John Hufnagel is the first to admit he walked into a diamond mine when he was hired last year as Calgary Stampeders head coach.
There’s also little doubt the first-year boss knew how to make those gems shine, leading the team to the 2008 Grey Cup championship before yesterday being named winner of the Annis Stukus Trophy, awarded annually to the top head coach in the CFL.
“I identified early on what needed to be fixed,” Hufnagel said in a telephone press conference, noting he inherited a “pretty good football team.”
“I tried to be clear with my communication with the players and I tried to establish a trust factor between the players and the coach’s office. That was the starting point for our team’s success.”
Hufnagel instantly earned the respect of his players in Calgary with a resumé that boasted several seasons as a successful offensive co-ordinator in the NFL. He took a playoff-quality Stamps team from the previous three seasons and polished its game to championship lustre.
“He raised the level of expectation and accountability within our team and guys obviously responded well. From the first day of camp, he earned respect and led us to the championship,” said Stamps quarterback Henry Burris.
Hufnagel led the Stamps to the sixth Grey Cup title in franchise history with a 22-14 win over the Alouettes in Montreal. He guided the Stamps to a 13-5 regular-season record and a first-place finish in the West Division before defeating the B.C. Lions in the West Final.
Hufnagel is the fifth Stamps coach to win the Stukus Trophy, joining a group that includes Jerry Williams (1967), Jack Gotta (1978), Wally Buono (1992, ‘93) and Tom Higgins (2005).