His Team, His Staff, His Program
With a First full Offseason Under Collinson’s Belt, the 2019-2020 Stingers Football Team Has a New Attitude and New Faces
Thirty-five seconds left on the clock. Third down and nine yards to go. Their season on the line. Dropped pass. Turnover on downs. Shoulders drop. A 28-21 loss was the only difference between the Stingers finishing the year in a playoff spot at third place, and ending up at the bottom of the standings.
It left a sour taste in the mouth of the entire team, none more than head coach Brad Collinson, but they didn’t spend much time licking their wounds.
“I think it was like a day and then we got right back to recruiting,” said Collinson. “We couldn’t feel sorry for ourselves or anything like that and we just took the bull by the horns and went back at it.”
Ending the season at two wins and six losses meant there was lots of work to be done and unlike last season, Collinson was going to have time to shape the team from the start.
It was a difficult position last offseason, given the sudden departure of both Mickey and Patrick Donovan, leaving the head coaching position for roles in the Montreal Alouettes organization only five months apart.
When he initially came into the role of head coach, Collinson had only six weeks before the start of the season.
Six weeks to get the entire roster on the same page about his style, his vision, and most importantly his staff.
There was a massive overhaul on the sidelines for the Stingers’ coaching staff as they brought in veteran minds on both sides of the ball, with years of experience both coaching and playing at the highest levels in North America. The newest wide receiver coach, Seydou Junior Haidara, has experience with Concordia as well as with Montreal football.
Not only did Haidara play against the Stingers while on his way to winning two Vanier Cups with the Laval Rouge et Or, he spent the last three years of his CFL career playing for the Montreal Alouettes.
“When [Collinson] came to me and told me it was a lot of the guys I’ve worked with before, I knew that there were people that I enjoy working with and that have that same competitive drive,” said Haidara. “What mattered to me was that we were all on the same page and headed in the same direction with a lot of experience.”
Another significant coaching staff addition, Ed Philion, was hired as defensive coordinator in January.
Philion adds almost 30 years of experience, both as a player in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, and Jacksonville Jaguars as well as in the CFL with teams like the Calgary Stampeders and the Montreal Alouettes, with which he would win a Grey Cup in 2002.
With another Grey Cup Championship as the defensive line coach for Edmonton in 2015, Philion was another piece of the puzzle that fit right into the identity of the team Collinson was looking to build.
“We have to approach everything like it’s third-and-one and keep moving forward.” —_Brad Collinson_
“We have to approach everything like it’s third-and-one and keep moving forward. On the defensive side of the ball we want to get after people and just play fast,” said Collinson. “[Philion] has a proven record and it’s hard to argue against results like the ones he’s got.”
This mentality is something that might appear new to some of the recruits that have been brought in over the offseason.
The camp roster featured 40 new players, brought into the program to compensate for departures in key spots.
“Recruitment is a year-round job and we lost about 15 seniors to graduation. We have to look after our future too and we brought in a lot of local talent,” said Collinson, whose rookie class includes roughly 35 recruits born in Quebec. “There’s going to be a learning curve, but there are already some [rookies] turning heads and pushing the vets, which is exactly what we wanted.”
With a rookie class that big, they’ll have every chance to develop together over the coming years, but that won’t come without its share of growing pains.
A relatively new staff, alongside a massive rookie class, presents its own unique challenges. That isn’t something lost on Haidara and the rest of the coaching staff.
“It’s going to be a process. We have lots of new systems and young coaches. I think the biggest challenge is to get the players and the coaches going in the same direction,” said Hairdara. “I’m asking them to give me everything they’ve got and I return that favour […] the mutual trust between players and coaches is really important, especially with such a new group.”
The jump from CEGEP—or high school in the case of the non-Quebec recruits—to university football is daunting to say the least.
Not only are there new playbooks, staff, and a wildly different approach to the way student athletes are treated and what is expected of them, but a “third-and-one style” that asks them to go all out at all times.
The play-fast mentality that Collinson is trying to bring to the team is something most of the returning players are familiar with.
Linebacker Jersey Henry—who enjoyed a breakout season and was invited to the annual East-West Bowl—is entering his fifth year with the Stingers and is all too familiar with the way Collinson likes to run his practices and how that translates into a distinct style come game-time.
“There’s always a good tempo to practice. It’s at a running pace and there’s no time to slack around,” said Henry. “We have roughly 90 guys on the field and he makes sure that nobody is taking anything lightly. Everything is really organized though. So it’s not hectic or crazy.”
Organized chaos would really be the most accurate way to describe Collinson’s sessions. With so many different positions and roles on football teams, there are a dozen constantly moving units, each working on something different.
Collinson runs the whole show with the precision of an orchestra conductor and the fervor of a drill sergeant.
It’s expected that you work just as hard getting from one drill to another as you do working on the drill itself. On more than one occasion, Collinson could be seen ordering around some of the players who were caught walking.
“The whole staff demands the best from us and it feels like some of us still have a chip on our shoulder from the way we ended last season,” said Henry. “A lot of the players still have a lot to prove after last year and that fire is still there for sure.”
Collinson was adamant about the change of culture that was needed and it is still an ongoing process that can be seen through the players’ mentality during practice.
“What we want here is an attitude of excellence and that starts with the smallest details for every individual player. When you come into practice, everyone has to have that mentality because you never know when your number can be called,” said Collinson. “The competition [in practice] is contagious and nobody wants to get shown up so it pushes players to be better.”
The disappointment from last year’s end to the season is still weighing on a lot of the returning players and staff.
They have made all the necessary additions and brought in an incredible amount of depth but it remains to see how they’ll cope with new systems and big holes to fill on both sides of the ball.