Glenwood Springs High School alumnus makes his mark in Canada
Defence. Defense. However you spell it, Rich Stubler knows more than a thing or two about containing an opposing offense. Er, offence.The son of Glenwood Springs High School coaching legend Nick Stubler is in the midst of a storied coaching career in the Canadian Football League, and the Toronto Argonauts defensive coordinator could land his fifth Grey Cup ring on Nov. 25. Stubler’s Argonauts, winners of seven straight and nine of 10, are perhaps the hottest team in the Canadian circuit, thanks in large part to a man widely considered a defensive genius by the media and his peers. Toronto takes on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sunday with a trip to the Grey Cup on the line. Incidentally, this is Toronto’s year to host Canada’s “Super Bowl.” And, to think, Stubler’s career took root on the Western Slope, first as a player at Glenwood Springs High School and then as an assistant coach under Bill Hanks at Roaring Fork.
Hanks remembers Stubler as a “very ambitious” young coach when the two joined forces in Carbondale.”I’ll never forget when we first met,” Hanks recounted. “I had taken the job at Roaring Fork in the summer of 1971 and we had a house up here near Redstone. I’ll never forget him because he was camped out up here, waiting for us to arrive. He was pretty eager.”Stubler had just graduated from the University of Wyoming, where he played on a football scholarship. A fullback and linebacker in his high school and college playing days, the 1967 Glenwood Springs High School graduate naturally drifted toward defense as a coach.”I was probably a better offensive player, but I’ve just gravitated toward defense,” Stubler said. “I’ve been a defensive coach since I’ve been around.”Turned out that Hanks and Stubler made quite the team. In three years at Roaring Fork, the two directed the Rams to 30 victories and a state championship. The two even teamed up to coach an all-state team to victory. “We were kind of the stepping stone for him,” Hanks said. “He was an outstanding guy.”From there, Stubler’s career wound through the collegiate ranks. He left Roaring Fork to take on a graduate assistantship at the University of Colorado and then went on to coach the secondary at New Mexico State, Southern Methodist and Colorado State. He served as a defensive coordinator at CSU in 1982.That’s about when the Canadian Football League came calling. While working as a part-time scout for the Dallas Cowboys, Stubler was approached about a coaching gig for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Stubler accepted and instantly fell in love with football north of the border. As defensive coordinator, Stubler helped the Tiger-Cats to a Grey Cup in 1986. From Hamilton, Stubler bounced around the league as a defensive coordinator. He went on to win Grey Cups with the Edmonton Eskimos (1993), the British Columbia Lions (2000) and the Argonauts (2004). Stubler did return to the states a couple of times. From 1996 to 1997, he served as the defensive coordinator at the University of Oregon and in 2002 he was the defensive maestro of the Arena Football League’s Detroit Fury.He has been with the Argos full-time since 2003, and is happy where he’s at. He is in the midst of making Toronto his permanent home after spending recent offseasons in Guthrie, Okla.”I like this league,” Stubler said. “It’s a lot of fun to coach.”Stubler’s one of two defensive coaches for the Argonauts and quite simply prefers CFL’s staffing structure. He’s turned down National Football League jobs primarily because of log-jammed staffs and a meeting-filled daily grind.”I don’t want to coach with 20 other guys,” he said. “I enjoy having only two guys on this side of the ball and that we don’t do things by committee. It’s more fun for me. I went to college and there were so many assistants.”
There are reasons Stubler’s name is bandied about as a candidate for a head coaching gig in the CFL. He’s widely regarded as one of the best coordinators in the league and is rumored to be in line for the Argos’ head coaching job should current frontman and former CFL running back Mike “Pinball” Clemons move to a position in the club’s front office in the offseason.No matter what happens with Clemons, who retired as perhaps the CFL’s best all-time player with 12 records to his name by the time the sun set on his playing days, Stubler will likely see a few offers at season’s end. He insists he’s not really itching to be a head coach.”Well, I have to have certain things to be a head coach,” Stubler said. “I have a great job now. I’m not clamoring to be a head coach. It has to be the right situation.”Working for Clemons, a master motivator, has suited Stubler very well. “He’s the most recognizable person in all of Canada,” Stubler said. “He’s a great motivator. I’m not kidding when I tell you he’s the epitome of what that is. He does a great job of understanding the players. … He’s a great person and understands that football is a great game, but life is more important.”Clemons’ people-first approach resembles that of Stubler’s father, who died in 1987. “My dad was a great influence on me,” Rich said. “He always told me that coaching is about coaching people and not X’s and O’s. He taught me that players play and coaches watch. You have to turn it over to the players, empower the players to make plays. That was something I needed to learn. He told me that way early.”Count Argonauts linebacker Chuck Winters, a University of Michigan alum, is among those who are quite fond of Stubler’s coaching style.”You know what, his greatest strength is delegating,” said Winters, who played for Stubler in both the AFL and now the CFL. “He allows you to make mistakes. He’s not a person who’s real rigid. You’ve got to be accountable, but he’s not going to curse you out if you make a mistake. He’ll allow you to develop and grow as a player, instead of try to mold you. A lot of guys try to mold you into the player they think you should be.”Stubler talks constantly about fitting his game plans to the personnel at hand.”Strategy is born to the players you have,” he said. “I’ve had different kinds of players different years. It depends on who you have. That’s the biggest thing (my dad) could teach. It’s a great life lesson. No matter what, you don’t put round pegs in square holes.”It’s that inherited philosophy that’s allowed the Argonauts’ defensive guru to evolve into more than just a master strategist, and why he could very well wind up with a full hand’s worth of Grey Cup rings less than two weeks from now.
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As the heat of the summer gives way to cooler mornings, summer trail race opportunities are slowly coming to an end.