December 12, 2017

Happy in Calgary

DeVone Claybrooks during the 2017 season (Photo by David Moll)

The big man admits to being flattered.

Intrigued. Enticed. Even swayed, ever-so-slightly.

After all, who doesn’t enjoy the attentions of an ardent suitor? Who doesn’t get a kick out of being wooed?

“But at the end of the day,’’ DeVone Claybrooks is explaining, “you want to be where you’re happy.

“Calgary’s where I’m happy.

“I’ve been here nine years, this is my 10th season coming up. I’ve established roots here.

“You look at other situations around the league. In my nine years here, other teams have gone through five or six (coaching) staffs.

“In the same time frame, I can think of maybe three coaches who’ve left Calgary.

“That isn’t just coincidence.

“In professional sports, especially in coaching, when you can find a place that pays you fairly, respects your opinion, you’re respected for what you do and they let you do your job … well, you ride it until the wheels fall off.”

Photo by David Moll

After thinking about whether to pack up, head east, trade Alberta beef for Montreal Smoked Meat, swap Howdy for Bonjour, and set up shop at Percival Molson Stadium, Claybrooks’ wheels will continue to ride him to McMahon Stadium this summer.

In the market for a head coach, Montreal Alouettes general manager Kavis Reed identified the Stampeders’ much sought-after defensive coordinator as his first-choice hire.

Offered a promotion, the chance to be the guy in charge of a team for the first time, Claybrooks was certainly tempted.

Instead, after weighing everything, he chose to stay with the Red and White.

“I can’t say anything negative about Kavis, about the process,’’ says Claybrooks. “I enjoyed it. It was a great learning experience for me … my first head-coaching interview, so at least I have an idea of what to expect in the next one.

“They were pros. I thank them for their interest.

“A wise man told me: You don’t go looking for your next job, they come find you.

“I’ve been fortunate every year enough to have my name come up for this or that, NFL opportunities or big college opportunities.

“In any situation, any circumstance, you want it to be as much of a sure thing as possible. And like I said, I’ve got a pretty good thing going here.”

The Claybrooks-blueprinted Stampeder defence dominated the CFL through 2017, finishing first in points allowed, net offence allowed, yards surrendered per play, first downs given up, fewest passing touchdowns against, fewest passing first downs, etc., etc., etc.

“The thing is, our guys took pride in it, ownership of it, which is great,’’ Claybrooks says.

“Don’t look at me. It’s their defence.

“They bought in. As I’ve said numerous times, players only listen to you for two reasons: You can make them more money or you can make them great.

“Those two things go hand-in-hand – if you’re winning, everybody gets paid because everyone loves winners. They know that no one player or one ego is bigger than the brand. If you can foster the mentality where’s it’s not a ‘Me! Me! Me!’ (you’ll be successful), especially the millennials today who grow up with a Me Mentality from the cradle. So you have to do a good job of solidifying that trust, where they trust you’re going to put them into the right situations to be successful.

“There’s always things you can improve on. Huff and Dave (Dickenson) do a great job of understanding how and where we need to be better. Whether it’s schematic-wise or player-wise.”

Photo by David Moll

So he’ll be back, ball cap slightly askew, prowling the sidelines at McMahon this summer into early winter, plotting how to stop Reilly and Jennings, Carter and Harris.

“I’m not in a hurry to leave,’’ Claybrooks reiterates. “Calgary’s my home. I love the people I work for and work with. Not many people in any job get to say that.

“And I’m really only going into my third season as a coordinator. I’ve played and coached a lot of football over the years, but compared to (Mike) Benevides, Mark Washington, (Mark) Nelson, Richie Hall …those guys have been coordinators 10-plus seasons.

“I’m actually still learning as I go.”

One day, hopefully sooner than later, Claybrooks expects to be the guy on the sidelines who has the final say.

That’s certainly in his imagination, in his ambition.

“Oh, yes. Definitely. When the timing’s right, the circumstances are right and the situation’s right. The way it was the right situation when I became coordinator here.

“That’s such a big part of it. You want to go into something with the best chance possible of making it into a success.

“I think I can run a team. I think I’m ready to run a team.”

But for the moment, anyway, he remains more than content to continue running the stingiest defence in the land.