Football: Breaking down the Saint Mary’s coaching candidates

Here's another guest post from Kevin Garbuio, this time looking at the finalists for the SMU coaching job.

When the Saint Mary’s Huskies decided to part ways with Steve Sumarah after the AUS championship, it left the CIS football community in shock.

Many CIS observers were asking, “What could have happened to cause this?” Sumarah was the winner of four consecutive AUS championships and owned a .747 winning percentage. In 2009 he was named CIS coach of the year but after SMU's loss to Acadia, he was not retained. SMU athletic director and former coach Steve Sarty is the only one who knows the answer but neither he nor Sumarah has addressed the matter publicly.

Sumarah, like all great coaches, was not unemployed for long, landing the highly-coveted Carleton position, which many see as a quick build. But Saint Mary's has not yet replaced him.

The Huskies' coaching position is seen as a dream job for many. Low entrance requirements, supportive alumni, and a winning tradition are only a few of the attractive qualities that come with SMU. Initially, everyone (including myself) thought former Huskie player and Waterloo head coach Dennis McPhee was going to get the job, but he reportedly took a job with Western as an assistant coach.

Recently, Monty Mosher said that the candidates are down to two from five. I will now, at the risk of looking really bad in a few days, try to break down the remaining candidates and make a prediction.

  • Leroy Blugh (75% chance of getting the job)

    Blugh has to be the odds-on favourite right now, but since SMU is now so unpredictable, I am not going to say this is a total slam dunk.

    The former CFLer and Bishop's head coach spent the last season working with the Queen's Golden Gaels defensive line, and many saw that position as a way to get more familiar with the OUA and possibly get the Carleton job (Blugh also has eastern Ontario ties, being from Napanee originally). Of course, Sumarah took that position.

    Blugh, who interviewed for the SMU job yesterday, February 6th, has a reputation as a tenacious recruiter. As head coach at Bishop’s, Blugh recruited the entire country trying to find the best talent. He took his alma mater back to respectability but there's only so much anyone can do when living in the shadow of perennial powerhouse Laval.

    The Gaiters were seen as a 'David' but Blugh now has the opportunity to take over the AUS's Goliath. Saint Mary’s has been built on a reputation of power football and a physical defence. Blugh has shown his team can play both a power offense with Jamall Lee and, in his final year, more of a spread when Benoit Groulx was his offensive coordinator. Defensively, the former President’s Trophy winner has always recruited elite athletes and if he does get the job he will inherit a Huskies defence with studs like Neil King and first team All-Canadian Kayin Marchand-Wright.

    If the rumor of dysfunction within Saint Mary’s is true, Blugh should be able to stabilize the AUS powerhouse.

  • Perry Marchese (20% chance of getting the job)

    Marchese is a former Huskie quarterback, having graduated in 1997. His old teammate, athletic director Steve Sarty, is certainly familiar with the Hamilton native’s impressive coaching resume.

    Marchese, as Mosher writes, has coached in the CFL with Hamilton and Toronto and was an offensive co-coordinator at Bishop's and Guelph (which he left about a year ago). While he certainly is not the favourite for this job, the Huskies' stagnant offense last season and in the previous two bowl games may mean the school is looking to change its identity.

    He certainly would be inheriting a team with talent in the skill positions. Both quarterbacks are potentially elite talents. Jesse Mills has the raw skills to be a Hec Crighton candidate while the often criticized Jack Creighton is also returning. Both pivots have the ability to make all the throws, and a few people believe that Creighton-lead SMU offence, while ultimately unsuccessful, gave McMaster the blueprint on how to beat Acadia in the Uteck Bowl. (Specifically, none of Acadia's opponents had thrown to the wide side of the field with great success until Saint Mary's did. In the Uteck, Mac exploited that weakness.)

    Observers think Marchese may be able to mend some bridges with the Old Dogs, the Huskie football alumni, who largely did not approve of Sumarah’s firing.

    It must be stated that just because Marchese and Sarty were former teammates does not means he will get the job. Remember that Sarty and Sumarah used to coach with each other, and I would not say they got along famously.


By my figures, that leaves a small (5%) chance that the Huskies hire someone else (say, if neither of the above works out). An honourable mention among "the others" is Andy McEvoy. McEvoy is (or was) an interesting candidate because the former York coach does have experience with a school similar to SMU. Unfortunately he did not have success there (though he was Ottawa's offensive coordinator during their 2000 Vanier Cup-winning season). He did succeed in the junior ranks, winning an Ontario title with the Ottawa Sooners in 2009. As well, Eastern Ontario is turning into a football hotbed, which did help him make it to the final five here with SMU. However, his CIS track record seems to hurt his chances of landing one of the league's premium coaching jobs. McEvoy is a bright offensive mind, so he should be back coaching in the university ranks soon enough.
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