Marshall Plan Needs a Second Chance

By Jason Menard

In a game filled with second, third, and even fourth chances, let’s hope that deposed Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Greg Marshall gets another shot at the big time sooner rather than later. After all, his success, or lack thereof, will go a long way in determining whether a Canuck will take the reins of a Canadian squad in our nation’s football league.

In replacing Marshall, at least in the interim, with a hall-of-fame legend in Ron Lancaster, the Tiger-Cats gave up on the great Canadian experiment – and may put the idea of a Canadian coach back on the sidelines for the foreseeable future.

Marshall worked his way up the ranks, serving as an assistant for the powerhouse University of Western Ontario Mustangs football squad before getting the chance to helm his own ship with the McMaster Marauders. It was there that Marshall proved his coaching prowess, taking the Hamilton squad from also-ran status to perennial power – usurping his former employer in the process.

Back in 2004, the Tiger-Cats took a flyer on a coach who had proven himself in the Canadian collegiate ranks and they were rewarded with a Coach-of-the-Year performance as Marshall led the Tabbies to a 9-8-1 record. Unfortunately, last year didn’t go as well as the Tiger-Cats fumbled their way to a 5-13-0 record. And this year wasn’t looking much better as the boys from Hamilton were staring up at a goose egg in the win column after four games.

There are few better representative of the Canadian game than Greg Marshall. The boy from Guelph enjoyed a stellar career with Western, winning the Hec Creighton trophy in 1980 as the league’s outstanding player. Marshall graduated to the Edmonton Eskimos, earning a Grey Cup as a player, before returning to the Forest City and joining the Mustangs’ coaching ranks. There he won a pair of Vanier Cups before leaving for McMaster and padding his resume with four consecutive Yates Cup championships, representing Ontario collegiate supremacy, before becoming the first coach to make the jump directly from the Canadian university ranks to a CFL head coaching gig.

But that dream rapidly turned into a nightmare. Poor personnel decisions play a part, but the fact of the matter is that Marshall, despite his early promise, wasn’t able to get things done. And now he finds himself unemployed – although presumably not for long – and Canadian coaching prospects find themselves at a crossroads in the wake of Marshall’s dismissal.

The pervasive view is that Canadian coaching staffs are inferior to those south of the border. While Canadian players are welcomed along the offensive and defensive lines in the CFL, the ranks of skill position players are dominated by American imports. Essentially, Canadians are second-class citizens in their own game.

Marshall had a chance to change that perception as coach of the Tiger-Cats. As a home-grown talent, Marshall had the opportunity to open the doors a crack for future coaching prospects in the CIS. Had he succeeded in his two-plus years patrolling the sidelines, then more attention would be paid to those pacing the sidelines in the Canadian collegiate ranks.

After all, there’s no reason that Canadian coaches can’t make the grade. The sidelines are the ideal leveling field, as physicality isn’t the key ingredient for success – intelligence, strategy, and creativity are. Nationality doesn’t define one’s intellect, so Canadian coaches should have a chance.

The only thing holding Canadians back from penetrating the coaching ranks is credibility. Many of the CFL’s players have come from Division 1-A schools, coached by legends in the football universe, and they may not react well to coming north of the border and being coached by some Canuck. Like it or not, football is largely an American-driven game, and respect for Canadians must be earned – it’s not given as it is for a U.S.-born coach.

That’s Marshall’s true test: to show that a Canadian can make it on the biggest stage that our national league has to offer; to prove that a local product can command the respect and passion of a team and direct it to the playoffs. But to do that he needs another chance. Although he’s been kicked to the curb by one squad, to open doors for others to follow through, Marshall has to get back up and start knocking.

The one advantage that Marshall has is that the CFL, like most professional sporting leagues, is one based on recycling. Rather than give an unproven young buck a chance, most owners and General Managers are content to believe that somebody else’s problem can be their salvation – after all, recent Canadian citizen Don Matthews has been with six CFL squads and only is the CFL’s all-time regular season win leader.

It’s unfair to expect one person to shoulder the burden for an entire Canadian coaching industry, but Marshall’s shown that, as a player and a coach, he’s been able to successfully carry the ball for his franchise. And there’s no reason to expect he won’t do so again – as long as he gets a chance.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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