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Former Golden Eagle Corey Chamblin coaches Sunday in CFL Grey Cup


Editor's Note: Former Golden Eagle defensive back Corey Chamblin is head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who play Sunday at 5 p.m. CST in the Grey Cup, the championship game of the Canadian Football League (CFL). Saskatchewan hosts the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 101st championship at Mosaic Stadium in Regina. It's only the third time in history that Regina has hosted the Grey Cup, but the first time Saskatchewan gets to play in this title game in its home stadium. At Wednesday's press conference, Chamblin surprised reporters when asked about the biggest obstacle his team faced this season. His answer:

"
The biggest pressure for our team was making sure no one else sat in our locker room. It's about working all offseason, all year to protect your house and that was the biggest thing and the biggest pressure we had.

"We're in it now, and as I tell the guys, if we're good enough to be in it we're good enough to win it. It's time for it to be decided now on the football field, not in the media, not with trash talking."

The following story, written by Toronto Sun sportswriter Steve Simmons, touches on Chamblin's days at Tennessee Tech and his connections with former Tech coaches.


By Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun

So how does a kid from Alabama, who had never heard of Saskatchewan, end up coaching in the Grey Cup? Corey Chamblin laughs out loud as he begins to tell his story.

He was unemployed, desperate for work in football at the Senior Bowl, where everybody looks for jobs, when he ran into one of his old agents from his playing days sitting at the hotel bar.

His agent gave him a scoop — Winnipeg was looking for a defensive backs coach.

“And I’m like, ‘Where the hell is Winnipeg?’

“But you know what, I’m down here in the States and man, I need a job.”

Small world that football is, Chamblin called one of his college coaches, Chris Jones from Tennessee Tech, the same Chris Jones who may have won the Argos the 100th Grey Cup last year as defensive coordinator, and asked him: “Do you know anybody in Winnipeg?”

Jones drawled his answer: “Hell, yeah. Doug Berry (then head coach) is one of my best friends.”

He added, “I’ll get you an interview.”

Chamblin bombed in the interview. On Wednesday, Jones confirmed: “I got him the job.”

That began Chamblin’s CFL journey. His first season in Winnipeg happened to coincide with Kent Austin’s one and only season coaching the Roughriders.

Austin won the Grey Cup, Chamblin lost it.

But his year in Winnipeg got him a job in Calgary, which got him a job in Hamilton, which eventually got him a job in Regina.

The original boost from Jones was the second time he impacted the direction of Chamblin’s life. The first was at Tennessee Tech. Chamblin was a talented sophomore who didn’t necessarily believe in his ability. But Jones convinced him he could play in the NFL. All he had to do was take the game more seriously and train appropriately.

But his senior year was marred by injury, and after going undrafted, the only professional offer came — small world again — from Mike McCarthy, then with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Chamblin turned it down.

He wound up spending time bouncing from NFL roster to roster, city to city, in Baltimore, Jacksonville, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Denver, Indianapolis, most of the time on and off practice squads.

He played all of 11 NFL games.

But he’d learned enough from Mike Smith (his college head coach, now with Atlanta Falcons) at Tennessee Tech and from Jones and Mike Tomlin (his Tampa assistant, now with Pittsburgh Steelers) and Perry Fewell (now with New York Giants) to realize he wanted to coach.

Then there was that interview in Winnipeg.

“That didn’t go well,” he said. “I’d never even seen a CFL game.”

He got the job on Jones’ recommendation. The workaholic Chamblin hasn’t stopped progressing since.

In Calgary, he worked for John Hufnagel, whom he calls one of his mentors.

In Hamilton, he hoped to get the head coaching job that went to George Cortez.

The Ticats were going with experience. Luckily, the Roughriders weren’t.

Chamblin wound up as head coach in Saskatchewan, and one year later, the now-fired Cortez joined him as offensive coordinator (small world, again).

And now, here he is: In the most football-crazed market in the country. Where everybody knows his name and face and from the day this season began, there was only one goal for his Roughriders: They had to play in the Grey Cup at home. They just had to.

On Wednesday, he sat in shirt and tie at the annual coaches’ news conference that kicks off Grey Cup week, looking quite formal beside Kent Austin, who was wearing a Ticats track suit. He is dressed for business and business now is what Chamblin is all about.

On Sunday, he can do what Austin cannot. Austin’s ties to this franchise are deep and divided, he won two Grey Cups in Saskatchewan, one as a player, one as a coach — and left after both of them.

That makes him something of a giant and a figure of debate.

But as storied as this Roughriders franchise has been, they sure haven’t won much. This is about winning, about history, about establishing greatness in the greatest of Canadian football markets.

Chamblin has taken his players out of their homes, put them up in a hotel, tried to low-key this week as much as you can low key the most important sporting event in the history of the province.

“Living in a fishbowl, I actually enjoy it,” he said. “There’s a lot of love here.”

He says that now, before the big game on Sunday. Now all he has to do is win.

‘IT’S ABOUT MEN DOING THEIR JOBS’

Being a championship coach means a whole lot more to Corey Chamblin than being the second African-American head coach to win the Grey Cup.

“The world is becoming more open,” said Chamblin. “Everything is continuing, evolving. Whether it’s African-American, Hispanic, whatever it is.

“It’s not about colour. It’s not about gender. It’s just about men doing their jobs.”

To date, Pinball Clemons is the only African-American to coach a Grey Cup champion. At the time, he spoke quite passionately about what it meant to him and to the profession. Two African-Americans, Tony Dungy and Mike Tomlin (one of Chamblin’s mentors), are the only black men to win Super Bowls as head coaches in the NFL.

“It doesn’t have to be about colour,” said Chamblin. “It’s a great opportunity for me to do it as the Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach.”