Walling: Towriss sets CIS record for coaching wins

Alex J. Walling
10/5/2011 1:29:50 PM
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The year was 1984.

Then Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau announced his retirement on February 29th. (Yes, it was a leap year), Ronald Reagan was in power and Brian Mulroney swept Canada.

In the world of music, George Michael had 'Careless Whisper' and Stevie Wonder sang 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' and Cyndi Lauper was telling how 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun'.

In sports, the L.A. Raiders beat Washington in the Super Bowl 38-9, Detroit won the World Series in five games over San Diego, Winnipeg took the Grey Cup 47-17 over Hamilton and the Edmonton Oilers started their string of Stanley Cup wins, taking the previous Stanley Cup holders, the NY Islanders, four games to one behind some kid called Gretzky.

And in 1984, some 27 years ago, Brian Towriss became the youngest coach of the Saskatchewan Huskies and maybe the youngest coach ever in the CIS.

Last weekend, Towriss' Huskies beat the UBC Thunderbirds 36-33 in the Canada West conference to record his 170th win, which makes him the winningest football coach in CIS history. Larry Haylor of the Western Mustangs has 169.

Haylor says BT (Brian Towriss) is a good person and great coach.

"I've got a lot of respect for BT. We're both from Saskatchewan and both went to the University of Saskatchewan, " said Haylor. "Records are made to be broken and I am glad that Brian broke it. He deserves it and has gone a great job as the coach in Saskatchewan."

Towriss had been stuck at 169 for several weeks as his team dropped games to Calgary and the Manitoba Bisons. But homecoming proved to be record-setting and the man from Saskatoon is on top of the leaderboard when it comes to wins.

It was 27 seasons ago that Towriss won his first game also against the UBC T-Birds.

"I remember my first win and even the second in 1984 and then I think we lost five in a row after that," said Towriss.

Very few coaches who put in decades in CIS football get 100 wins but Towriss may even hit 200 before he retires.

"I've been lucky. I've had good health and I've had many good teams and some great teams who have won many games for me," said Towriss.

There were several Western Conference titles and a few Vanier Cups along the way. In fact, he made the championship Vanier Cup game on 10 occasions and that, in itself, speaks of the successes of his program. He won three of those and lost seven, including four losses in a five-game stretch from 2002 to 2006.

Some were very close games including a 7-1 loss to Laval in 2004 and a 24-23 defeat to Wilfrid Laurier in 2005. In fact, he lost a second contest to Laval in 2006 by a 13-8 score.

"I remember the 1990 game against Saint Mary's and the 1996 game against St.FX,' added Towriss. "They were close games. In fact, the SMU game came down to the last minute and we beat quarterback Chris Flynn."

So what has been the biggest change in coaching since he started back in 1984?

"A couple of things," said Towriss. "One is the coaching staffs. We have more coaches today than years ago and some are full-time. And, the student athletes today, for them it's nearly a 12-month a year situation. Other than the month of December where they have exams and the Christmas period, it's pretty well football all year long."

Towriss has earned the respect of his fellow coaches, especially Blake Nill, who as defensive co-coordinator was coaching at St. FX in 1996 and battled Towriss in the Vanier Cup.

"To me, it's the fact that he still has the drive for recruiting and the passion for his program after 28 years as a head coach of the Huskies and several years before that as an assistant.  That is truly remarkable," said Nill.

Nill has faced off against Towriss as an assistant at St. FX, a head coach at Saint Mary's where he beat Saskatchewan in the 2002 Vanier Cup and some very close matches in the last six years as coach of the Calgary Dinos.

"He is a great coach. The record speaks for itself," added Nill.

The Saskatchewan Huskies are one of the top three or four football programs in the county along with Laval, Western and Calgary and recruiting to stay competitive has changed.

"I used to recruit solely in Saskatchewan some 20 years ago. But that has changed': said Towriss. "I do a lot in Western Canada and if I get an interest from anywhere, including Quebec and the Maritimes, I am on it. So you can say we are recruiting coast-to-coast and that did not happen some 24 years ago."

The Saskatchewan Huskies are once again in the CIS Top 10 this year, sitting in ninth this week.

The next in line for wins by a current CIS coach is Pat Sheahan of Queen's with 119. He is now in his 23rd year as a CIS coach and his 12th as the head man at Queen's after having spent 11 at Concordia.

Getting 100 is a CIS milestone and three coaches may get it this year. Glen Constantine of Laval and Blake Nill of Calgary each have 96 and Greg Marshall of Western, the successor to Larry Haylor, has an outside shot at 93.

For I' Alex J. Walling

Alex J. can be reached via email at:

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