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Stampeders look to 2023 with Maier as Mitchell quarterbacking era likely over

Bo Levi Mitchell Calgary Stampeders Bo Levi Mitchell - The Canadian Press

CALGARY — Jake Maier took his job. What was likely Bo Levi Mitchell's parting message as a Calgary Stampeder quarterback was that he believes that Maier deserves it.

"If you're questioning anything, I can tell you don't, because that guy is going to be very special," Mitchell said Monday as the Stampeders closed the book on their 2022 CFL season.

"Jake's got a good head on his shoulders and a damn good arm as well."

Maier, 25, went 6-3 in starts after replacing Mitchell in August.

Maier's two-year contract extension in September plus the Stampeders' all-time leading passer in the final year of his contract signalled the impending end of the Mitchell era in Calgary.

While it's not surprising the Stampeders are executing a quarterback succession plan in light of Mitchell's age, 32, and his shoulder injuries in recent years, Sunday's 30-16 loss to the B.C. Lions in the CFL's West Division semifinal raised questions whether the time is right for the handoff.

Maier completed just over half his pass attempts for 138 yards and no touchdown throws over three-plus quarters. Mitchell entered the game with 11 minutes left and moved the chains quicker than Maier with 147 yards on two drives and one ending in a field goal.

"Quarterback play is always going to be scrutinized, especially after losses," Stampeder head coach Dave Dickenson said.

"(Jake's) done a lot of good things, a good leader, puts the time in. More reps help, situations he's never been in help. Sometimes when you make a changing of the guard, there can be a little bit of learning curve that you've got to expect."

Calgary general manager John Hufnagel wants Maier's backup in 2023 to have CFL experience, but convincing Mitchell to stay is unlikely.

There will be suitors for a man who led the Stampeders to a pair of Grey Cups (2014, 2018) and was twice named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player (2016, 2018).

Mitchell's 32,541 passing yards is a franchise record and his career record as Calgary's starter is 90-25-2.

"The writing is usually on the wall when you're paying another guy, and I want to be a starter," Mitchell said.

The future Hall of Famer could return to the Stampeders as a future coach.

"I've told Dave for the last couple of years no matter when that point does come, he'd be the first phone call," Mitchell said. "I'd love to coach for him, with him because he's a guy that I'm still learning from and always will.

"Even though I've been here for 10 years, I still haven't soaked up all that information. His brain is much bigger than his head is."

Said Dickenson: "At some point I'd love to work with him, either next year or down the road. I don't think we should put him in the coaching world yet because I think Bo wants to play."

Calgary (12-6) finished third in the West and reached the post-season for a 17th consecutive year, but also lost a third straight West semifinal.

Calgary's 83 yards in penalties and a pair of short-yardage, third-down turnovers in B.C. territory were pivotal mistakes.

"When you look in that locker room, we had every single thing that we needed," lamented running back and CFL rushing leader Ka'Deem Carey.

"We just couldn't put it all together, so that's the really disappointing thing in this whole season."

After appearing in five Grey Cups in seven seasons between 2012 and 2018, the Stampeders lost 35-14 to the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 2019 division semifinal before COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 season.

Calgary lost last year's West semifinal 33-30 in overtime to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Maier was 74.7 per cent in passing for 2,389 yards and 14 touchdowns in 10 appearances this season, including nine starts. He was intercepted seven times.

He'll shoulder starter's responsibilities in training camp next season. Maier vows to spend the off-season getting ready to do that.

"If you don't win the championship, it always ends sour," the quarterback said. "I've got to get back to work, have to come back in better shape. I have to come back stronger, physically, mentally. I've got to sharpen my skills.

"I want to be able to start as soon as possible and just be a better all-around player so when I do come back next year and it is Day 1, Day 2 of training camp, people can notice a difference. They can rely and depend on me for an entire season.

"I have a ton to prove and I'm ready for that challenge."

It could be the end of a Stampeders' era in more ways than one. Veteran kicker and 11-year Stampeder René Paredes, 37, is contemplating a firefighting career.

"It's 50-50 right now, honestly," the six-time CFL all-star said. "It's not really up to me right now. I feel I could keep playing and I want to come back, but it's the things outside of football that's going to determine it.

"There's family and my future employer that we've got to talk to."

The 71-year-old Hufnagel, who has been Calgary's GM for 14 seasons and head coach for the first eight, has no plans to retire soon. He wants to keep his coaching staff intact for 2023.

"I'm not going anywhere. I'll be around for a couple more years," Hufnagel said. "I believe strongly consistency is the best ingredient for continued success.

"I thought the coaches did a tremendous job all year long, especially Dave. He's one of the best in the league. When you're a coach, you have to go with your gut and you have to coach to win. That's how Dave coached the game yesterday.

"I've been in that situation myself. If it doesn't work, you look not so good. We have to execute better obviously and also learn from it."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2022.