A football locker room needs leadership. It needs authoritative voices that carry through the noise and are respected by those around them.
With the Calgary Stampeders having lost well-entrenched veterans like Bo Levi Mitchell, Jameer Thurman, and Kamar Jorden this past off-season, the club has reached into its past to reconnect with some of the locker room’s old voices.
Hall of Fame receiver Nik Lewis and two-time West Division all-star linebacker Juwan Simpson, who played a combined 292 regular season games with the club, are newly-minted position coaches, and though they may not have always been visible in the sea of players, they were frequently audible above the din.
One former player who wasn’t expected to be seen at training camp was Rob Cote. The Calgary native has a heavy handshake from his time with the team due to all the rings on his fingers. He played 178 games for the Stampeders and appeared in four Grey Cups, winning twice. Cote was also twice voted by his teammates as the winner of the President’s Ring for excellence on and off the field.
The retired fullback is currently serving as a guest coach and isn’t the only former team great who will be making an appearance this training camp. Former defensive back Brandon Smith will also be guest coaching, as will retired defensive tackle Tom Johnson.
“I think our team can learn a lot from a vet that has been there and done that,” said head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson. “I want guys that have been there and understand what our standard is, what the expectations are, and also a little authenticity. (Johnson) is a great story about a guy that got to the NFL and (Smith) is going to be on our Wall of Fame someday.”
Smith was a Hall of Fame-worthy defensive back who played 174 regular season games for the Stampeders. He made 643 tackles over his 11-year career, which ranks No. 16 on the league’s all-time list, along with 17 interception and eight sacks. He also has three Grey Cup rings.
Johnson played only two seasons in Calgary before finishing his career with an eight-year run in the NFL, but Dickenson said that the defensive tackle always remained in contact with the Stampeders even when playing south of the border.
“If they are thinking of getting into coaching football, this is a great start,” Dickenson added. He isn’t wrong.
When looking at the Hufnagel era coaching tree in the CFL, there are several branches that first formed in Calgary.
Of the CFL’s nine current head coaches, five have spent time in Calgary since Hufnagel rejoined the franchise in 2008. Dickenson, Chris Jones, Rick Campbell, Ryan Dinwiddie, and Craig Dickenson all served as coordinators during that timespan and it’s likely that Mark Kilam, the team’ well-tenured special team coordinator, will soon join the league’s head coaching ranks as well.
Former receiver Jabari Arthur is also in training camp as a part of the CFL’s Diversity in Football Program. Arthur became the offensive coordinator of the Calgary Dinos this past season after a five-year run as the club’s receivers coach.
As the Stampeders’ roster continues to get younger, with only eight players over the age of 30, there is also a need to reinforce what the team is supposed to be.
Leadership has to come from within, but Calgary’s not being shy about using former leaders to set an example for the next generation of players, hoping that someone will grab the reins.