CALGARY — With 27 years of CFL coaching experience under his belt, Rich Stubler has plenty of stories to tell.
And the Calgary Stampeders colourful defensive co-ordinator has no shortage of entertaining material for his meetings with coaches and players.
“He has jokes for days about everything,” said linebacker Juwan Simpson. “We have to stop him, though, because meetings go a lot longer than they’re supposed to because of stories.”
Along with that cache of football lore is the experience and expertise that comes from serving on the coaching staffs of, and winning Grey Cups with, four other CFL clubs. Add the high school, college and Arena Football League jobs Stubler has also held and he’s been in the profession 45 years.
“He’s probably forgotten more football than we all know in our whole defensive meeting room combined,” defensive line coach DeVone Claybrooks said.
Stubler broke into the CFL as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive co-ordinator 31 years ago. He’s designed defences for 25 years with the Ticats, B.C. Lions, Edmonton Eskimos and Toronto Argonauts. He also served as the Argos head coach in ’08.
John Hufnagel, Calgary’s head coach/GM, hired Stubler this off-season after Rick Campbell left to become the head coach of the expansion Ottawa Redblacks. Stubler arrived following a two-year stint with B.C., whose defence was ranked first overall against the run and pass in 2012.
Halfway through the 2014 campaign, Calgary is allowing a league-low 14.9 points per game. In four contests this season, the Stampeders haven’t surrendered an offensive touchdown.
Opposing offences haven’t found the endzone against Calgary on their last 29 drives and only once in the last 37 possessions. Defensive end Shawn Lemon exuberantly declared Stubler “a genius” following the Stampeders’ 28-13 win over the Edmonton Eskimos on Labour Day.
Calgary (8-1) boasts the CFL’s best record heading into its rematch with Edmonton (7-2) at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.
“Stube has brought his style of defence that I knew he would,” Hufnagel said. “The players have embraced it and they’re playing it very well.
“We still have room for improvement, but they are doing a great job of tackling and that’s the key to what Stube likes to do on defence.”
Stubler says football is much the same now as it was when his father coached. When Stubler arrived in Calgary, his goal was the same as it’s been with other CFL teams he has been with, which is matching a player’s strengths and skills with a job and empowering him to do it.
“Football is not based on schemes,” he said.
“You have to be able to adapt everybody that’s in your system to be able to maximize what they can do.
“If they can take ownership of what’s happening, we have a chance to be pretty good. If they can’t take ownership, we won’t be very good.”
Stubler, a 65-year-old native of Garfield County, Colo., took over a defence that featured such veteran leaders as Simpson, rush end Charleston Hughes and defensive backs Keon Raymond and Brandon Smith.
Rather than impose his years of experience on them, Simpson and Claybrooks say it’s Stubler’s light hand and inclusiveness that has galvanized the defence.
“He knows a lot of football and you have no choice but to respect a guy who has been around a game this long and been this successful as long as he has,” Simpson explains. “One thing he does is allow us players to play football. He plays to the strength of his players, not the strength of his quote-unquote defence.
“He allows us to go out and if we want to try something we’ll try it. If it doesn’t work, this is why it didn’t work. Not only do we believe in him, we believe in ourselves. We’re the ones out there running the defence. He’s made that very clear.”
“That’s what Stube does a great job with,” he said. “He lets his coaches coach and his players play.
“He’s not a micromanager.”
Claybrooks is in his third season as defensive line coach after three seasons patrolling Calgary’s defensive line. When the defence gathers for the game-plan meeting, he says nothing is off-limits and creativity is encouraged.
“The players make it their own because they’re like ’Why don’t we tweak this and that and do this and that?’ ” Claybrooks said. “A lot of defensive co-ordinators would be like ’No, this is how the blitz is run. We’re going to run it that way.’
“They are out there running the plays and if it works better for them where they’re comfortable in it and they believe in it, then we’re a success.”
Stubler believes he still has another five years of coaching in him. That would take him to age 70 and give him 50 years in the profession.
“I started coaching when I was 20 and my dad was a coach before me and that’s my identity I guess,” he said.
Claybrooks interviewed for Calgary’s defensive co-ordinator’s job and had opportunities to go elsewhere this season. But one reason he remained in Calgary was the opportunity to work alongside Stubler.
“From a longterm growth of where I want to be in the future, this is the greatest situation because you get to learn from a guy who has been a defensive co-ordinator 27 years in this league and a coach for 40-some years,” Claybrooks said. “You think you know everything and he draws up something, and you’re like ’Wow, why didn’t I think of that?’
“Then our favourite saying to him is ’That’s why they pay you the big bucks.’ ”