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Monday, June 12, 2000

The world according to Huard

By Perry Lefko

Rookie Argos coach John Huard hopes to win the Grey Cup in his first year, but many people are wondering if he will make it through training camp.

Huard, 56, who has bristled Argos fans, players and the media with his jagged-edge remarks, cut loose with a stream of consciousness yesterday on the first day of the team's training camp for rookies. Veterans begin practising tomorrow.

After lasting only two weeks in his first -- and only other -- professional head-coaching job with the CFL's now-defunct Shreveport Pirates in 1994, some people are wondering if the mariner from Maine will sink or swim with the Argos.

"Does it make a difference?" he asked. "You know something, I don't care how you view me, whether I'm a success or a failure.

"I have a wonderful wife. I have wonderful children. I can go back and enjoy my life. I don't have to come up here and take all the things that have happened, and what people want to say and how they take it and twist it and turn it. I don't need that.

Huard said the challenge that drew him to the Argos was the chance to become the first coach to win a national championship in collegiate football and a Grey Cup. Huard won the CIAU title with Acadia in 1979 and 1981.

"That's my driving factor, that's all," he said. "It isn't money. It isn't fame. It isn't any of that stuff. I believe in challenging people to do something first before other people have done it, or to do it better than other people.

"That's how I coach everything and I expect people to be the very best at what they do.

"Whether you view me as a success or the other people view me as a success, it doesn't make a difference to me."

Huard also won the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Division 3 championship with the Maine Maritime Academy in 1993. In recent years he has been writing books and football computer programs.

Reflecting on his experience in Shreveport, Huard said that had he known the agenda of Lonie Glieberman, son of team owner Bernie Glieberman, he would not have taken that coaching job. He said Lonie Glieberman wanted Forrest Gregg as the coach all along and schemed to force Huard's firing after only two weeks. He did not even make it to the first pre-season game.

"I can't believe 10 years later people are still writing about it," Huard said.

Reminded that it actually was six years ago, he dismissed the arithmetic like flicking off a flea.

Huard brushed off a suggestion that few coaches have overhauled a team and won the Grey Cup in their first season.

Don Matthews did it with the Argos in 1996 after he inherited a 4-14 team. Huard noted his resume includes a Canadian university title in his first season without any prior head-coaching experience.

Apprised that he is comparing a college experience to the pro level, Huard retorted: "It doesn't make a difference. If you do the procedures correctly, it's the same thing. I have procedure manuals on how we do things. If you follow these guidelines and you keep abreast of what's happening, it's no different. The people are bigger? Yeah. The people are faster? Yeah. They want to win? Sure."

Huard said some players at this level are more interested in making money than winning.

"This is a country club," he said. "This environment has been a country club. You can put that in big, bold letters."

Huard said by looking into players' eyes he will be able to determine whether they're more interested in earning a cheque than winning the Cup.

"I'm going to look at them just like I'm looking in your eyes, the same way," Huard said. "No question I'll recognize it. I've done it to everybody I've coached. You know who wants to play and who doesn't because there's a certain tinge in the eyes from the guys who don't want to play. There's that dullness. You don't believe it? I'll tell you how I can see it."

But Huard's financial argument holds thin when you factor that CFL players make under $50,000 Cdn on average.

"They're all looking for that pot at the end of the rainbow -- that they could come up, play here and be successful and then go back to the NFL -- that is the Americans' objective," Huard said.

Huard is asked if it is not a good objective for players to want to be their best so they can attract interest in the NFL.

"It goes back to when we're talking about money because that is where they know the money is," Huard said. "It's like an apprenticeship, that's all."

Huard's haughtiness makes Matthews come across as humble, but the new coach claims he has a licence to be cocksure.

"Why shouldn't I be?" Huard said. "I know what I do. I know how to do it and I know how to organize. What do I care? I have (software and publishing) corporations that make a hell of a lot more money than I'm ever going to make here. I don't care. Money is not an issue with me coaching because I'm losing money coming here. I told you guys (in the media) that from the beginning. If I didn't have companies I wouldn't be here coaching. Didn't I tell you there's only one team I would coach for in Canada and that was Toronto? I wouldn't coach for anybody else."

His critics have suggested no one would want Huard as a pro coach aside from Argos managing director J.I. Albrecht, who also hired him in Shreveport in 1994. Neither survived the season.

Albrecht is back managing after having convinced longtime friend Sherwood Schwarz to buy the Argos. Albrecht likes Huard's football mind, but it's a curious cranium indeed, filled with all kinds of ideas, not all of them related to football.

"I go to bed sometimes and I've got a deal going on in the United States and I could lose $400,000 in two minutes," he said. "I don't worry about it. What the hell? I feel pretty comfortable about what I want to do, how I want to do it and we're going do it."

But, how will Huard get his message across to his veteran players, many of whom are skeptical?

"I don't have 12 weeks to get them mentally ready. I have to get them ready now mentally and physically. It's a process of 'Let's go, let's shoot 'er up and let's get ready to go. We're going to rock 'n roll.' That's it."