By Allen Cameron
DeVone Claybrooks expected a few snags along the way in his transition from player to coach.
The veteran defensive lineman hung up his cleats in the off-season after toiling in the Canadian Football League trenches for nearly three seasons with the Calgary Stampeders, and accepted an offer from the team to become its new defensive line coach.
That was one challenge. The other was thrown at him last month when one of the men to whom Claybrooks thought he'd be answering, defensive co-ordinator Dave Walkosky, bolted from the Stamps to accept a special-teams co-ordinator job at Georgia Tech.
So after getting comfortable with Walkosky's defensive philosophy and expectations over the first two months of his job, Claybrooks, like the rest of the defensive staff, had to adjust on the fly after the Stamps immediately hired Rick Campbell to replace Walkosky.
In other words, the learning curve got a little bit steeper for Claybrooks.
"We would have been in the same system with Walky (through to the opening of training camp in early June), but with Rick, we're putting in a new defence and we're behind the 8-ball, so there are some long hours right now," admitted Claybrooks on Wednesday in the new office he occupies at McMahon Stadium. "The biggest adjustment is probably prioritizing. You get 15 to 20 things to do, and you have to decide the order of importance. But one thing about Huff (Stamps coach and GM John Hufnagel) and Rick, they don't really micromanage. They trust that they've hired the right people for the job, and they trust you to get the job done."
Just the fact that he's in Calgary in mid-March is a departure from his days as a player. The past few years, Claybrooks would have been home in Virginia, tending to the restaurant he owns and working out, and wouldn't get to Calgary until late May, just before training camp.
Instead, he's spending a minimum 10 hours a day, watching gametape, corresponding with players, coaches and agents, and wrapping his head around how he's going to deal with players who were once his peers but are now, for all intents and purposes, his students.
"It's the funniest thing. You're contacting players during the off-season, but some of their numbers might not be right," said Claybrooks. "So I'll e-mail them on Facebook, and I'll say, hey, what's up, it's Coach Clay." (He pauses to chuckle). "That still makes me laugh when I say that. So I'll say send me your number, I just want to check on how you're doing. And they're always like, 'Is everything OK?' It's so weird. But the older guys who've been around, I told them straight up, hey, it's professional football. We're friends, but this is a business and my job is to get you ready and your job is making me look good."
Even the concept of watching video has taken on a new perspective for Claybrooks.
"Oh, totally different," he nodded. "Usually when you watch film, you watch the (opposing) offence. You don't ever watch defence. And I think a big adjustment is that I know the front seven like the back of my hand, but you have to factor in the secondary coverage aspects. If you want to grow as a coach, you have to know the big picture. But I'm lucky because Rick is a great teacher and he takes the time to answer any questions and he knows all aspects of the defence."
Even though he's adopted the hermit lifestyle of a position coach, Claybrooks hasn't forgotten how to have fun. He took part in Rhett Warrener's KidSport fundraiser earlier this month, Retro's Bowlerama, and won a bet with KidSport board member Michelle Berg of Elevated Human Resources by scoring better than 100 - Berg will make a chunky donation to KidSport as a result.
But for the most part, the fun and games are over. Now it's down to serious business for Claybrooks until camp opens in June.
"I want to be ready so that if Corey (Mace) or Charleston (Hughes) asks me a question, I have an answer that I know is 100 per cent right," he said. "Everybody who played hated the coach who was the guy who would never know or would you tell you something that would get changed.
"I never want to be that guy."