The Calgary Stampeders have entered a new chapter as, for the first time since 2008, John Hufnagel is no longer general manager of the club.
The 71-year-old has stayed on as the team’s president, a role he added in 2016 when he stepped away from coaching. Head coach Dave Dickenson have been given the title of general manager, giving him the same dual role Hufnagel took on when he joined the Stampeders in 2008.
Hufnagel ushered in a period of unparalleled success for the club. The club went 175-70-3 during his 14 seasons as general manager, a winning percentage of .712. The team made the postseason every year, appeared in six Grey Cups, and won three.
Dickenson will have Sideshow Bob-sized shoes to fill when he steps into Hufagel’s office for the second time in his career, after previously succeeding him in the head coach position.
On the decision to replace him, Hufnagel said the plan has been in place for a long time, going back to when Dickenson signed his last contract extension. He thinks the team will be in good hands with Dickenson at the helm, while being assisted by newly-promoted assistant general manager Brendon Mahoney.
“We came to the conclusion a while ago, so it wasn’t something we just came up with. It was well planned out. I wanted that to happen so they would have the opportunity to fully grasp their new responsibilities they would have through the course of last season and now we can make it known what is going on and they can roll up their sleeves and get to work,” said Hufnagel.
“Dave and I have always had the same vision, and that’s why when he became the head coach it was a very seamless transition and I expect this to be also.”
One area that may represent a difference between the two men, however, is philosophical. Hufnagel had long maintained two maxims during his time in Calgary: first, no player on the roster would ever be the highest-paid player at their position league-wide; and second, there are no bargains on the first day of free agency.
When asked if that vision was shared between them, Dickenson veered to his own path.
“I’m not going to put a ‘never say never’ thing,” he said. “If you’ve got the best player, you might have to do something. You might have to put that money on there.”
However, the paths weren’t overly divergent.
“I do think football is based on team. It’s based on a group of people coming together for a common goal. It’s a little more difficult to shape a roster when you are out of whack sometimes on the top end.”
When it comes to maxim number two, the departure of Bo Levi Mitchell’s contract may open a few more doors.
“I’m open for free agency, though. I think there is other good players in the league. I’ll always be loyal to our guys but you got to understand you are always looking to upgrade.”
Hufnagel won’t be completely out of the mix despite the job change as he mentioned that as the president of the team he remains “in charge of every dollar spent.” Dickenson went on to speak to what he brings to the role.
“My main thing, and I think that anybody who’s been around me understands, is that I’m pretty brutally honest in the sense that I will tell you things you don’t want to hear. I’m not going to argue with you, but it is my opinion and as of now, my opinion carries a little more weight. I think they guys understand what I’m about.”
On the flip side there are some things he will need to learn in a hurry and will be leaning on his team internally.
“I’ve never negotiated a contract, and I guess I do the coaches now but I’ve never negotiated a contract with a player. I will leave that to the other guys and have an understanding and if I need to get involved, then I get involved.”
With 20 pending free agents left on the list, Dickenson’s team will be put to the test although they have already locked up Rene Paredes, Reggie Begelton, Aaron Crawford and William Langlais with Hufnagel still in charge.
The vast majority of Calgary’s all-stars still remain unsigned and for a team that treasures continuity, significant work remains to be done. The newly-minted GM will have some tough decisions ahead with some of the veteran players on the team.
“To be honest, we are super young, and our vets had some amazing years. There is always tough decisions. It’s harder for me to look at a vet and not maybe commit to that person one hundred percent.”
Dickenson also spoke to the chemistry that is building within the locker room but a need to find some more pieces to get them a playoff win, which hasn’t happened since their Grey Cup victory in 2018.
The Hufnagel era ends in far better shape that most franchises do when change of this magnitude takes place, and it will be interesting to see if Dickenson is more aggressive getting high-priced players than we’ve seen from this club in the past.