Roller-coaster rookie year leaves Coach of the Year Scott Milanovich with fond memories

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

It wasn't unexpected that Toronto Argonauts' head coach Scott Milanovich was named the CFL's 2012 coach of the year Thursday given that his team won the Grey Cup, but there were plenty of moments in 2012 where few would have predicted Milanovich would take home the award. The Argos came into the season with sky-high expectations thanks to the Ricky Ray trade, but a 1-2 start and a 9-9 regular-season record had plenty questioning how good they really were. It was a year full of ups and downs for Toronto, including spectacular lows such as a 31-10 thumping from Montreal in September and a 36-10 beatdown from Saskatchewan in October. However, it ended on the highest note possible, with the team rolling through the playoffs and claiming the Grey Cup. Milanovich said in a teleconference Thursday after winning his award that the season was far from a smooth ride, but the ending was even more special as a result.

"Sometimes it's even sweeter when you have to overcome some adversity," he said. "There were a lot more ups than downs."

Milanovich said claiming the historic 100th Grey Cup in Toronto was an incredible experience.

"To watch that happen in our stadium, in our city, that was a moment I'll never forget," he said. "The moment after the Grey Cup was one of the best of my life, spending that with my wife, my daughters, my family."

Becoming a head coach was a substantial change for Milanovich, as most of his previous experience had been as an offensive coordinator. He said getting used to the new role took some adjusting.

"The big difference is you're managing an entire team," he said. "You're managing two sides of the football (defence and special teams) that I hadn't spent much time on."

Milanovich said he was able to adapt thanks to having solid coordinators he could trust in Chris Jones and Mike O'Shea, and he said general manager Jim Barker's assistance was crucial to his success.

"I can't say enough about it," Milanovich said. "To have him to lean on when I needed to...just to have that complete and total trust, it meant the world to me."

Still, the head coaching job is a difficult one, and Milanovich said one of his toughest adjustments was the extra focus on mentally preparing players.

"When you're a coordinator, you don't have to worry about the ebbs and flows, the ups and downs of where your team's at mentally," he said.

Milanovich said a key area he wants to improve on next year is bringing complete energy and enthusiasm all the time, as that can help inspire a team.

"You can be tired, you can be worn out, but when the players are in practice or you're in a meeting, you have to be on," he said.

He said the Argos knew last year wasn't going to be completely smooth sailing, but they always felt they were capable of winning a Grey Cup.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy, we had a lot of pieces we had to mesh together, but we did believe it was possible," Milanovich said.

Now, the Argonauts will face an even tougher task, trying to repeat as Grey Cup champions. That's only been done twice since the Eskimos' string of five straight Grey Cups ended following the 1982 season. However, there are connections to both teams to do it since. One team is from Toronto, the Doug Flutie- and Don Matthews-led Argonauts who won in 1996 and 1997, and the other team is the Montreal Alouettes that won in 2009 and 2010, where Milanovich was the offensive coordinator. Thus, Milanovich knows how hard it is to repeat, but he also knows how it can be done. He said the key for the Argonauts will be to have everyone stay focused on doing their job.

"Our mantra and what we believe in isn't going to change," Milanovich said. "That's to take care of our business, take care of our house."

Milanovich is optimistic about this coming year, though, especially as Ray now seems to have adjusted to his offensive system.

"The hope is that Ricky picks up where he left off last season, which is playing about as good as you can possibly play," Milanovich said. "We should start the season at a higher level than we started last season."