The Central Alberta Buccaneers have a new head coach and a new ambitious approach to the Alberta Football League.
Duane Brown stepped down following his fifth season patrolling the sidelines and has been replaced by defensive coordinator and former player Devon Hand.
He enters at a time when the club is transitioning from a veteren-laden squad to one with a lot of young faces and emerging talent.
The former defensive back put together one of the league’s best defenses in his two years on the job, but it is his passion and enthusiasm for football that made him an easy selection for the top job.
“I’m a self professed football junkie,” said Hand. “I played football for 20 years, I’m a Central Alberta guy … and I just can’t get enough of this stuff. Once I was given the opportunity to lead the charge and get involved, it’s exciting, I’m hooked.”
While Brown is no longer head coach, he says he still wants to be involved with the organization in some capacity.
The Bucs are coming off of back-to-back disappointing finishes to the season. In 2013 the Buccaneers rolled through to the playoffs as the top team in the AFL, but were upset in the first round. This past season they got off to a 2-1 start, knocking off eventual champion Calgary Wolfpack in their opener, but slumped mid season and never really recovered.
Hand says this comes down to a mindset with the club that he is out to change.
“The difference between successful programs and programs that don’t have as much success is that at some point in their history they have a culture of winning,” he said. “If you go back to when I was playing and this team first started playing, it has taken a while to get that winning culture instilled into the players and the community …
“There’s been some growing pains in the program, but there’s no question that we’re on the up swing.”
The new coach knows football, particularly in the Central Alberta region.
Hand has been involved in the game for more than 20 years as a product of the Lindsay Thurber Raiders. He then went on to play junior football with the Abbottsford Airforce before moving on to the University of Manitoba Bisons.
After his Canadian Interuniversity Sport career ended, he came back home and started playing for the Buccaneers until his body started to break down after seven years. He also started coaching at Thurber as a defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach for the last decade, and when the opportunity came about to join the Buccaneers coaching staff, he couldn’t turn it down.
His progression to head coach was a natural one.
“Devon’s had some great years of maturing as a football coach, being the defensive coordinator, he’s brought a new energy to the team in that role that I think he’ll be able to bring to the whole team this year,” said Brown, who adds he did not have a say in hiring his replacement.
Hand has a solid core of young players to build around, including two top rookies, AFL rushing leader Junior Rivera and rookie quarterback Cole Stewart on offence.
But he is not just going to rest on the talent he has locally.
Hand is a recruiter for the oil and gas industry, and he is using those talents, as well as industry contacts for work, to help fill out the Buccaneers roster.
He has already talked a pair of St. Francis Xavier graduates into coming out to join the team — defensive back Shane Nolan and defensive end Devon Marshall — and says he is looking for more.
“I’m not out to bring 20 or 30 of these guys here, we’re still a Central Alberta football team, we’re still going to be home grown, we’re still going to have tons of local talent,” said Hand. “But I think it’s a good idea to add a bit of spice to the roster and create a competitive environment.”
While Hand says he will still conduct things defensively, he is looking to bring in seven position coaches and coordinators to work under him and also to handle the offensive side of the ball.
He will also change up the way they operate as a team, from days and hours they practice to adding a training camp in April to prepare for their pre-season. They will also be doing positional workouts starting in the new year.
“There will be significant change, I want to create a competitive advantage in all three levels,” said Hand. “Not to take away from anything Duane Brown did, I have a lot of respect for him, I learned a lot from him, but with the opportunity to make positive change, I’m going all in and there’s going to be all kinds of change.”
NOTES — Along with a new coach, the Buccaneers are looking for new executive board members for all positions. Anyone interested in putting themselves up for nomination contact chairman Corey Pusey.