Sunday, June 16, 2024

Rough Riders great Greg Marshall returns decades later as assistant

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If ever an Ottawa Redblacks defensive lineman questions the instructions or orders of his positional coach, all he’ll have to do is take a glance towards the east end zone at TD Place.

There he will be reminded that the Greg Marshall way is the right way.

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The 67-year-old product of Beverly, Mass., is one of the truly great players in both Ottawa Rough Riders and Canadian Football League history.

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Over a nine-season career in the nation’s capital, Marshall was the Canadian Football League’s defensive player of the year in 1983 and the league’s most outstanding defensive lineman in 1984 and 1985.

Last June, he was inducted into the “Legacy Wall” of honour at Lansdowne and in April the Redblacks brought him back to where he belongs as the team D-line coach.

“I’m enjoying it … It’s fun to be back,” Marshall said as Day 6 of camp came to an end on Friday. “I have a lot of fond memories here. I spent 14 years here, played nine and then I was teaching school for five or six years before we left town to start my CFL journey. I have a lot of good friends here. Obviously the place has changed a lot since I was here last (as a player) and then I had an opportunity to come back with the Renegades for years. So Ottawa is kind of my Canadian home.”

The CFL journey to which he refers is as a coach, as the only other pro team he played for was the National Football League’s Baltimore Colts for two games in the 1978 season after he was drafted in the seventh round earlier that year by the Philadelphia Eagles.

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And that journey also started where his playing days ended.

Upon retirement, Marshall became the head coach of the Empire Football League’s Ottawa Bootleggers in 1990 and then took over the reins of the Ottawa Sooners of the Canadian Junior Football League for the following three years.

From there, he spent six seasons as the defensive co-ordinator and defensive line coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, moved to Edmonton to become the D-line coach for that city’s team, then D.C. for five seasons then, as he mentioned, returned to Ottawa to become the Renegades’ D.C. and assistant head coach in 2005.

When that team suspended operations, he became the the Winnipeg Blue Bombers D-Line coach and D.C. for three seasons starting in 2006, then the Hamilton Tiger-Cats D.C. and assistant head coach for two more seasons.

He returned to Saskatchewan as head coach in 2011, but was fired after the Roughriders’ 1-7 start.

After that he went back to Edmonton as the D.C. in 2013, but, when that opportunity ended, he moved to U Sports as the D.C. of the Queen’s Golden Gaels from 2014 to 2017, and then head coach of the Toronto Varsity Blues until it was announced last November that he would not be back.

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Marshall officially became the final piece of Bob Dyce’s Redblacks coaching staff after his severance with U of T was settled.

“Greg brings a wealth of experience,” Dyce understated. “For me personally, I rely on him as a resource with certain things and team decisions, as well. He’s a great resource for (defensive co-ordinator) Coach (Barron) Miles, the amount of time that Greg has co-ordinated in this league. And he’s such a great guy, he really builds the family unit among the coaching staff. All the great players he’s coached … he’s just been a fantastic get.”

The players are starting to realize it, too.

“I can hear whispers from some guys … that he played in the CFL at a high level,” said highly touted rookie D-lineman Daniel “Big Maple” Okpoko, who agrees that words from someone who has done it and done it well carry a bigger impact. “They’ve been where we are, they know what it’s like and what it takes to win. Especially a coach who’s actually played in this league and has gone through everything we’ve gone through and more. He has more knowledge of the game than we do. It really helps out a lot.”

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Marshall was surprised and humbled when GM Shawn Burke called to say he was being inducted into Legacy Wall — “It was great to come back here with my family, and for my kids to see, hey, the old man was pretty good,” he said with a chuckle — but minimizes what it should mean to his players.

“I don’t know, maybe it gives me some credibility, but you’ve still got to do your job,” he said. “(Players) jokingly ask me, ‘Hey what was your deal?’ but I try not to go back on that too much. I want them to focus on what we’ve got to do this year with them, and if I can offer any inside information, any tips about what I think can help them, and relate some of the things maybe that happened along the way, great, but that’s really not what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to help them get better each and every day.”

It also matters zilch to Marshall that his days as a head coach likely are over.

“Where I’m at right now, I’m happy with it,” he said. “Obviously you always look back on things and think what could I have done differently, how it could have worked out in a lot of stuff, whether I was a head coach, an assistant, whatever. You always try to learn from each experience and I think I’ve done that. I’ve grown from it.

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“I was very thankful for this opportunity. I just wanted to continue coaching. It’s what I love to do, and this is a good group of guys to work with. I had a lot of relationships with the guys on the coaching staff and even in management, at various stops along the way, so there was a lot of familiarity there.

“I’m excited to be here,” he added. “This is a good group of men to work with. There’s some talent on the defensive line and I know that the other coaches are excited about the guys they’re working with. So I’m really looking forward to seeing what the group can accomplish.”

GOING DEEP

The Redblacks have placed veteran defensive back Brandin Dandridge on the six-game injured reserve while they wait for results from tests. “We’ll see how serious it is,” Dyce said. “You never know until you see the actual images and everything like that, so we’ll find out more about that.” Dandridge, who has been hobbling around the stadium on crutches, had a team-leading five interceptions last season … After being forced to watch from the sidelines for the first few days of camp, offensive tackle Dontae Bull was on the field and participating in drills wearing a knee brace on Friday … The Redblacks have added former Carleton Ravens defensive back Louis Lavaud and American running back Ronnie Brown to their training-camp roster. Lavaud, a 5-10, 190-pounder from Montreal, who played 20 games with the Ravens from 2021 to 2023. During that time he made 49 total tackles, 18 assisted tackles, two tackles for loss, two interceptions, two pass break-ups, a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Brown was cut from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ camp after spending the 2023 pre-season with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers … The Redblacks will have a “situational practice” that is open to the public at TD Place from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday before getting their first break of training camp with a day off on Sunday. 

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