Coach of the Year in the CFL: is it about the year, about improvement from one year to the next, or about one game?
Last week the football reporters across the country were asked to vote on who should be this year's Coach of the Year in the CFL. It is a straight-forward procedure where the CFL head office sends out an email with a link to a site that has a list of all the head coaches and voters from all markets (seven per market) and a National chapter, are asked to pick their first and second choices. From those votes the CFL will break it down to the top three vote getters and the award will be handed out to the winner in mid-February. Last year's recipient was Jim Barker in Toronto when he led the Argos to a 9-9 season and the first playoff berth for the team since 2007. He is also the first coach in the last five years to win Coach of the Year and not win the Grey Cup.
This year with the way the season went, and specifically with the way it ended, the vote seems like a no-brainer. No team in the history of the league has started the season at 0-5 and then turned it around to win the Grey Cup like the Lions did in 2011. So that would lead you to think that the coach of that team would be the automatic winner, which would mean that Wally Buono will be this year's Coach of the Year in the CFL. He would be an excellent choice, for lots of reasons outside of the unthinkable turnaround, including the fact that he did it with such a young quarterback in Travis Lulay.
His competition this year could be Kavis Reed in Edmonton, for getting the Esks back to the playoffs, or Paul LaPolice in Winnipeg for taking a team from the outhouse to the penthouse in the East in one year with virtually the same team. Oh, and mark me down as one of the many who feel like Marc Trestman's approach in Montreal is always deserving of Coach of the Year consideration.
However, you might think that this year is a slam dunk for the winningest coach in CFL history and Buono should be the guy, or that the honour should go to one of the young guns like LaPolice who may have lost the last game, but put together a season that saw the Bombers knock off the Als for first in the East. But there is no denying the fact that voters are influenced by which team actually wins the Grey Cup, or by which team showed the greatest improvement from one year to the next. Now you may say of course they are, and so they should be, it is all about winning isn't it? And if a bad team becomes average in a year, that is a huge improvement, isn't it?
The answer would be yes to both questions, because it is about winning, and it is about improving a team from one year to another, and both should be part of the process. Even though in the last 50 years since 1961, twenty-nine coaches have been named Coach of the Year and did not hoist the Grey Cup, and it is certainly easy to lean towards a coach that takes a team that has struggled for a few years in a row to a team that wins nine games. However, the award is for, "Coach of the Year," and not coach of one game, or for the best coach in the post season, or for the coach of the most improved team. Is it tougher to take a team from a two- or three-win season to a .500 year, or is it tougher to keep a team with twelve or thirteen wins on top?
It can get complicated, how much weight in the vote do you put on the season before, or how much on simply the team that wins it all? However, it is an issue that may have a fairly simple solution.
Why not have three separate votes for the Coach of the Year. Have a vote at the midway point of the season in early September, a vote after the regular season ends, and a final vote after the Grey Cup. All the points are then tallied and the winner is a true representation of a year's worth of work rather than a half a season, a good playoff run, or a Grey Cup game.
Don't get me wrong, for the record, my first choice this year was Wally Buono in B.C. However, there was a time in the first half of the season that the vote would likely have been very different, and aren't coaches always saying that the games at the beginning of the year are just as important as the games at the end? Also if it is about success and winning, then how is a coach that leads a team to a .500 season considered, just because that team struggled badly for a few years before he even got there?
Three votes, the league tallies the totals and you have your Coach of the Year. It makes the early games as important as the rest; it eliminates the chance of a voter being overly influenced by a surprise run in the playoffs, while still keeping that playoff success as part of the process. It keeps the focus on the current year and not the previous year, and it takes care of the temptation to make it strictly about the coach that wins the Grey Cup.
There are so many variables when it comes to winning and losing during a football season, so many highs and lows, and challenges throughout the year, and how the coach handles all of them from July to the end of November should be part of the process. Three votes throughout the year may be a better way to make sure that all of those variables are considered equally.
Just a thought.