Great coaches mold great athletes, but sometimes there are players so great that those on the sideline hesitate to take any credit at all.
Following the retirement of NFL icon Tom Brady, that is exactly how Calgary Stampeders’ general manager John Hufnagel feels. The Canadian Football Hall of Famer spent the 2003 season in New England as Brady’s quarterback coach and he has one big take away from the experience.
“I’m just glad I didn’t screw him up,” Hufnagel laughed on The Rod Pedersen Show after the titular host brought up his photographic appearance in the recent docuseries Man in the Arena.
“I haven’t kept in touch with Tom, but he’s a complete gentleman. Just a great teammate, a great person, very polite and a great pro. During that TV show, I’m kind of surprised you did recognize me, because my hair was a lot darker.”
Under Hufnagel’s instruction, a young Brady threw for 3,620 yards and 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on his way to winning his second Super Bowl, taking home MVP honours in the NFL championship game as well. It would be their lone season together, as Hufnagel was then hired as offensive coordinator of the New York Giants.
Brady would go on to win seven Super Bowls in ten appearances and take home three NFL MVPs while throwing for 84,520 yards and 624 touchdowns against 203 interceptions. He retired this offseason with 243 career wins and 15 Pro Bowl appearances, all league records.
“When I was with him, he never missed a practice, always first guy in the meeting room, the last guy to leave the stadium after practice. He puts the work in, he gets himself ready to play and his God-given ability takes over. Plus he’s got a pretty good head coach he’s working for,” Hufnagel recalled, referencing his former boss Bill Belichick.
“I think you saw greatness in his very first year when he took over for Drew Bledsoe and led them to the Super Bowl. The way they won that Super Bowl game, because they had to win it in the last drive of that game, so he’s got great composure, great vision, throws very accurate and does the right things at the right time.”
Hufnagel’s own career trajectory has been no minor feat. Since his return to the CFL in 2008, Hufnagel has established the Stampeders as the league’s dominant powerhouse, first as the ninth winningest head coach in league history and then as the GM. While lacking Brady’s win percentage in the title game, the class of 2020 Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee has won six Grey Cups — two as a player, one as an assistant, two as a head coach, and one as GM.
Over the years, he’s coached many incredible quarterbacks, including both Manning brothers, Kurt Warner, Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia, Henry Burris, Dave Dickenson and Bo Levi Mitchell. When it comes to being called the greatest of all time, Brady was a cut above.
“If he’s not, he’s up there. I mean, what he has accomplished is truly amazing,” Hufnagel said. “It’ll be a long, long time before someone does it better, but right now he has done it the best.”