October 2015 – Irreconcilable Differences: Cato’s Skillset vs Calvillo’s Mindset

“I’ve never put too much emphasis into skill set,” Calvillo says. “To me, as a coordinator, you have to make things that are gonna be good for all the quarterbacks.” So began Anthony Calvillo‘s career as offensive coordinator.

A few short week’s later Herb countered with: “On Thursday, it appeared Calvillo was calling plays for himself and his strengths, overlooking the fact Rakeem Cato is a 23-year-old mobile pivot.”

So…what’s up with THAT???

Anthony Calvillo is NOT a coach. Sure, I might caveat that statement with a “YET”. But why bother? Calvillo’s INSANE ascension from receivers coach to quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, ALL IN THE SPACE OF TWO WEEKS, may just have ruined AC’s chances of becoming a legitimate and respected coach in this league.

“I think he’s gonna be a great coach. I had coffee with him this morning. He likes it. HE’S TRYING TO LEARN IT FROM THE GROUND FLOOR UP. The sky’s gonna be the limit for AC ” – Marc Trestman interview on TSN during Cato’s 1st start, Week 2 against the Stampeders.

Well…the elevator’s OUT OF CONTROL AND AC’s been ejaculated from the ground floor into that COLD BLUE SKY without ANY sign of a plane or a parachute. For my part…I was DETERMINED to set aside my Calvillo-the-Quarterback misgivings and judge the man on his coaching ALONE. I was comforted (at first) by the knowledge that Calvillo’s first coaching job as receiver’s coach was little more than titular. After all…how much coaching are veteran receivers like SJ Green, Nik Lewis, Fred Stamps and Sam Giguere REALLY going to need? Not to mention the fact that Nik Lewis’ charisma and gregariousness makes him a NATURAL coaching talent…and I was convinced HE could fill any holes in Calvillo’s virgin coaching acumen.

ENTER THE POWER GRAB

What is it with Jim Popp…anyway? The second things start going sideways his kneejerk reaction is to FIRE the Head Coach and step in as absolute LORD of all he surveys. By all accounts Tom Higgins was well liked and respected by coach and player alike. The team’s defence and special teams units were among the very BEST in the CFL. The problem WAS and IS the Offence. TRULY offensive, in fact. The sensible thing to do would have been to fire Turk Schonert as offensive coordinator, and replace him with someone already on staff. Schonert’s abrasive, confrontational “tough-love stylings” were COMPLETELY unsuited to the task of mentoring a rookie quarterback, and it seemed obvious that on a “personality” level Cato and Schonert were a HUGE mismatch. Add to that Schonert’s apparent and complete lack of knowledge of the CFL game AND his inability to design an offence to take advantage in ANY WAY of Rakeem Cato’s unique skill set…and you have a pretty convincing argument for his sacking…POST HASTE.

Here’s a fun quote from Tom Higgins talking to Rakeem Cato :

“Turk and I are going to have a competition to see who chokes you first.”

Apparently they hated Cato’s confidence and belief he can do ANYTHING with his athleticism. So….instead of EXPLOITING his abilities and encouraging them, Schonert and Higgins were competing to see who could shut them down sooner. I bet THAT went over great with the kid….not to mention the rest of the locker room. Unfathomably mindless!!! SO mindless in fact that even a numb-brain like TSN’s Duane Ford had the wisdom to GET it:

“Rakeem Cato has had an impact in the ground game. Tonight…we haven’t seen him by design and I suspect that this may become more a part of the Alouettes playbook…to get him throwing on the move with that run option.”

AND another quote about Cato from Orlondo Steinauer…Hamilton’s defensive coordinator:

“Maybe if they were going to let him sit back in the pocket and ask him to read the defence, (we) could confuse him, ” he said. “But I don’t think that’s going to be their plan.”

It was their plan all right. The Alouettes remained OBSTINATELY determined to make Cato a pocket passer. And with this philosophical rift and “brain gap” the Alouettes were bound to be inconsistent at best. THIS gave Jim Popp YET ANOTHER opportunity to lobby owner Robert Wetenhall and grab that sweet Head Coaching job. AGAIN.

Bubye Tom Higgins. Whether you believe THIS was the plan from the start is a personal choice. There’s evidence either way. Still, one has to wonder if GM Jim Popp would EVER hire a coaching prospect like “Head Coach” Jim Popp, considering his GLARING personality issues and pathetic win/loss record? Next time he SERIOUSLY needs to try “vetting” himself before making that mistake, AGAIN. I’d buy a ticket to watch THAT. On second thought….MAYBE NOT.

PoppnPopp

Nightmare scenarios aside, Popp’s 1st act as Head coach was to appoint Calvillo as Quarterback’s coach, freeing Schonert to concentrate all his efforts on the offence. When the offence continued to struggle, Popp FINALLY got around to doing what he should have done in the 1st place…FIRE Turk Schonert. What followed boggles the mind of ANY experienced CFL observer.

There’s a reason a first year coach doesn’t just JUMP into a job like offensive coordinator. MOST coaches spend YEARS on the sidelines, absorbing and processing the minutiae of the coaching profession. With luck and after seasons under various seasoned coordinators and mentors, a coach learns offence, defence and/or special teams.  His knowledge eventually encompasses ALL situations and can apply to and benefit ALL players and skillsets. Learning from the ground up. It’s the ONLY way to fly.

As a player, Anthony Calvillo was as pure a pocket passer as there was. What’s more, after taking over from Tracy Ham at the very beginning of his Alouettes career, it’s doubtful Calvillo would have sat in on many meetings designing an offence for ANYONE but himself. How could AC be ANYTHING more than a ONE DIMENSIONAL COACH? Again…this is hardly Calvillo’s fault. Under NORMAL circumstances he would have spent several seasons honing his craft. Unfortunately,  the Alouettes under Jim Popp are ANYTHING BUT NORMAL. More’s the pity for coach Calvillo.

But for Cato, the transition from an aggressive, red-faced BULL of a coach who was determined to “choke” his abilities, to a coordinator who’s SOLE experience WAS in designing and calling plays for himself HAD to be a confusing and frustrating process. What’s more, Cato KNOWS all about Calvillo’s legendary career. What could be more sensible than following AC’s advice to the letter?

Discussing his first years as a young quarterback in the CFL AND using his legs as a weapon…TSN colour guy Matt Dunigan made it clear,

“I didn’t know how to do anything else. I couldn’t read a defence, you know? It took me about 7 or 8 years to figure it all out. The first 7 or 8 years you’re just trying to figure it all out. Yes. If you have that ability (running), use it because this is what the game will certainly lend itself to.”

Words of Wisdom from a Hall of Fame quarterback.

Anthony Calvillo is CERTAINLY another Hall of Fame quarterback. But it’s just as certain that he DIDN’T have that ability. NOR could he have MUCH idea how to use it effectively. But by the same token, it took Calvillo YEARS to learn how to read defences. His was a successful apprenticeship behind yet ANOTHER Hall of Fame quarterback Tracy Ham. Considering the situation, is it reasonable to expect Cato to do the same…perhaps behind Kevin Glenn?

The Alouettes are in a bind, now and looking to the future. As long as Jim Popp is GM, Anthony Calvillo’s future is SET. From Receivers coach, through quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator to Head Coach. Let’s face it…the real question is: WHO in this city will EVER say no to Anthony Calvillo? Other than me, that is.

The Als FINALLY acquired their pocket passer in Kevin Glenn. But Glenn is a KNOWN factor. If the Hamilton Ticats oscillated between an inconsistent Kevin Glenn and Quinton Porter for several .500 seasons, there’s really not much hope the Alouettes will fare much better with Glenn at the helm this time around. 15 years sans Coupe Grey for Glenn’s career. Kinda makes Calvillo’s 3/8 Grey Cup record something to drool over in comparison.

NO! The Alouettes need to re-tool for next season. Cato at the helm, backed by similar QB talents like Brandon Bridge and one or two others, with an offensive coordinator who can create an offence for this kind of quarterback..receivers and backs with the skillsets to match….THIS is the path to the Alouettes NEXT GREY CUP.

Anything else will have the Alouettes MIRED in the past…spinning their wheels for the foreseeable future. NOT TO MENTION the inevitability of losing a supreme talent like Cato to a rival team. Perhaps a team like the Tigercats, or Roughriders. Both have had GREAT success with mobile QB’s in Collaros and Durant. What a loss THAT would be!

Tragedy or GLORY? The decision is yours.

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