Posts Tagged ‘CFL’

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The Saskatchewan Roughriders have named Jeremy O’Day the team’s general manager and vice-president of football operations.

O’Day fills the void of Chris Jones, who left the team on Tuesday to take a job with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.

“I am very pleased to announce Jeremy O’Day as the franchises next general manager,” stated Riders president and CEO Craig Reynolds. “Jeremy is a true leader and highly respected throughout the CFL.

“I have complete confidence he will continue to guide our team in the right direction. He is a quality person and more than ready to assume this position.”

This is O’Day’s second tenure as the Riders’ general manager after he was named the franchises 15th GM on Aug. 31, 2015 – a positional he held on an interim basis for the final nine games of that season.

“First of all, I want to thank Craig Reynolds and the entire organization for the support and opportunity to be named the clubs general manager,” stated O’Day. “I am excited to get to work and look forward to the challenges and successes that are ahead.”

The 44-year-old O’Day is entering his 21st season of consecutive service with the Roughriders.

The former Roughriders offensive lineman moved into the front office after retiring as a player in February 2011, accepting the position of football operations coordinator. In 2012 he was named assistant general manager, a position he held for the next four years.

In December of 2015, O’Day was named vice president of football operations and administration under Chris Jones. In this role, O’Day led many day-to-day football operations activities, including player evaluations, contract negotiations, and coordinating training camp, mini camps and free-agent camps. He also participated in the scouting of NFL, NCAA and U Sports games.

O’Day’s playing career in the CFL began in 1997, when he joined the Toronto Argonauts after a standout career at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. He played two seasons with the Argos, winning a Grey Cup with them in 1997.

In 1999, O’Day signed as a free agent with Saskatchewan and spent the next 12 seasons on the Riders’ offensive line. He started 202 regular-season games for Saskatchewan, which ranks him 12th on the club’s all-time list of games played. He also appeared in 16 playoff games and three Grey Cup games with the Roughriders, helping them win the CFL title in 2007.

O’Day won his third Grey Cup in 2013 when he was a member of Saskatchewan’s front office.

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Diego Jair Viamontes Cotera eventually dealt with the nerves that came with the combine on Sunday.

Once the 28-year-old receiver was on the field at Estadio Azul in Mexico City, the game put him at ease, like it always does.

He wasn’t ready for what came on Monday.

Surrounded by his friends, family, coaches, teammates and opponents in the LFA, Cotera was chosen first overall in the CFL-LFA draft. The room went up when his name was announced and it looked like he had to stop to take congratulations from every person in front of him before he made his way to the stage, where the Edmonton Eskimos awaited him.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said after the draft, still wearing the Esks’ green and gold hat atop his head.

“I heard my number and I started to think, is that really my number? After they said my name, I couldn’t believe it.”

The rush of being the first-ever player chosen in the CFL and LFA’s partnership and having what has been a long and challenging dream acknowledged by a league over 4,000 kms away were emotions he couldn’t have prepared for. He made his way up to the stage, shook all of the hands he needed too and smiled for the photos.

Players chosen in Monday’s draft had their rights linked to the teams that chose them. They weren’t offered contracts but did sign a commitment letter. That’s where things got difficult for Cotera.

“I was out there signing the commitment letter and I stopped,” he said. “I was looking at the letter and the guy in charge said, to sign it. I said, ‘I’m not reading it, I’m shaking. I can’t write.’”

He eventually put pen to paper to confirm the deal.

“(Signing the letter) it really hit me. I’m very thankful for the organization of the Edmonton Eskimos for putting this trust in me. They won’t regret it.”

David Turner, the Esks’ new director of player personnel and Bobby Merritt, the team’s director of scouting, were on hand in Mexico City through the weekend in place of GM Brock Sunderland. Turner said he was impressed by Cotera throughout the combine on Sunday. Cortera had the top shuttle time in the combine, at 4.20 seconds.

“He was really a polished route runner, had good speed. He’s a guy that had really good concentration when he was looking at the ball, really working it in,” he said.

“He was probably top-two in hands and we really liked how he ran his routes. Those were the big things for us.

“The intangibles were the personality, the energy he brought all day. He was happy throughout the process. It was a long day but even at the end he was excited. Talking to him through the day he seemed to be a good person.

“We talked to him about moving up there (to Edmonton), and being a part of that process, he was excited about it. That’s the kind of energy you hope to gain from getting a player like Diego in this process.”

Last year, playing for Mayas in the LFA, Cotera had 26 catches for 519 yards and seven touchdowns. The five-foot-10, 189-pound receiver said he started his career with the Raptors in Naucalpan, just northwest of Mexico City, but didn’t start to have success until he was traded to Mayas.

“After they traded me to the Mayas I really started to enjoy the play,” Cotera said.

“I think with football, the more you enjoy it the more it gives to you. Last season was very good for me, I ended (fourth) in receiving yards and I’m looking forward to this season in the LFA.”

Cotera also impressed Turner and Merritt with his knowledge of the Canadian game. He said he’s been watching the CFL for a couple of years and was familiar with the Esks.

“I know Edmonton and their history,” he said. “They have the second-most Grey Cup wins and very good players.”

“He said he’d watched some games, he knew what it is,” Turner said.

Turner said that Cotera, along with their second-round pick, linebacker Daniel Carrete and their third-round pick, defensive back Jose Alfonsin Romero, were all smart kids and said that they needed to draft smart people to make the move to Canada work.

“If you talk to any of them, they’re smart kids sand that’s important. They’re going to come up, deal with culture shock, weather shock, all that stuff,” he said.

“You want smart kids, good character kids, hard workers. We said (on Sunday) night we really felt all three of them were that. On top of their skills on the field they were that.”

There are still details to iron out with the partnership. Part of the upcoming CBA negotiation between the league and the CFL Players Association will have to include how the Mexican players are designated and where they might fit in if they aren’t on an active roster. Teams will have to figure out if they’ll invite all three of their draft picks to rookie camps and/or training camps as well. BC and Winnipeg indicated to TSN’s Dave Naylor that they would bring all three of their picks up for camp, like they would any other new players.

“The directive we got from (Sunderland) was to come down here and find the best guys. By getting the No. 1 overall pick in every round I think we were able to do that,” Turner said.

“Each guy has intangibles that will help them get on our roster. Now how they get on our roster is up to them. They’re going to have to compete and figure out a spot for themselves.”

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Every game from the Canadian Football League (CFL) will be available live to fans in the United States through a new multi-year agreement with ESPN and ESPN+ the league announced on Monday.

“It’s exciting for the CFL to continue its relationship with ESPN and expand onto ESPN+,” said CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie. “We have seen increases in interest in the U.S. market for Canadian football and we look forward to building on the momentum and captivating American audiences for seasons to come.”

A minimum of 20 games, including one Division Final and the Grey Cup, will be televised live on ESPN networks, with more than 65 regular season games available exclusively on ESPN+, the direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service from The Walt Disney Company’s Direct-to-Consumer & International segment and ESPN.

“ESPN+ is an exciting new platform that is letting us directly serve fans in new ways, and we’re excited that it will help us expand the way we cover the CFL,” said Burke Magnus, executive vice president, programming, ESPN. “We have a great, long-standing relationship with the CFL and look forward to bringing their dynamic league to the growing number of CFL fans in the US for years to come.”

The 2019 CFL season will open in June and continue for over five months, with the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw capping the season on Sunday, November 24 in Calgary.

ESPN began televising CFL games in 1980, and its coverage in 2018 on ESPN2 averaged 163,000 viewers, up 19% vs. 2017.

In the UK and Ireland, BT Sport will feature coverage of up to 85 CFL games per season, as a part of its long-term collaboration with ESPN.

In Canada, TSN is the exclusive English language broadcaster for the CFL and Grey Cup, and RDS is the exclusive French language broadcaster.

CFL teams are scheduled to open their training camps for the 2019 season on Sunday, May 19. The season begins on Thursday June 13 when the Saskatchewan Roughriders face off against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Edmonton will host Montreal on Friday June 14 and the Calgary Stampeders will launch the defense of their championship on Saturday June 15 when they host the Ottawa REDBLACKS. Opening week wraps up with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers travelling to BC to play the Lions.

For the entire 2019 CFL schedule, click here.

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Commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s vision for the future of the Canadian Football League is clear.

He wants to make the league international. He wants players from around the globe in CFL uniforms. He wants to sell broadcast rights back to their home countries. He wants Canadian players to participate in overseas leagues for development that might one day lead them back to the CFL.

Yes, all signs point to a very different vision for the future of the CFL, even if not everyone understands exactly how this is going to happen. There remain skeptics, especially among some franchises’ football personnel.

That’s understandable given that coaches and general managers are concerned about winning this coming season, not about some outside-the-box vision to drive the league’s future revenues.

Team owners and presidents were briefed on the international strategy this fall, but for the most part the football personnel remained focused on the 2018 season and largely in the dark about exactly what the league is up to.

That’s why one of the goals of this week’s league meetings in Mont-Tremblant, Que., was to bring the league’s coaches and general managers up to speed on where the league is heading.

That included a presentation on the state of international football, which detailed the extent of growth of the game globally, including where the best players beyond Canada and the U.S. are coming from – places like Brazil, Germany, Japan and Mexico.

CFL teams will begin putting their toes into international waters this weekend with a CFL combine in Mexico City, followed by a draft of players’ rights.

However, the fact that a good number of the league’s general managers and head coaches are taking a pass on this weekend’s venture shows there is still lukewarm enthusiasm for what this all means in the short term, especially since so many questions remain about how this will all be put together.

For instance, it’s unclear exactly how international players will become part of a CFL roster, rosters which right now are constructed of 21 Canadian players, 20 Americans and three quarterbacks (with no designation).

No one is ready to address that question, since anything to do with the ratio falls under collective bargaining with the players’ association, which is expected to begin in February.

But if international players are going to be a significant part of the future of the CFL, then presumably we’re talking about more than just a player or two on a practice roster.

That would likely mean adding roster spots to every team since it is unlikely the players’ association would come on board with a plan that means fewer jobs for Canadians.

But Mexico is just the start.

Later this winter, Ambrosie will host German football officials. The commissioner is also planning a European trip that will include visits to France, Italy and Scandinavia.

Why is all this happening? Well, the driving force behind it all is the same impetus that sent the league down the course of U.S. expansion more than a quarter century ago.

Back then, the CFL’s revenues were flat and there seemed to be limited prospects from revenue sources within Canada to increase them. So the league went in pursuit of American dollars, hoping that establishing a presence with U.S. expansion teams would lead to the pot of gold from U.S. television. Unfortunately, that experiment collapsed before that idea could be realized, although expansion fees did provide the league with a desperately needed short-term cash infusion.

Things aren’t so desperate these days. But there remains the challenge of where the next wave of new dollars will come from.

That’s where Ambrosie’s international strategy comes into play, an idea just as ambitious as U.S. expansion was but substantially less risky, it appears.

Could the CFL turn itself into a league with multiple international broadcast contracts around the world, where fans in other countries follow their countrymen playing the three-down game?

Could the league open itself up to international sponsors and investment?

It all sounds very ambitious and perhaps far-fetched to those who’ve seen the league stub its toe on far less ambitious endeavours.

But this is the path Ambrosie is taking the league down. It’s happening as we speak – even if others can’t see the end result as clearly as he can.

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He’s yet to coach a game for the B.C. Lions, but DeVone Claybrooks isn’t worried about having to fill the shoes of legendary head coach Wally Buono.

Buono retired at season’s end, culminating an illustrious 46-year tenure as a CFL player, coach and executive. Buono, 68, won seven Grey Cups (two as a player, record-tying five as a head coach), four coach-of-the-year honours, 13 West Division titles and the most games (282) in league history.

Enter Claybrooks, a six-foot-three, 300-pound former defensive lineman who earned a Super Bowl ring as a player with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in ’02 and two Grey Cups (2014, ’18) as a coach with the Calgary Stampeders.

“It (replacing Buono) has got to be in my head considering I get asked about it every five minutes,” Claybrooks said with a chuckle from Mont. Tremblant, Que., where CFL GMs, presidents and coaches are meeting this week. “The funny thing is everyone asks me, ‘How are you going to fill Wally’s shoes?’

“I’m like, ‘I’m not. Wally wears a 10 1/2 or 11 and I wear a 14.’ At the end of the day he had his journey and steered his car the way he wanted to. I’m driving this car now. I just got an oil change and tuneup and he gave me the keys. I’m going to drive it in the direction I see fit.”

That’s not to say Claybrooks won’t have Buono’s number on speed dial.

“The best part about it is I do have him to lean on if I have questions,” Claybrooks said. “He’s a great man, a great counsellor, a great mentor.

“He’s been very helpful and open. I can’t ask for more.”

Claybrooks, 41, didn’t really celebrate Calgary’s 27-16 Grey Cup win over Ottawa on Nov. 25 in Edmonton. Shortly afterwards, the Stampeders’ defensive co-ordinator interviewed with both Toronto and B.C. before being named Lions head coach Dec. 11.

“My mom was like, ‘Baby, you’ve got to enjoy this for a day or two,'” Claybrooks said. “We had a few drinks and went out for a nice dinner but I think if you get caught looking at the last one you’re not going to win the next one.”

Claybrooks spent seven seasons in Calgary, the last three as defensive co-ordinator. The Stampeders (CFL-best 13-5 record in 2018) have boasted the league’s top defence during Claybrooks’ tenure, last year finishing first in 10 of the league’s 20 defensive categories.

B.C. (9-9) finished fourth in the West Division before losing 48-8 to Hamilton in the East Division semifinal. The Lions’ defence finished tied for the CFL lead in interceptions (21) and sacks (45) and was ranked second against the pass (247.2 yards per game) but was seventh in points (26.3) and rushing yards (113.8) allowed.

Hamilton accumulated 450 offensive yards in its playoff win and registered four sacks, three more than B.C.

“I’ve always believed you start with building a defence,” Lions GM Ed Hervey said. “When you look at teams in the West Division, you have explosive offences in Edmonton and Calgary and you’ve got to be able to stop them before you have an opportunity to play with them.

“It starts there.”

Hervey knew early in his search that Claybrooks was the Lions’ best head-coaching candidate.

“Watching him over the last several years and the success he’s had co-ordinating his defence, that’s the first thing that gets you noticed,” Hervey said. “But it’s also how he handles players, his ability to interact and communicate with them.

“That’s extremely important and sometimes understated in our business. The communication a coach must have with players isn’t primarily Xs and Os but being able to relate on issues outside of football and keep the focus of the room and players.”

Claybrooks had other coaching options — most notably an offer to coach the defensive line of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys — but felt the Lions presented him the best fit.

“What I’ve learned through this journey and in the coaching profession, fit is 99.99 per cent of it,” he said. “I see things the same way Ed and Rick (Lions president Rick LeLacheur) do.

“We understand this is how we want to build our team and put this product on the field. We all see it the same way.”

Claybrooks said being a former player has helped him as a coach.

“When a player tells me on the second day of training camp he might need a vet day, I can be like, ‘Well, I’m 300 pounds and it took me seven days to get a vet day so therefore I know you’re over here trying to play this game with me.'” he said. “I’ve still got grass on my cleats. It might be brown and a little dead but it’s still grass.

“Players don’t do grey, they do black and white. If they ask you something, they might not like the answer but they’ll respect you more when you’re honest with them. And their buy-in will be even more and you’ve got to understand that as a coach.”

Make no mistake, Claybrooks is honest — sometimes brutally — with players.

“Don’t ask me a question if you don’t want to know the true answer,” he said. “Don’t ask me, ‘How am I playing?’ because you wouldn’t do that if you were playing great, right?

“So when I say, ‘You’re playing badly and need to pick it up,’ you can look at me and know, ‘At least he’s being honest because I know I was playing bad.'”

Claybrooks won’t have to wait long to face Calgary. The Lions visit McMahon Stadium on June 19.

“It won’t be tough or awkward at all because they (president/GM John Hufnagel, head coach Dave Dickenson) are like my mentors and best friends,” Claybrooks said. “It wasn’t like I snuck out or left on bad terms.

“I had Huf’s blessing, I had Dave’s blessing, they were very helpful throughout the process. It’s actually going to be exciting to match wits with guys you’ve co-ordinated and gameplanned with over the years while testing and understanding yourself as well.”

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The Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames will participate in the NHL Heritage Classic on Oct. 26 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan, commissioner Gary Bettman announced during the Winter Classic on Tuesday.

Mosaic Stadium is home to the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders and holds a crowd of 33,350. Next year’s rendition of the Heritage Classic will serve as the fifth since 2003.

Both Winnipeg and Calgary have previously participated in the event. The Jets took on the Edmonton Oilers outdoors in 2016, while the Flames defeated the Montreal Canadiens at McMahon Stadium in 2011.

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CFL scouts will have a chance to evaluate and recruit Mexican football players next month.

The CFL announced Thursday that Mexico’s Liga de Futbol Americano Professional (LFA) will host a combine Jan. 13 for leading pros and university seniors who hope to play in Canada. A draft will follow the next day.

The 45-player combine will take place at Estadio Azul, a 33,000-seat stadium in Mexico City.

The combine will feature several drills as well as interviews with representatives of CFL teams.

The CFL and LFA signed a letter of intent last month at the Grey Cup in Edmonton that will see them work together on several projects, including possible CFL games in Mexico.

“This is an exciting step forward for our partnership with the LFA,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement.

“Over time, we want to expand the CFL’s international footprint, and grow the game of football everywhere, by giving the world’s top players access to our league and providing more young Canadians an opportunity to play and develop in other countries before possibly returning to play in the CFL.”