It is fitting that the top two coaches in the last 10 years in Canadian college football should achieve a prestigious milestone the very same weekend.
Both Blake Nill of the Calgary Dinos and Glen Constantin of the Laval Rouge et Or hit the very rare achievement of getting 100 coaching wins this weekend. Nill's Dinos beat the Manitoba Bisons 31-24 and Laval took Sherbrooke.
Glen Constantin started his head coaching career at Bishop's as a linebacker coach, to the Houston Cougars of the NCAA and as an assistant coach with Laval in the early days of the franchise. While he was at Bishop's his defense was one of the best in Canada. He went on to become defensive coordinator for Laval in the early years of the team in 1995.
In 2001 he became head coach and now becomes the quickest coach to hit 100 wins. He has had a tremendous record. Can you believe 8 first place finishes, 8 league championships and five for five in Vanier Cups?
Constantin has more Vanier Cups in his tenure, five, than any other coach in the history of the game. But he doesn't accept credit for it.
"I don't wear any of my Vanier Cup rings. They stay at home. Maybe when I retire I will look back," is what he told TSN.ca
He credits others for his success.
"I inherited a great program, with great facilities and great athletes," he told TSN.ca.
What he doesn't say is that he is extremely competitive.
"The guy wants to win everything," says Saint Mary's head coach Steve Sumarah. "Both he and Blake Nill are so intense and so competent and committed to their programs."
Constantin won in his first year (2001) and represented the Quebec conference in the Atlantic Bowl where Laval lost their worst game in his tenure, a 40-8 drubbing to Saint Mary's. But the league title was taken away from Laval due to ineligible players.
McGill won in 2002. It's been Laval since both in first place finishes and in league titles. It's eight in a row and counting.
"I thought we had a good team at the time but that game made me re-evaluate our program," he said.
He hasn't looked back since.
Glen Constantin may have come into a good program but he increased and bettered it. He recruits intently and even though there is competition for the football player in Quebec he gets the bulk of them. The fact that Laval has been in the playoffs every year under his tenure and is in so many national semi-finals and Vanier Cups is a reason that Constantin has achieved this milestone into his 11 years.
Glen Constantin told me earlier this season that he "wanted to build a dynasty" at Laval. He already has.
Constantin was already on the Laval staff when he got the top job. Blake Nill was a very successful defensive coach at St. Francis Xavier in Antigonish and not given much of a chance when the late Larry Uteck put out a call for applications to replace himself as head coach. Uteck retained his role as athletic director. Many qualified people with college even pro experience applied for the job. Some were shocked when Uteck picked Nill.
"He wasn't a big name then and he didn't have a Saint Mary's background," one board member told me.
But his qualifications were very strong.
The Xmen were a powerful team in the AUS having gone to the Vanier Cup in 1996 and finishing in first spot in 1997. Their strength was an attacking defense headed by Nill. 'What would you change here at St. Mary's?' is a question asked by Uteck to Nill?
"I'd get rid of the offensive line," Nill said.
"Are you saying I don't have a good line," Uteck stated.
"Well, coach Uteck, we sacked your quarterback 16 times in two games," was Nill's response.
He got the job.
St. Mary's had fallen on hard times in 1996 and 1997 going 0-8, 1-7. But things changed after Nill became coach. Did they ever. Nill won his first game as head coach of the Saint Mary's Huskies beating his former team 13-9. He has been winning since. Two years after going 1-7 under Uteck Blake Nill had his team in the Vanier Cup. A loss 14-10 to Laval.
In fact Nill won the Vanier in 2001 with a team considered the best of all time. A regular season including three straight shut outs, a win of 105-0 versus Mount Allison and beating Laval;; 48-8 in the Atlantic Bowl and Manitoba 42-16 to win the Vanier after a 27 year absence. That season SMU in its 11-0 season scored over 600 points and allowed 60.
Championship and titles became common place for Nill. They repeated as Vanier champs in 2002. They lost a heartbreaker to Laval in 2003 by a score of 14-7. So that made it 3 Vanier's in a row winning two of them and 4 Vanier's in five years. They were the first CIS to achieve both of these marks.
Nill had a dynasty out east and beat anyone in Canada. Nill ended up with 6 straight AUS titles from 1999-2004 unmatched in the Atlantic college circuit. Larry Uteck did indeed pick the right man.
It's also interesting to note that Nill is the only person to defeat Constantin twice in a row. He beat him in the 2001 Atlantic Bowl and again the following season in the first Quebec – Atlantic conference interlock game. That game was a 26-24 last minute win for St Mary's.
Then after the 2005 season the University of Calgary came calling. Blake Nill once told me "you are 1/3 coach, 1/3 pr person for your program and 1/3 fundraiser. Calgary, which is Nill's alma mater and his hometown is Hanna, Alberta promised to handle all fundraising. All Blake had to do is coach.
He left Saint Mary's and took over the worst program in Western Canada; they were 0-8 when he came on board. In three years he was in the playoffs. Over the last three years he has reached the national semi-finals three times and has lost the Vanier twice. He may have beaten Laval twice in a row early in the 80'd but hasn't lately losing in the semis in 2009 and to them in the Vanier last year. He almost beat Queen's in the Vanier in 2009 bowing out 33-31.
He plans to coach for a while yet.
"I'll be around as long as I like this game and the kids listen to me," Nill told TSN.ca. "I'm an emotional character. I get into the game on the sidelines and I still like the game," he told me.
"I've been fortunate to have people in both places really behind me. Here in Calgary and at Saint Mary's. I build teams from the offensive line, good running backs and strong defense and it seems to work."
Indeed it does. The Calgary Dinos are 7-0. They have never gone undefeated in their history. That may happen next weekend. Ten years ago Nill led the Saint Mary's Huskies to a perfect season. Wouldn't it be something if the same took place 10 years later.
As for meeting his friend and foe Laval's Glen Constantin that is totally possible. The West meets Quebec in the national semi-finals on Saturday November 19th. Nill and Constantin are Canadian legends still coaching and it is fitting that they both hit the century win milestone in the same weekend.
For TSN.ca I'm Alex J Walling
AlexJ can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org