The Maas Effect; Argos Loss = Redblacks Gain

By: Santino Filoso

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Christmas came early for R-Nation, as yesterday afternoon the Ottawa Redblacks announced the addition of Bryan Chiu to their coaching staff. The 40 year old Chiu becomes the Redblacks first true offensive line coach, as last season former offensive co-ordinator Mike Gibson coached the offensive line in addition to calling plays.

Chiu, a 13 year CFL veteran, was a seven time all-star, winning two Grey Cups with the Montreal Alouettes in 2002 and 2009 and he also captured the award for the CFL’s top lineman in 2002. As a player, Chiu was known to be an offensive lineman with an edge, the kind of guy you love to have on your team but hate to play against. Hopefully Chiu can instil some of that tough mentality to an Ottawa offensive line that was simply pushed around too often last season.

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Since his retirement following the 2009 season, Chiu has gone on to coach in the CIS with the Concordia Stingers, working as their OL coach and assistant offensive co-ordinator from 2010-2013. Last season Chiu coached a Toronto Argonaut’s offensive line that allowed 42 sacks in 681 drop backs, which equals 1  sack given up every 16 passing plays. Not bad at all when you consider the Redblacks gave up  56 sacks in 591 drop backs, or a sack every 10 passing plays. In terms of the running game, the Argos averaged 5.3 yards per carry and 91 per game compared to the Redblacks 4.9 yards per carry and 82 per game.

One way to look at this addition is that Jason Maas’ hiring as the offensive co-ordinator is already paying off in spades as on he was able to lean on his relationship with the former CFL all-star and lure him away from the Argos. Head Coach Rick Campbell alluded to as much saying:

Bryan understands the CFL and specifically offensive line play in the CFL. He’s also familiar with our new offensive coordinator Jason Maas after coaching together last year in Toronto so we think that relationship will continue to build and help us be successful. Bryan is up and coming with a long successful career as a player and a promising career as a coach in the CFL.”

Having both Maas and Chiu on the Redblacks coaching staff probably also gives the Redblacks an inside track on some of the Argo’s free agents. A guy like Tyler Holmes, who Chiu coached all last season, might be more willing to sign in Ottawa as he’ll already know a few familiar faces.

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In my opinion the most important thing about this signing is that it shows R-Nation that management has watched the tape and sees what we the fans see, and isn’t afraid to spend to get better. Our offensive line was a weakness last season but bringing a guy like Chiu in directly addresses this weakness and makes the team better. Though Chiu is young and perhaps a little inexperienced in terms of coaching, I think he’s exactly what the doctor ordered.

What do you think of Bryan Chiu’s signing?

@RedBlackGade

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#TBT Interview with former Rough Rider Quinn Magnuson

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Quinn Magnuson is a former CFL offensive lineman and current co-host of Saskatchewan’s ‘Game Day With Wray’ pregame radio show. In addition to being a great follow on Twitter (and the brilliant mind behind the #CFLTwitterAwards), Quinn suited up for the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1995. That was a bad team. We asked Quinn to share some of his memories with Defend the R.

Tell us a bit about your broadcasting background.
I went to Washington State University on a Football scholarship in 1989 and entered the Edward R Murrow School of Communications for Broadcast Journalism. Education started there as I ran the radio station (KUGR FM). When I left WSU there wasn’t much for radio jobs so I didn’t really get back into broadcasting until 2009 doing some ‘Rider coverage but then was asked to do the ‘Rider Pregame this year full-time for CKOM CJME in Saskatchewan.

I see it has been a passion since at least your university days. What do you love about it?
I love the fans and how passonate they get. Its funny, weird, encouraging, hopeful, sad all at once. These fans, especially Roughrider fans, are the best but they can also be the worst. They are over-zealous and react too quickly sometimes, but hey that’s part of the game. I love being on the air each week and giving the “player’s persepective” too. People need to know what goes through a players head each day / week / game.

How was your first season as co-host on “Game Day With Wray”? Highlights/memorable moments?
Great first season. Started out slow and had to get my chops back, but by the end of the year I was feeling very comfortable. Wray and Chris Cuthbert and Dale iSaac made my job easier as they are professionals that help you along the way. I think the highlight was working with Chris Cuthbert and picking his brain when we had a chance to talk. Absolute gentlemen and such a font of sports knowledge. Also, just having access to so much more info that the average person can’t get.

What else have you been up to since your playing days ended?
Reitred in 1997, went BACK to university and got a degree this time LOL. Taught high school and coached HS ball from 2000-2006. Then left teaching and entered the private sector by owning my own company. Sold that company in 2010 as I was offered a job working at BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada) & been here ever since. Also, have two kids – 14 and 12 – and I have coached them in everything from hockey to soccer to football to basketball. Curently my son is a pretty solid football player at the 12-year old level. He will be better than I was (if he wants to).

How would you characterize yourself as a player? And who were the people/athletes you looked up to or modelled yourself after?
I was a player that maybe didn’t take the game as seriously as I should have. I was talented and had God-given skill and ability. But I didn’t work as hard as I should have and probably could’ve played NFL or been more of a contributor in the CFL. I was a phenomenal long snapper though and that’s probably why I lasted as long as I did in the CFL. I regret not working harder and doing some of the things that other players did (watch more film, spend more time with coaches, etc.). Growing up I modelled myself after the bad boys of football. Brian Bosworth and Tony Mandarich were two players I loved coming out of high school. I wanted to be Tony Mandarich. I went on a recruiting trip to MSU and met Tony. I was hooked and absolutely had to make PRO.

As well, on a personal level, my Uncle Keith Magnuson, former Blackhawks Defenseman (1969-80) was an absolute role model for me both in life and even after his death in 2003. I believe it was his guidance that helped me through high school and college. Even got me an interview with the Bears in 1993 (didn’t make it though).

You spent the 1995 season with the Ottawa Rough Riders. It was the last season of the CFL’s US experiment, on a 3-15 football team and with a franchise that was just about ready to shut its doors forever. Must have been a hoot!
Ottawa was NOT fun. It was a struggle to go to practice every day knowing how bad we were and how much a lot of players didn’t care to be there. We had talent but no “TEAM”. There were a lot of transactions every week LOL

As a player, did the off-field stuff affect you much?
Absolutely!! We were supposed to receive game cheques within 24 hours of the final whistle and we were often lined up outside the offices waiting for extra hours only to have the doors locked and told to come back tomorrow. It was terrible.

Ownership was notoriously cheap towards the end. Hope you didn’t miss a paycheque?
Never missed a cheque but getting them was tough.

There were some good players on that team – Danny Barrett, Mike Richardson… Just not enough of them?
Danny was a great leader and treated the OL well, Mike (whom I player with in WPG too) was great but once again no team chemistry and he struggled as did everyone else. John Kropke was a good player. Irv Daymond too. But players who were in their twilight and too many young players. Bad chemistry.

Any impressions/memories of Rohan Marley?
Rohan was funny but lacked professionalism. He was riding the popularity of his family name. He was, if anything, more of a distraction to the team that became a circus. In fact, in 1995 the CFL was a three-ring circus. Everywhere we went media wanted to talk to Ro. And he wasn’t even a star.

How about Andre Ware?
No comment.

And were those Rough Rider jerseys horrible, or what?
Yup still got mine. Ugly color combo and the gold helmets with the voyaguer on the side. C’mon Man!

Do you still keep in touch with any of the players or coaches from that team?
Im still friends with Dave Black and I Facebook Mike Richardson occasionally. But all in all there wasn’t much cmamaraderie. Tough when it was dog-eat-dog.

What are your memories of the city, specifically?
People didn’t care about the Riders. Any other city if you go to a bar, you get past the lineup , ppl buy you drinks, you get free meals here and there. Ottawa had no clue who we were and didn’t care. Bouncers would laugh when we said we played for the Riders. Sad really. Loved the city itself, beautiful but lacked sports sophistication at the time. Of course the entire league struggled at that point.

What do you remember about playing in some of those American cities, like Memphis or Shreveport?
Ugly, cheap stadiums. Poor crowds. HATED IT. Long travel schedules. The Amercian experiment was a pure MONEY grab by the league and its owners. It was a one million dollar expansion fee that was used to just keep the league afloat. It was the worst thing to ever happen to the CFL. BUT at the same time, the best thing as it made Canadian football fans realize how much they loved their game, and how they wanted to keep it CANADIAN!!! When Baltimore won the Grey Cup, that was the end.

Did you ever see American expansion working then?
I think had they kept it to one or two teams (east and west) it could’ve grown but they added too many too soon and in small-town markets. Also they should’ve kept the teams in the northern states.

What about now?
NOPE. League is strong. Leave it alone.

In addition to Ottawa, you played in Winnipeg, Saskatchewan & Montreal. Can you briefly share a thought on each stop?
Winnipeg – awesome town to play in. They love the Bombers. But the team has been mired in mediocrity for too long. I like Wade Miller there and things will turn around.

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Montreal – got there when the team moved from Balitimre (1996) and there was bad blood between the US players and the Canadians because they had to cut league all-stars to fill the Canadian quota. Once we got through the first few games we were good. Great city. Good organization. Still love Jim Popp.

Regina – when I was there (which was short) the team was terrible. Mostly because of management and coaching. Players were good but the team lacked cohesiveness. And at that time the fans weren’t as enamoured with the team like they are now. LOL

Winnipeg was the best to play and live though. Montreal was expensive and fans took three more years to really come around (i.e. Calvillo’s entrance).

Your late uncle Keith was an all-star with the Blackhawks in the 60s & 70s. Besides the fact that it’s really cool, what kind of impact did that have on you as a budding athlete with pro aspirations?
As mentioned earlier, it was Keith that made me want to play professional sports. He was a great leader and uncle, and always supported me in whatever I did. He was and still is a great influence in my life. Even moreso posthumously, as I want to represent the Magnuson name the way he did.

Before we go, what was your impression of the Ottawa Redblacks after their first season? Roster, coaching, etc.
I think they have something there. But you need to give it a couple of years and also bring in role players, locker room guys who will help the team gel quickly. Football is about trusting the guy next to you. Ottawa has a good coaching staff and players to build off of. But after game 8 they stopped believing they could win and it was “next year country” after that. Tons of potential.

Are you as confident as we are that the team is here for the long-haul this time?
I think the ownership has done a great job and judging by the sell-outs and fan support it should. I think the message form the start has been, “bear with us, well get there” and that’s a good thing. Don’t set expectations too high in Year One. Next year its 9-9. I would love to see the team there forever. It’s a good market with solid university teams in the area, and they need to start drafting players from the University of Ottawa and Carleton, just like the ‘Riders do with U of S and Regina U.

Anything else you’d like to share that I may not have thought to ask?
Our “home locker room” at Frank Clair was the worst I’d seen in pro football or college for that matter. It reminded me of the scenes from Major League when they are using an outboard motor for their cold tubs. LOL. Good guys worked there though. 🙂

Thanks for your time, Quinn. Some great memories and insight.

Be sure to give Quinn a follow on Twitter – @QMags65

by @OTTRoughRiders

Redblacks post-season fan focus group

Our man Nevill Carney – he of the Redblacks theme song, several Redblacks jersey concepts and a loyal Defend the R reader – was fortunate enough to attend an Ottawa Redblacks focus group shortly after the 2014 season. (FYI, Gord Holder wrote a bit about the session here.) Nevill was kind enough to share his thoughts and experiences from the event.

Shortly after the end of our inaugural season of the CFL’s return to the nation’s capital, I was surprised to find an email invitation to a focus group discussion with other fans. It was held on November 13th at the Heart and Crown in the Byward Market and was geared towards what went well and what didn’t go well for this past season.

I was very impressed that OSEG wasted no time to reach out and hear feedback directly from some of their fan base. The moment I walked into the private room for the event, I was greeted by OSEG President Jeff Hunt himself and knew that this was a genuine effort to improve things for 2015 and beyond.

There were about 12 fans present – of various ethnicity, gender and age – and each had a turn to speak about what they liked or didn’t like about this past season. About two-thirds were season ticket holders, while the rest were individual ticket buyers.

Mr. Hunt took the time to listen and write notes while each person had the opportunity to speak their mind about this past season. Among the topics discussed were:

– Transportation to and from TD Place
– Parking spaces
– Concession options (or lack thereof, especially beer/alcohol options on site)
– Visibility of the scoreboard
– Gameday experience
– Branding of the team
– Social media (and ways to make the overall fan experience immersive for RedBlacks supporters)
– Lineups for washrooms (mainly a female complaint)

Of these topics, concessions, transportation and gameday experience got the most attention.

Most of the talk regarding concessions had to do with long lineups and lack of notable beer/alcohol options on the South Side. For those who wanted something other than standard stadium booze (i.e. Budweiser), there were complaints that they had to either go to the North Side or wait in line at the bar on the lower concourse of the South Side (near the Frank Clair statue) for long periods. It seemed like lack of signage was a cause for this and hopefully it will be addressed moving forward.

Long lineups were touched on, but mainly relating to the home opener back on July 18th, where issues were expected for that first major event at the new stadium. Personally, I didn’t find lineups to be an issue this year. Considering there is a capacity of 24,000, I still find I can maneuver around more freely than at Sens games at Canadian Tire Centre which has a lesser capacity of about 19,000.

Transportation was, as expected, addressed in the discussion and it seemed like the majority of fans were onboard (pun intended) with taking the bus to games. Everyone seemed to really love the convenience of having one’s game ticket count as a pass to and from games. When surveyed, it seemed like most agreed that they would stay longer and take in the nightlife at the various onsite restaurants that will be opening for next year.

What I didn’t know was that the underground parking had just opened in time for the 67’s return to Lansdowne for the fall and has a capacity of about 1,200. From what I understand, parking can be purchased online (at Capital Tickets) in advance for those who absolutely insist on driving to games in the future. (Of note: I gave it a try at a 67’s game a few weeks back and it can be accessed from Queen Elizabeth Drive. There are stairs that lead you up to street level close to the Aberdeen Pavilion on the East Side.)

The last topic that was prominently addressed was gameday experience at TD Place. Many things were discussed, including the HD screen to the volume of the PA/music and the “Wood Cookies” after each Touchdown.

The visibility of the scoreboard on the West Side was brought up and the request was made to have another on the East Side to increase visibility for those who had issues seeing it from their seat. It was almost comedic how quickly Mr. Hunt seemed to basically say ‘yeah, that’s not happening’ due to the immense cost of the current screen. Frankly, I don’t know of any stadiums – NFL included – that have two large scoreboards on site. The only alternative option I can think of would be to have a 4-sided (hockey style) one suspended over center field between the North and South stands but yeah….money, money, money.

One thing that was widely praised was the North vs. South competitions between pauses in play and at half-time. Everyone seemed to get a kick out of it. In addition to the 1vs1 events, I suggested that they increase the number of participants in 2vs2 and 3vs3 contests such as Bubble Soccer or video game events on the HD screen. I think this is an area where a lot of fun can be had by everyone! Being a family-friendly environment seemed to be a real goal of OSEG’s. There were even some jabs at the infamous ‘Mardi Gras’ promotion of the Glieberman era that brought a few laughs!

The only real bit of info regarding branding that seemed to be touched on at the focus group was the use of plaid and really trying to make that our version of “Rider Pride”. Sort of like a “Proud to be Plaid” theme.

Sensing this was their vision in advance, I updated my uniform concepts to reflect the subtle plaid touches on the arm striping, and presented them to Jeff to look at. He admitted that the red numbers on the current home black uniforms are hard to see on TV. Maybe they will be proactive and change that for next season? Here are the updated concepts:

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The emphasis on the plaid on the arms and the lack of white being the major adjustments on them.

To be honest, not a lot of attention was given to the team’s performance on the field this year. I basically assured Mr. Hunt that ‘history will record we won our first game at TD Place and not much else matters from our inaugural year.’ It seems like anything related to onfield performance will be addressed by our GM, Marcel Desjardins, during the off season. Stay tuned, I suppose!

Overall, I think everyone felt that they had a chance to have their voices heard. Big props to OSEG for having this event as they seem to really want to knock this out of the park (wrong sport, I know…) for generations to come. Looking forward to 2015!

Nevill Carney

Thanks again for sharing your experience with #RNation, Nevill!

@OTTRoughRiders

#TBT: Catching Up With Korey Banks

By: Santino Filoso

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For this week’s Throwback Thursday interview, I chatted with former Ottawa Renegade DB Korey Banks. Banks, an eight time CFL All Star, racked up 37 career interceptions, 22 sacks, 14 fumbles, 442 tackles, 7 touchdowns and two Grey Cup rings.

RR: As an American coming to Ottawa, what was your first impression of the city?

KB: It was unreal. It was my first time out of country and I was so excited. I entered the league in 2004 after being cut from the NFL. At first I hated living in a hotel without a vehicle and not really making any money, but I loved the atmosphere, vibe and people in the city. Ottawa was great to me man, I loved everything about it.

In 2005, your second year in the league, you quickly became a fan favourite, leading the league with 10 interceptions. How were you so successful so early in your career?

I actually predicted I’d get 10 picks in pre-season interview. My confidence was high because I knew I almost made it in the NFL and that as a young guy they’d throw the ball at me to test me. By the time QBs knew I could play, I already had 7 or 8 picks. After the season I had a few NFL teams come sniffing but they weren’t offering a lot of money up front and Ottawa put a big offer on the table, so I couldn’t pass it up.

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A lot of people blame the Renegades ownership for being a distraction to the team, did you ever feel that way?

I was too young into my career to really understand that part of the business. I didn’t look at it like other people, I just looked at it like there’s an owner and I’m a player and we had a mutual respect. If I saw him I’d say hello but not much else because I knew that to keep my job I had to perform at a high level.

When the Renegades folded in 2006, did you have any idea where you would end up?

I was getting calls from Ticats at the time but in the dispersal draft they traded with Saskatchewan, and I knew I wasn’t going there as they already had guys like Omar Morgan and Eddie Davis. BC really came out of nowhere but it was a good change for me, I went from from shit to sugar, last place to Grey Cup. I wasn’t used to losing and only ever had a losing season when I was in college at Mississippi State. Losing was killing me but the most disappointing thing about the Renegades folding was that us players felt like we were about to turn things around. When Ottawa went under the best players were scooped up but a lot of good friends lost jobs.

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I’m sure every interception is satisfying but did you enjoy picking off certain QBs more than others?

I loved picking off Anthony Calvillo or Ricky Ray, when you got those guys, you knew you were really doing your thing. But now that I think about it, the most satisfying interceptions were when I got Dave Dickenson in practice, because he knew the all angles. Dickenson didn’t have the strongest arm but his ball placement was perfect.

Were you a big trash talker?

Early in career I was, but I did it to get noticed and make a name for myself. Where I’m from that’s how you got noticed. Later on in my career I matured and didn’t need to do it as much. I mean of course I still did it, but I didn’t waste time trashing talking guys I played three times a year. I knew to save it for the playoffs.

How did you pump yourself up before a big game?

I had a routine to do the opposite actually. I listened to slow music because I  had to mellow myself out. I knew the next couple hours would be high pressure with me flying around so basically I had to meditate and get my mind right.

Who was the toughest receiver you ever had to cover?

I played against a lot of great wide receivers. I think I had tough match ups every week, going head to head with guys like Ben Cahoon, Jason Tucker, Milt Stegall, Geroy Simon, Fred Stamps, Nik Lewis, DJ Flick, and Jeremaine Copeland. Week after week they kept coming and I had to come in and set the tempo. Against guys like that you have to stick your fork in the ground, stand strong and make them play your way. If you blink they’ll beat you all day.

During your CFL career you played for Ottawa, BC and Winnipeg, where was the toughest stadium to play in and why?

I wouldn’t say it was the toughest atmosphere, but in Hamilton I only ever made a few plays. After some success against them early in my career with Ottawa, once I went to BC something about that stadium just threw me off a bit. In 10 years I think I only made 5 or 6 big plays there. I’m not saying I played poorly in Hamilton, just that I didn’t have great games there, never really got my mojo going.

Obviously this season things in Winnipeg didn’t work out as you hoped, what happened there and what are your plans for next season?

I don’t know what happened there, I always respected everyone and did what I needed to do. When I came into Winnipeg they gave me a big contract, hyped me up as an impact player and everyone seemed to be on the same page. I had a great camp, picking off 8 passes in practice, was a stand up teammate and always did what I was asked. It boiled down to the fact that Gary Etcheverry had a problem with me, which I never understood since we were working towards the same goal. One day in practice I asked him a question and he just nodded and jogged off without answering me. At the next meeting he starts it off by talking about how players shouldn’t question coaches, etc. etc. This is the same guy who doesn’t use a playbook, he just writes plays on the board and then erases them. As a player you feel uncomfortable as you have nothing to reference when studying. To Etcheverry players are just horses to be run. He’s a total joke and a clown. I’m not denying he’s got a good football mind but the man’s a clown and has no relationship with his players.

When the Bombers started playing games with me, putting me on the IR and stuff, the joke ended up on them as they were on the hook for my salary this season, and with the settlement I got to stay home this year and get paid. The whole experience left a bitter taste in my mouth and made me hate the CFL. Well, actually not the CFL, just Winnipeg, I hope they never win anything again. As for my career I’m done with football.

Did you still keep in touch with any of the other guys you played with in Ottawa?

I still talk to Kyries Hebert, Jason Armstead and I recently met Quincy Coleman for some drinks. I catch up with Brad Banks once in awhile as well.

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Why did you wear #24?

When I first came to Ottawa the equipment manager gave it to me. I got off to a good start using it and everyone in every pro league wearing #24 was balling, so I decided to roll with that.

What piece of football advice would you offer to young players looking to take their game to the next level?

You gotta ask yourself before you think about a career as a football player, do you have anything else to fall back on? Don’t just go into it wanting to be a football player, since you can’t control that. You’ve gotta understand the game and your opponent and then you’ll do well. If you don’t know the game you’re competing on athletics.

When CFL fans hear the name Korey Banks, what would you like them to think of or remember?

I’d like them to remember a guy who played the game at a great level. When a new DB breaks into the CFL and has sustained success, not a flash in the pan one year wonder, but success at a high level for a number of years, I’d like them to say “Man that guys reminds me of Korey Banks”. That would truly be satisfying.

Thanks for your time Korey and best of luck to you in the future!

@RedBlackGade

– Images via Scott Grant Photography

Jason Maas Takes the Offensive Reins

By: Santino Filoso

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Yesterday afternoon, the Ottawa Redblacks held a press conference to formally introduce Jason Maas as the team’s new offensive co-ordinator. Maas’ hiring had been rumoured since the weekend but only became official on Wednesday afternoon.

Maas, a former QB, played 11 seasons in the CFL with the Eskimos, Ticats and Alouettes. Twice he was a finalist for the league’s MOP award and also sports two Grey Cup rings from the 2003 and 2005 seasons. In 2004, Maas established a CFL record with 22 straight completions, a record that still stands to this day. After retiring in May 2011, Maas was quickly hired as a WR coach by the Toronto Argos. In 2013 he was promoted to QB coach and worked closely with Argos QB Ricky Ray.

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By choosing to hire the 39 year old (who is actually 5 months younger than Henry Burris), the Redblacks went with youth and potential over more established candidates such as Paul LaPolice or George Cortez. Here’s Head Coach Rick Campbell’s explanation of the hiring:

“Jason has many qualities that make him a great coach with a bright future.  His positive approach to teaching brings out the best in the players.  His outstanding work ethic and ‘can-do’ attitude are infectious and help to create a winning team atmosphere. He has an outstanding knowledge of the CFL, the game and its players and we know that having him as a member of our staff is going to help our team.”

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Personally, I love this move. Maas is an extremely intelligent guy known for his attention to detail and strong work ethic. The fact that he’s a proven winner and been around a guy like Ricky Ray in the Argos offensive system, one of the best in the league, is a huge positive. Furthermore, Maas has strong relationships with many current players as not too long ago he played with or against them. Those relationships could prove to be beneficial as Ottawa tries to sign free agents.

Though expectations are high, former offensive co-ordinator Mike Gibson didn’t exactly leave big shoes to fill. In 2014 the Redblacks averaged 15.4 points a game and only scored a pathetic 24 touchdowns. When pressed for details about the kind of system he’s looking to implement, Maas replied by saying

“It’s not hard to figure what kind of offence I’ll run, I’ve been around some great offensive minds in the CFL, starting with Danny Maciocia and  Scott Milanovich, and the offence we’ll run is very similar to what Scott’s been running in Toronto and what Marc Trestman brought up here.”

How can a member of R-Nation not smile when hearing those words?

@RedBlackGade

P.S. Have to call out TSN1200 for failing to cover the press conference. I get that Ottawa is gripped in Alfie mania but it wouldn’t have killed them to switch gears for a few minutes.