July 20, 2011

Coaches are team within a team

By Bill Powers
Special to

For the most part, the fans of Calgary Stampeders — or any of the clubs in the Canadian Football League — can identify with most or all of the players on the field.

And when TV covers the game, the cameras usually focus in on the head coach, in this case John Hufnagel.
But there is a supporting cast that makes the whole operation tick for that head coach. Those are his assistant coaches and this year Huff has nine on his staff and one of those is Pete Costanza, who is in charges of receivers. This week, I cornered Pete in his office in the coaches’ building at the south end of McMahon Stadium.
I wanted to know what a normal day was like for one of the assistants that many of you might never see unless you happen to stop by a team practice. Some of the coaches are on the sidelines with the players but others, like Pete, are in the press box watching the game and tuned in electronically to those on the field.
Anyway, a typical day for Costanza is not a normal working day for you and I.
In brief, he hits the office between 5:30 and 6 a.m. almost every day during the season. First job, like most of us, is get that coffee mug filled before hitting the computer to look for anything that might be important for the next game and what changes the next opponent might have made.

Then he meets with offensive coordinator Dave Dickenson to put together a short game plan for, in this case, the Edmonton Eskimos. Then the two of them will meet with offensive line coach Kris Sweet, running backs coach Mike Gibson and Mark Kilam, who handles the special teams. Together, they formulate an overall game plan for the next game which will be distributed to each of the players.
Following that, they will meet with the players to discuss upcoming plans.
Next up is the practice. Each coach watches the players he’s responsible for and sees how they react to the new plays that the coaching staff think will work against Edmonton. The coaches have not only, like you and I, watched Edmonton beat British Columbia last week but have broken down the film of that game as provided by the league.

What you may not know is that every play in practice is taped and, after practice is over, it’s back to the meeting room to go over each and every play that was run in a workout that lasts, on average, about an hour and a half. Pete and Mike Gibson will gather with the receivers and running backs until about 1 p.m.
After what would be a quick lunch, it’s back to work for the coaches as they gather in Huff’s office and do it again, but with all of the crew in the mix this time. From this they make practice notes which include plays that the coaches have drawn up for the next day’s workout and are put in the lockers of the players.
That goes from 2:30 to about 5 p.m. after which, in Pete’s case, he goes back to the office he started the day in 12 hours before and does what he needs done for the next day. It means that, on a good day, he can leave the office and be home by 6:30 p.m.

Now last Saturday, that home time meant watching the Eskimos game with his notepad at his side as he looks for anything that could be used in developing a win tonight at McMahon.
Pete tells me that watching the game really doesn’t give him any kind of an edge, if you will, but when the game film arrives then he can break down that Edmonton defence looking for anything that could provide that edge.
What you have here with Pete, Kris, Dave, Mike and Mark is a team within a team and Costanza, who was brought in by Hufnagel four years ago, thinks this is as good an offensive teaching unit as there is in the CFL.
They love their work and are dedicated to their jobs. I hope they reach that elusive goal of a Grey Cup title again this year. And a win Saturday night would certainly provide a huge step in that direction.