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Sidelined CFL season 'not a lot of fun right now' for new Edmonton coaches

Noel Thorpe, seen in this file photo taken Nov. 30, 2007, in his first stint with the Edmonton Football Club, is back, this time as their defensive co-ordinator under head coach Scott Milanovich.
Noel Thorpe, seen in this file photo taken Nov. 30, 2007, in his first stint with the Edmonton Football Club, is back, this time as their defensive co-ordinator under head coach Scott Milanovich.

Sidelined at his family residence in Florida with no Canadian Football League games being played this year, Scott Milanovich is feeling the opposite of homesick.

You could call it work-sick, where the Edmonton Football Club’s newest head coach, who has yet to have a chance to blow one whistle on the field with his team, is left watching his former club, the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars – where he called plays and worked with quarterbacks for the past three years – are half a dozen games into their 2020-21 schedule.

And while he isn’t second-guessing the decision to run his own Canadian Football League team again, it’s been nothing short of a lesson in patience so far.

“Yeah, it’s getting harder, I think, every week for me actually,” Milanovich told the team’s play-by-play broadcaster Morley Scott on the latest installment of 630 CHED’s Double-E Coach’s Show on Monday. “You’d think it’d get easier, but the more you watch football, the more it makes you miss it.

“Talking with our coaches (Monday), I was just watching the Cardinals game on TV and they just scored on a play that we have. I was sending out texts to the guys: ‘Hey, that’s the play we talked about today.’ It’s not a lot of fun right now, we all wish we were out there and doing our thing, that’s for sure.”

While the CFL is treating 2020 as an extended snow day, seeing the NCAA and NFL schedules steaming ahead, business as usual, down south can feel a bit like a blessing and a curse for those involved in the three-down circuit.

“Yeah, I think it’s definitely a little bit of both,” said Milanovich, who also doubles as Edmonton’s offensive co-ordinator. “It’s nice to be able to watch something because you miss it so bad, but it makes it even worse that you’re not playing. But it’s good to be able to watch it.”

While they were only announced in January, Milanovich’s assistant coaches won’t have any excuses when it comes to familiarizing themselves with each other by the time the league kicks off again.

But aside from a plethora of video-conference sessions together over the past few months, the coaching staff and football operations are made up of some already recognizable parts.

“I’ve known Noel (Thorpe, defensive co-ordinator) since, really, the same time I met Brock (Sunderland, general manager), my first year in Montreal,” said Milanovich, who started as quarterbacks coach for the Alouettes in 2007, before assuming the role of offensive co-ordinator and assistant head coach to Marc Trestman when the Alouettes won back-to-back Grey Cups in 2009 and ’10. “Noel was the special-teams co-ordinator, so I got to know him there, just a great teacher, well spoken. He went on, of course, after that. He went on, of course, to be a defensive co-ordinator the last 10 years.

“He was always one of the hardest guys I ever had to scheme against, especially his defences in Montreal when he went back there as the co-ordinator. They were always so physical. The linebackers would just punish the running backs, not only when they ran the ball but when they would pressure. They would just try to run them over and it was just such a physical game. He did such a nice job of keeping you off balance as a play-caller.”

Their reunion in Edmonton was less about takes-one-to-know-one and more of an opposites-attract.

“When you’re a co-ordinator and you call the plays offensively, you know the guys that are difficult to scheme against, and Noel was at the top of that list,” Milanovich said. “So, I had been trying to get him on my staff for years when I was in Toronto and it just never worked out because he was always with somebody else.

“And this time it did, so we jumped at it.”

Of course, for the first couple years, Milanovich had Chris Jones co-ordinating the Argonauts defence, before moving on to become a head coach, himself, in Edmonton, where he won the city its last Grey Cup in 2015.

“He was also on that staff in Montreal,” Milanovich said of Jones, lumping the two defensive co-ordinators together when it comes to their outlandishness. “They’re aggressive, they’ll zero-blitz you, but then they’ll also drop eight and play coverage.

“And they’ll do things – Chris used to call it the no-throw zones – he would know by film study that (throwing to certain areas of the field) is just not part of what they do. And Noel’s the same way where he’ll do something a little bit different, but that’s what you have to do in the CFL.”

It is, after all, a different game than what’s being seen on TV right now.

“If you go out there and try to play sound NFL defence with guys waggling and all those things going on, five receivers and everybody, it’s just almost impossible to stop people,” Milanovich said. “So, the best guys who do this now, they think outside the box, they have pressures that are hard to pick up and make it difficult on your quarterback to know what coverage they’re in.

“Noel does all those things and we’re really lucky to have him. I’m really looking forward to what he’s going to do with our defence.”

E-mail: [email protected]

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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