think that familiarity is really key.”

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