It could have been a terribly awkward moment, but Corey Chamblin seemed unfazed.
The second-year head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders sat answering questions at his first Grey Cup press conference, shoulder to shoulder with Hamilton Tiger-Cats counterpart Kent Austin, a man whose past accomplishments have him etched in Riders lore.
Austin played in one of the most memorable title games in Grey Cup history, when he quarterbacked the Roughriders to the 1989 championship. He returned to Regina as coach for a single season in 2007, and led the team to another. A picture banner of Austin hangs several stories tall on the outside of Mosaic Stadium, site of Sunday’s CFL championship game.
But Chamblin has earned his own props, landing this 2013 team in a hometown Grey Cup in Riders-crazy Regina.
“I come in the other way, past Roger,” Chamblin said with a laugh, jesting that he instead arrives at the stadium past the banner of another legendary Riders player, Roger Aldag. “People ask me that all the time.
“There’s great history here in Saskatchewan and Kent is a big part of that. The last thing I would want to do is remove any ancient landmark’s history. The Riders wouldn’t have the Cups they have without guys like Kent.”
While Austin’s journey to his first year as coach/general manager with Hamilton and this Grey Cup is well-noted, the 36-year-old Chamblin’s is far less so.
The native of Birmingham, Ala., was a defensive back with short stints in the NFL from 1999 to 2004, then set out as a coach in NFL Europe before friend Chris Jones (now Toronto Argonauts defensive co-ordinator) helped him land a job as a defensive backs coach for the 2007 edition of the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg.
“I had never seen a CFL game before that, except a few clips of Doug Flutie winning the Grey Cup,” Chamblin said. “I pictured [Winnipeg] being a little town with one gas station and one hotel. They sent me a playbook and some video, and I saw all the motion [among receivers] and said, ‘Oh my, I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I’m going to figure it out.’”
He fell in love with the Canadian game, and by 2011, was hired as Hamilton’s defensive co-ordinator. After one season, suitors were calling, offering head coaching jobs.
“From my first conversation with coach Chamblin when he first got the job with us in Hamilton, he left a real impression on me,” Ticats linebacker Jamall Johnson said after Wednesday’s practice in Regina. “He’s an intelligent coach and has a lot of experience as a player.I always suspected he would really do well. Look at him: He’s here in the Grey Cup in his second year as a CFL head coach”
The Riders were the hottest team in the CFL to start 2013, going 8-1, but hit some bumps before securing their berth in the big game.
“The biggest pressure we had was making sure no one else sat in our locker room,” Chamblin said of the Regina squad’s yearning to play in this Grey Cup.
“We’re in it now. I tell the guys, ‘If we’re good enough to be in it, we’re good enough to win it.’”