It was the first time in two years that I was in the opening day of training camp meeting of rookies, veterans, coaches and support staff. It is by far the longest and most boring of meetings that CFL players will have in a season. Policies are introduced by every department head and introductions of everyone who works in the organization are done. It is a marathon of a meeting but it has to be done.
The last time I was in this meeting, I was standing in the front of the room doing the introductions. This time, I was sitting in the chairs taking notes on my Ipad. I was totally excited to be in this meeting as a guest coach with the Toronto Argonauts. I took notes throughout because I believe you always can learn and get information from anyone and any situation.
It was general manager Jim Barker who set the tone of the meeting and also what the Toronto Argonauts have been about the past few seasons. The words are very similar to my beliefs in a lot of ways and I wanted to share them and talk about how the Argos are great at following those words and the leaderships mantra from the top. "The Argos are about adapting, we don't accept it, we embrace it." These words were said as Barker talked about the facilities they would be using for training camp and for an undisclosed time after that. "All we care about is winning Grey Cups. We get paid to win Grey Cups." is what Barker said. The Argos more than any other team in the CFL have had to do what is one of my favorite quotes for football: "adapt, improvise, overcome".
On Christmas Eve 2011, the Argos meeting trailer and coaches' office burnt down. During the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the team had to have meetings in one of the buildings on the Erindale campus of the University of Toronto. They would be in whatever rooms were available and would sometimes change from day to day. The Argos are also one of a few teams that basically has to go on the road every week and move the massive amount of equipment to the Rogers Centre. It is a long process and immediately after the game, you see a large cube van outside the Argos locker room and the equipment is moved back to the facilities.
Training camp at York University this season was another process of adapting for the whole organization. I believe the team has done a tremendous job of worrying about controlling what you can control. The coaches were, and some still are, living in the dorms and are housed on two floors. Wires taped on all walls lead to the makeshift video department office. A huge server and some computers were housed in there and helped the coaches get set up to watch practice and game video. Vince Magri and Anthony Ierullo did an outstanding job of getting players and coaches video access. Offensively, we watched the games in the head coach's suite which had people (most of the times, yours truly) laying on the ground because we didn't have enough seats and a good view of the video. Player meetings were in classrooms which were very good for the players and the coaches. The only difference is that the coaches' computers would have to be uploaded and moved in and out for every meeting.
Team meetings and special teams meetings were held in a large multi-purpose room in the basement that had large bed sheets stretched out so the video would be able to be seen against the walls. The food was tremendous and the York University people were very accommodating. Taping was done in a large room off of the cafeteria which the training staff made a very business-like temporary training facility. Head athletic therapist Scott Shannon and his staff obviously followed Barker's words and found a way to adapt.
I asked the communications staff where they had an office and they shrugged their shoulders and said that they didn't and just stayed in the cafeteria with their laptops because the internet was strongest there as they worked away preparing their hand-outs for the day.
Danny Webb and his equipment staff made a nice locker room out of the York football complex and provided every request for the players. The previously mentioned cube van was next to the field and served as storage for all the football equipment. Another first meeting note I wrote down was of Danny's, "we are here to help in any way, just ask us. Without you guys, I don't have a job."
The coaches did a great job of teaching every day and the players also embraced the long days of training camp. Coach Milanovich and the staff did a great job of establishing York as their home.
The Argos will be on the move again in August to a more permanent facility at Downsview Park in a partnership with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The move will provide stability as well as a location that the coaches and players can now plan on finding a place to live close by if they have not done so already.
There is a lot of football left and the Eastern champs from last year will certainly be in contention at the end of the season. The thing I took from the spending time at training camp (besides a lot of good football ideas) was that the team does a great job of eliminating distractions and focusing on what they can control. That will certainly pay off for them as the season progresses.