It has been said that if you want to win during the football season, you have to win the off-season. Just over 45 days have passed since the final whistle of the 2011 Grey Cup game and already there are a couple of teams in the CFL out to a good lead in their respective off-seasons.
Due to the fact that there is no scoreboard to look at from the months of May through to June, trying to determine just who is out in front this time of year requires some speculation and number crunching, but based on what has happened so far, you would have to say that the Ti-Cats and Argos are out of the blocks on fire.
Now there have been four new coaches hired in the CFL since the 2011 season ended; Mike Benevides in BC, Corey Chamblin in Saskatchewan, Scott Milanovich in Toronto and this week George Cortez was announced as the new head man in Hamilton. All are great choices and should be congratulated, and all will bring new energy, ideas and storylines to the CFL in the upcoming season.
However, it is the combination of the new coaches and the new quarterbacks in Hamilton and Toronto that give Southern Ontario the early lead in the off-season.
The Argos have put together what has the potential to be a lethal 1-2 punch with Milanovich and former Eskimo Ricky Ray. Separately, they have impressive resumes. Ray has been the starting quarterback on two championship teams and was named the game's MVP in one of those Grey Cup wins. He has also thrown for over 40,000 yards in his career.
His new coach has played the position, and spent the last five years in Montreal coaching future Hall of Famer Anthony Calvillo, which is what makes the combination of Ray and Milanovich so intriguing and should have Argo fans pumped about the possibilities.
Calvillo and Ray have very similar styles; both are pocket passers and cerebral players that have become two of the best quarterbacks in CFL history at reading and dissecting a defence. Since entering the league, they have been 1 and 1A when it comes to throwing accuracy and both have proven that they are solid leaders on and off the field.
If there is any difference between the two, you could say that AC has a slightly quicker release and Ray has marginally better touch on the deep ball, but other than that, these two quarterbacks are mirror images of each other. Milanovich can insert virtually the same offence that he has been running for the last five years in Montreal, and with an upgraded receiving corps, should expect similar results.
In Hamilton, Henry Burris has been reunited with the coach that taught him the game in the first place. Back in the late 1990's when Burris was a back-up to Jeff Garcia and Dave Dickenson in Calgary, George Cortez was their offensive coordinator. Cortez was also working with Burris during what was Smilin' Hank's best year as a pro in 2008, when he led the Stamps to the Grey Cup championship and won every individual award available to a player that year, including the league's Most Outstanding Player.
Cortez knows Burris, he understands his strengths, and due to their time together, has already built the trust between head coach and quarterback that is necessary for success.
Due to that history together, the Ti-Cats should hit the ground running in training camp, and once Milanovich and Ray get to know each other and with the aforementioned upgraded receiving corps, the Argos should be substantially better on offence than they have been for the last few years.
There has been lots of activity this off-season with virtually every team in the CFL rolling up their sleeves early in an effort to approve. Now there is lots of off-season left, including free agency in mid-February, but when you look at what has happened so far, and you crunch some numbers, look at the intangibles and sprinkle in a little speculation, the two teams in Ontario have an early lead this off-season.