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April 18, 2024

Milton: Scott Milanovich welcomes the responsibility and stresses of being a head coach

September 30, 2023; Hamilton, Ontario, CAN; The Hamilton Tiger-Cats defeated the Calgary Stampeders 22-15 at Tim Hortons Field. Mandatory Credit: Eddie Sokolowski

The hottest seat in any  professional sports organization is the one the head coach occupies. Sometimes it can feel like it’s attached to an extension cord leading to a high-voltage power outlet.

When  Scott Milanovich dropped by Ticats Today on the Ticats’ Audio network for a one-on-one discussion Thursday afternoon, that’s one of the first questions we put to Hamilton’s new head coach, who joined the team just before training camp last year as Orlondo Steinauer’s senior assistant coach, then was promoted in August to offensive coordinator before taking over as head coach in early December.

It’s probably obvious, but we’ll mention it anyway:  printed in bold type are some of our questions to the 27th coach of3 the team since the old Tigers and Wildcats merged to form the Tiger-Cats in 1950.

 

Being a head coach has to be significantly different that being a coordinator, assistant, or position coach.

“It is, and there are benefits to both. That’s why when I was a head coach (with the Argos) and then went down to Jacksonville to become a quarterbacks coach, people said, ‘Aren’t you going to miss all the things that come with being a head coach with the leadership and having control over the offence and defence and  special teams? And when there’s an argument, if the head coach wants to have it his way, that’s the way it’s going to go?’ And the answer was, ‘Yes, but the things that you miss by being a head coach are also plentiful when you’re just a position coach.

“In Jacksonville,  I’d spend every waking minute with the quarterbacks because I was the quarterbacks coach. There are the relationships that you build: Blake Bortles was our quarterback, and almost took us to the Super Bowl, and we still stay in touch.

“So there’s a lot of give and take. There’s less stress. That’s a benefit of being a position coach and there’s more stress as an offensive coordinator. And then, obviously, as the head coach, you feel responsible for everybody in the organization and that comes down to wins and losses. So as the title goes up, the stress level goes up. But that’s kind of what people like me are built for; we want that responsibility.”

 

Do you actually like that stress?

“Yeah. I mean, there are times where you don’t, no question about it. Being a head coach is a ton of fun in the off-season when there aren’t any games to win. And it’s a lot of fun after you win a Grey Cup or win five in a row. If you have a little bit of a bad stretch, it’s not as much fun. But I think that’s what makes you worth your salt; when you’re able to weather those kind of times.”

 

Rookies and quarterbacks arrive at the Mac campus exactly three weeks from today, spend the following two days in practices and meetings, then the bulk of the roughly 85 candidates hit the field right after that, on Sunday, May 12. These weeks leading into training camp are, arguably, the busiest of the year for everyone in CFL football operations and logistics must be formidable. What’s involved for you and your staff?

“It’s very busy, we’re putting playbooks together, working on personnel. We’re also studying guys for the Canadian draft in a couple weeks. When we’re watching film with the new guys that we’re bringing in, that we’re putting them in the right positions to start training camp so that we don’t have any hiccups in where they’re going to end up being and have the best chance to help us.

“Yeah, very busy time, but we’re enjoying it.”

 

Any hints on how the ratio spots will be allotted or will training camp decide all of that?

“It’s early. The one thing that’s safe to say is the three interior guys on our offensive line will be Canadian players. The guys that were here last year, Beard, Rev and Woody. It’s, I think, a really good draft, so we anticipate picking up a couple of more guys who can give us some ratio flexibility. And we’re going to let the guys battle for the spots that are available. So we’re  not going to pigeon-hole exactly where we’re going to be playing guys until the end.”

 

 

It seems that having the first-year players in for a couple of days earlier  for acclimatization gives them a better chance to compete when the other more-veteran players come in. Is that a fair observation?

“Yeah, it is. There are multiple spots and we’ve got them on the board where we think they’re going to fit best. But one of the conversations we’ve had is that by the end of rookie camp, we’ve really got to know where they have the best chance to compete and ultimately where they have the best chance to help us so that we’re not wasting days and moving people within training camp. It becomes a mental thing in terms of learning the responsibilities, learning the rules, where they’re able to play fast. It’s all new learning for them, so it’s kind of incumbent upon us to try to get them in the right spot early.”

 

Does it help in your transition back to head coaching to have had the final three months of last season on the field running offensive practices?

“Certainly it does. I go in knowing close to half the team very well. Because it was during half the season, I didn’t get to know a lot of the defensive guys as well as I would have liked. So that’s one area that I’d like to get better at throughout this year and throughout this training camp. But it really helps just knowing, in addition to the players, the equipment guys,  the training staff, the people in the front office,

“I’ve become a head coach two other times, and when you don’t know anybody, the whole off-season is kind of taken up with, ‘Okay, what is our culture here? What are the expectations from the coaching staff? Is there anything that, that we believe in that I don’t like? Do we have to have a conversation about that?’  So I came into this feeling really good about where this organization is, what it stands for.  My direct boss, O, is a good friend, so there’s no worries about any sort of fracture between front office personnel and the coaching staff. It has been as seamless as a new head coaching job can be.”

 

You’re head coach and offensive coordinator, so how much time do you anticipate spending with the defence and special teams? And how do you work that out? Where do you find that time?

We’re working on that. I know it’s kind of technical, but if we’re in a Day One practice during the season, we have maybe 30 minutes of offensive and defensive meetings to run and install (plays).  (Offensive line coach) Mike Gibson handles that on offence for us. So that’ll be a time when I can get over to in the defensive room and hear what’s going on.

“We did spend a lot of time this off-season as a staff in Zoom meetings. If we had an offensive zoom meeting, a lot of the defensive staff was on there just from a learning perspective and vice-versa. So I got to hear Mark (Washington) and the defensive staff communicate what’s important to them, what they’re teaching. I have a pretty good idea, and the rest of the offensive staff does too. We call it cross-training. When you know why the defence coaches something the way they do, it makes you a better coach offensively. So I’ve got a better head start certainly than I did at this time last year, but I’m going to try to find a time and a place, other than Day One, where I can be a part of what’s going on over there and get to know those guys a little better, to support them.”

 

It’s clear that Bo Levi Mitchell is going to be the focus of everyone’s attention. What are you expecting to see from him?

“I think he’ll be healthy. I have no doubts. I know he’s been throwing for, I want to say, close to maybe two months doing drops, things like that. And from conversations that I’ve had with him on the phone, and I’ve seen him a couple of times here since I’ve been back, he seems to be in a great place mentally. And I think we’re much more on the same page as to what the expectation is going to be from our offensive staff as to how the quarterback needs to play in the system.

“Like I’ve been saying all off-season, I fully believe that this guy’s going to have a great season.”