‘Easy to like’ Stubler was CFL’s ‘mad scientist’
Nine years after he parted ways with the organization, members of the Calgary Stampeders still recall the positive impact that former defensive coordinator Rich Stubler had on them.
Stubler passed away on Sunday at the age of 74. He was the Stamps’ defensive coordinator for two seasons, including their 2014 Grey Cup championship year. He was known by many as a “football junkie” and someone with an infectious love of the Canadian game.
“He was easy to like and loved football,” head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson said.
“Very unique individual…I had a lot of good times with Rich…I’m very happy we were able to have a lot of good memories.”
A story that didn't make it in that shows the type of mentor Rich Stubler was:— Salim Nadim Valji (@salimvalji) September 1, 2023
Stamps' DC Brent Monson told me Stubler would have Monson bring him a couple non-football newspaper articles each week. Stubler wanted Monson to have non-football interests & be a well-rounded person. https://t.co/ZDkA7ZwIFS
Stampeders defensive line coach Juwan Simpson was on the 2014 defence that was coached by Stubler. He remembers his old coordinator as an old school, fun-loving guy. While most coordinators used computers and had binders of plays, Stubler kept it simple.
“Nobody knew [his football brilliance] because he kept it all in his head,” Simpson said.
“He didn’t believe in a whole bunch of papers…he’d tell you something and we’d ask, ‘Where’d you get this from, Stub?’ And he’d say, ‘Five, seven years ago.’…most defensive coordinators, they have the headsets on and papers. Not him. With him, he was watching the game and calling it from the sidelines.”
Simpson, who was a pending free agent in 2014, still remembers Stubler vouching for him in the media before the two had ever met.
“One of his first interviews when he got the job, [he said], ‘I need a leader. I need a captain and we’d love to have Simpson back,’” Simpson said.
“For me, it’s like, ‘This guy doesn’t even know me and he’s speaking fondly of me.’”
Stubler was considered a visionary by his peers for the concepts he introduced to the Canadian game.
“Great football mind,” Stamps’ defensive coordinator Brent Monson said.
“I learned a lot from him. He was one of my best mentors…I learned a ton about coverages and how to scheme up offences from him.”
Dickenson said he affectionately called Stubler a “mad scientist.”
“Back in the 90s, he was credited with bringing a version of what we call ‘match coverage,’ a matchup-man type of defence, to Edmonton,” Dickenson said.
Dickenson remembered when he was a quarterback playing against defences coached by Stubler.
“He definitely tried to structure his coverages to take away what I do well,” he said.
Stubler, who served as either a head coach or defensive coordinator with six CFL teams over the years (Stampeders, Edmonton Elks, BC Lions, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes), told players to have fun and enjoy themselves, even during mundane practices.
“On walk-through days, when most teams are serious and tense, we’re out here playing a game [during walk-through],” Simpson said, adding that the 2014 Stamps were a very close group partly because of Stubler’s influence.
“He believed in being close on the field and doing things [as a team] off the field.”
Despite being a veteran coach, Simpson said Stubler constantly solicited input and feedback from the players on defensive schemes and game plans.
“We’d ask him, ‘Hey Stub, what do you want to do here?’” Simpson said.
“And he would say, ‘Well, I know what I would do, but what would y’all do? Y’all are the ones playing.’ For us, it gave us ownership of a defence whose style was already proven. But he would always give us that [voice].”
As he starts his own coaching journey, Simpson is trying to implement the lessons ‘Stub’ taught him.
“One day I want to be that coach,” Simpson recalled, thinking back then.
“On this level, you can be a lot of different ways in how you coach, but the best is to be the way to get the best out of your players and I think he did that. If he had to put his foot down, by God he put his foot down. But if he sat back and relaxed and let us figure things out, whether it was an argument or figuring out a play, he allowed us to do that.”
Stubler will be remembered as a football coach who had a passion for the sport and will be dearly missed by the Stampeders and league as a whole.
“Just a very loyal guy, a guy that loved football,” Dickenson said.
“It was probably his first love. I can’t think of anything else he’d rather be doing. He was going to coach until he died, and unfortunately it came a little early.”