January might be thought of a time away from actual game play for Canadian football coaches, but that wasn’t the case for Gryphons offensive coordinator Jean-Francois Joncas and assistant offensive coach and football operations manager Matt Nesbitt.
Both were coaches on teams playing in the International Bowl last month at Arlington, Tex.
Joncas was the offensive line coach for the Team Ontario unde-18 squad.
“We had to play Team USA, a pretty strong U.S. team,” he said. “We lost the game 49-6, but it’s a province playing a whole country. Right there is the difference of strength.”
Despite the score, Joncas returned to the Gryphs feeling the players had learned a lot in Texas and had improved their skills there.
“The kids had some good drives offensively and defensively we made some good plays as well,” he said. “It was fun and it was a great experience for the kids just having the chance to go out there and compete at a high level and play at a great venue, AT&T Stadium in Dallas. It was a good, positive experience.
“Those kids that had the chance to go there, yes, we lost the game, but it showed them there’s another level to this. It showed them that if they want to get to U Sports football or if they dream about NFL or CFL, they’ve got to put the work in if they want to get there because there’s a whole bunch of people playing sports in the world and everybody wants to get there and there’s not that many jobs opening. I was proud of those kids. They really worked hard and they played well.”
For Joncas, it was his first time coaching an Ontario provincial team. He moved to Guelph from Quebec after getting the Gryphon job last year.
“I was involved with Team Quebec in the past, or Team Canada most recently, but this was my first time with Team Ontario so I got to represent my new province.”
U.S. football rules are used for the International Bowl. That means 11 players on the field for each team as opposed to 12 in Canadian rules. It also meant that offensive and defensive linemen lined up with only the line of scrimmage between them whereas Canadian rules stipulate that the defensive line be a yard back from the line of scrimmage.
“Football is football,” Joncas said. “It’s fun because you get to meet other coaches from other universities. I got to coach with Steve Snyder from Western and the head coach (Dwayne Cameron) was from Laurier. It was a lot of fun.”
There were seven OUA teams represented on the provincial team’s coaching staff of seven. Snyder was the offensive coordinator while Jean-Vincent Posey-Audette of the Ottawa Gee-Gees was the defensive coordinator, Vince Flamia of the Windsor Lancers was the special teams coordinator, Alex Vertullo of the Queen’s Gaels was an offensive assistant and David Caron of the Carleton Raves was a defensive assistant.
“We learn as much as the kids learn,” Joncas said. “You see different stuff and different ways of coaching as the coaching staff is from different teams. Just being there and playing 11-man football as well, it forces you out of your comfort zone a little bit. It forces you to see things from a different (perspective) and it forces you to do some different things as well.”
And the coaches will take things they learned in Texas and apply them to their OUA teams.
“There might be some terminology we used over there and just a different way of teaching stuff,” Joncas said. “Ball security for an instance – we used some buzz word over there with the coaching staff that we had that I’m going to bring here to Guelph. It just makes sense and it’s just easier for the kids. Yes, for sure there’s stuff. As coaches, we’re all stealing good ideas.”
With players anywhere from two to seven years younger than the university players meant the coaches had to adapt to that, too.
“Working with 16- and 17-year-olds – we even had some 15-year-old kids on the team – working with the younger kids forces you to explain things differently,” Joncas said. “I think it’s good for the kids, they get to learn a lot. But for the coaches, too, we get to learn a lot, too.”
Nesbitt was the offensive coordinator for the Team Canada East under-16 squad. He had been the Team Ontario offensive coordinator at last year’s Canada Cup tournament.
“They selected the coaches that they wanted from that tournament to be the coaches, the coordinators, the head coach and all that that they wanted to be the coaches for the Team Canada East team,” he said.
Canada East was to play Team USA and Team Mexico, but that changed.
“The way it worked is that it was a jamboree format against Team USA and Team Mexico,” Nesbitt said. “Unfortunately, Team Mexico didn’t cross the border, but against Team USA it went very well. The nice thing is that we had a full week of prep before we played them and we were supposed to be their warm-up, but we scored four times and kicked one field goal and they only scored twice. We actually would’ve won in a full game against them.”
As was the case with Joncas, Nesbitt had to work with players younger than he usually coaches.
“It is a little bit younger,” he said. “It’s funny kind of going from the CFL (with the Toronto Argonauts) where everyone was five to 10 years older than me to now coaching guys (with the Gryphons) around the same age as me.
“The nice thing I like about it is that at that young age group (with Team Canada East) it makes me make sure I’m doing my communication skills. If I can coach that age group, I can coach it all.”
With plenty of time with the coaches, Nesbitt felt the players learned a lot while in Texas.
“It’s really the first time they’ve been exposed to good, quality coaching. It’s a huge impact,” he said. “They come there and they’re sponges and the biggest thing is to try to be as efficient as possible with all your meetings and the organization of how you run things. We had two walk-throughs every single day, two meetings a day and then we had our practice as well. They got a lot better in three days time.”
Nesbitt also felt there were things he learned in Texas that he could use in Guelph.
“There were things we did there that we don’t do here that were kind of my own personal things that I do that I’ve kind of learned throughout my coaching career so far,” he said. “Coach J-F and myself are always in communication. There were some things I tried out there that I really liked and I’ll talk to him about and we’ll come to a decision on whether we want to do it or not. There were a lot of good things there that I got to try in 11-man football, which is a little different.”
And Nesbitt did plenty of homework before making the trip to Texas.
“I did a lot of research on past NFL playbooks and things like that before going down to make sure that my understanding of coverages and all that stuff was on par. I felt very prepared for it and I think that’s why we did pretty well.”