He’s an imaginative playcaller and regarded as an offensive genius, but Tommy Condell’s biggest strength is subscribing to the most basic of coaching principles: Creating a system showcasing a player’s ability.
“It’s never about the coach,” the Hamilton Tiger-Cats coach said Thursday at the CFL’s media day. “It’s about the player.
“You always have to accentuate the positive, the things a particular player does. The core stuff we’re going to do from a principle or philosophical standpoint … but how we do that and what kind of plays we’re able to do always go through the players we have.”
Despite significant injuries at quarterback and running back, Hamilton (CFL-best 15-3 record) led the league in several offensive categories. The Ticats will face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sunday in the Grey Cup.
When Condell became Hamilton’s offensive co-ordinator just prior to the start of training camp, he maintained an open mind regarding his offensive game-plan. When quarterback Jeremiah Masoli suffered an season-ending knee injury in August, Condell spent time getting to know backup Dane Evans before tweaking the offence to best suit his new starter’s talents.
It’s a novel approach considering many football coaches put scheme and system ahead of the player. But Condell not only welcomes player input, he encourages it.
“Nothing is out of bounds with Tommy,” Evans said. “Obviously everyone has their base plays … but if you have an idea and you can logically present it to him, he’s going to listen.
“It’s really refreshing, especially in pro football, to be able to get up on the board and draw squiggly lines and not worry about him saying, ‘That’s a terrible play, get that off the board.’ He’s always looking at it optimistically and how we can make it work, which is super refreshing.”
Hamilton led the CFL in points (30.6 per game), offensive points (28.2), touchdowns (57), net offence (395.8), second-down conversions (50.5 per cent) and passing (313.3 yards per game). The Ticats also finished tied for first with Montreal in offensive TDs (50).
And despite a revolving door at running back, Hamilton finished fourth overall in rushing (100.4 yards per game). Thirteen different players had carries for the Ticats, including receivers Bralon Addison (218 yards on 12 carries, TD), Brandon Banks (13 carries, 56 yards, one TD), Jalin Marshall and Marcus Tucker (both one attempt each).
Sixteen different Ticats caught passes, led by Banks (club-record 112, 1,550 yards and 13 TDs) and Addison (95 catches, 1,236 yards, seven TDs). But a true testament to Condell’s open-minded play-calling is six different Hamilton players attempted passes, including Addison and slotback Luke Tasker.
Evans finished the season completing 298-of-413 passes (72.2 per cent) for 3,754 yards with 21 TDs and 13 interceptions. Seven times he threw for 300 or more yards — cracking the 400-yard plateau twice.
More importantly, Evans was 9-2 as the starter as Hamilton set a club record for most regular-season wins. Evans threw for 386 yards and a touchdown in the Ticats’ 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton, his first CFL playoff start.
Condell said patience was the key with Evans after he replaced Masoli, the East Division’s top player last year.
“So when Dane got a chance, there were going to be things he wasn’t ready for that he would be once he progressed,” Condell said. “I had to learn him, I had to get to know him.
“Now, he’s getting close to finishing my sentences.”
Fortunately for Condell, Evans and Masoli have many similarities.
“First, they both love the game of football, along the same lines as David (third-stringer David Watford) and Hayden (youngster Hayden Moore),” Condell said. “That’s the first pre-requisite.
“It’s a true collective process not only with the coaches together but also the players.”
That includes the entire offence.
Potential head coach
“Our players understand each other’s role,” Condell said. “They hear the intricacies of how you need to set on this guy as an offensive lineman or how to run this route.
“It’s a natural progression and that helps.”
The trouble with having so many potential playmakers is keeping them all happy, considering there’s only one football. But Condell said that’s where first-year head coach Orlondo Steinauer comes in.
“Orlando has done a beautiful job of making sure everyone has a role, knows their role and understands what everyone is doing,” he said. “We meet together as an offence every day so the centre understands what Speedy is doing because they’re hearing us coaching him.
“To me, it grows organically to where all of a sudden you’re hearing what he’s being told and being corrected in the same way so it builds accountability. Orlondo has done that from Day 1.”
Hamilton’s offensive success under Condell should strengthen his stock as a potential head coach, especially with both B.C. and Ottawa currently having vacancies. Condell, in his second stint with the Ticats, also has previous CFL coaching experience with Toronto, Saskatchewan, Ottawa and Winnipeg.
“I’m very, very focused and am sincerely only interested in winning this Grey Cup,” he said. “Before that, I’m really interested in getting ready for this meeting we’re going to have and our next practice.
“That’s the good and bad thing about me: I’m very hyper-focused in that regard.”
Condell will chase a second Grey Cup after serving on Mark Trestman’s staff with the ’17 Argos. He understands the importance of a championship to Hamilton, which last had a CFL title in ’99.
“I get chills talking about it,” he said. “We’re working really, really hard to bring that home.
“I get to raise my four boys there and raise them with no sense of entitlement and a hard-working, diligent attitude and I’m all about that. We want to celebrate them.”