It was only a 46-game stint with the Calgary Stampeders, but oh, was it memorable. That's how Lary Kuharich operated. He lived quietly but coached loudly. He was as inflexible as cement, as brassy as a horn section. His players both loved and loathed him.
Kuharich, who died Sunday at 70, oversaw the Stampeders in one of the most turbulent times in their recent history. With the team struggling to win games so soon after it had almost folded, Coach Q, as he was known, lit a fire that burned assistant coaches, players, even his head coach, Bob Vespaziani.
There were so many fires to put out that, in the end, it was easier for Kuharich to leave, which he did without telling anyone, including his boss, team president and general manager Norm Kwong.
And yet, it was Kuharich's passion that got him the head coach's job and seemingly set up the Stampeders for better days.
In a 1987 regular-season game in Ottawa, the Stampeders were losing badly enough for Kuharich to leave the spotter's booth where he was calling plays as an offensive assistant. He ran down to field level and rallied the players, taking complete control of the game away from a shell-shocked Vespaziani.
With Kuharich calling the shots, the Stampeders rallied back for a key win. In fact, they won eight out of 10 games under Kuharich's command and made the playoffs, only to lose to the Edmonton Eskimos.
Kuharich became the full-time head coach prior to the 1988 season. That's when things began to smoulder. In one game, the Stampeders were beaten so badly at home the players took out their frustrations on one another.
Quarterback Rick Worman was explaining to reporters how luckless the Stampeders had been in losing yet again. Worman gave an example of a hole opening up in the Eskimos' defence and Calgary running back John Williams slipping before he could take advantage of the opening.
Williams overheard what Worman was saying and went to Kuharich to complain about it. The coach told his running back to go handle it like a man. Williams stomped back into the dressing room and punched Worman in the face mid-interview. That set off mayhem. Players pulled Williams off Worman and shouted, "Get the media out of here." Before that happened, defensive back Derrick Taylor remarked: "[Worman] got beat up all game, now he's getting beat up in here."
The entire incident is remembered as John Williams's greatest hit.
There were other Kuharich-related incidents, such as the release of popular veterans (centre Bob Poley and kicker J.T. Hay) who were dumped as soon as the team returned from a loss in Toronto. Poley and Hay wandered across the street to a bar, where they conducted interviews and warned the mood in the Calgary dressing room was ready to bubble over.
To try to calm things, Kwong convinced Kuharich to invite the media over for a make-peace session – Coach Q was being carved daily for his actions and reactions. The media arrived at Kuharich's home in Bragg Creek, outside of Calgary. Things started out well but soon soured when a member of the assembled media spilled red wine on a white shag carpet. Everyone left feeling like nothing had been resolved.
That incident was remembered as the Bragg Creek Discord.
Kuharich's final game as the Stampeders' head coach was a spectacular implosion. Leading the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 1989 West Division semifinal, Calgary was looking good; so good, in fact, that Coach Q turned to the hecklers in the crowd and gave them a one-finger salute.
Then, all of a sudden, Saskatchewan running back Brian Walling broke free and ran 50 yards, untouched, for the stunning, winning touchdown. In the postgame interview, Kuharich snapped. He spit out a few profanities, then threw a beer bottle against the wall. He left in a huff.
While Kwong and the team's directors were deciding what to do, Kuharich made the decision for them. One morning, Kwong came into work and knocked on the door to head coach's office. The door was locked and no one answered. With a spare key, Kwong opened the door and saw … nothing. Kuharich was not only gone, he had taken everything with him – books, video tapes, stat sheets, the works.
Shortly after that, Kuharich was named the head coach of the B.C. Lions but was fired after compiling a miserable 2-7-1 record in his first 10 games.
He may not have enjoyed much success in the CFL, but when it came to making memories in a short period of time, no one could hold a candle to Coach Q.