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Despite all the moves, Jim Daley still has the passion to coach in the CFL

03/18/2014 03:18 EDT | Updated 05/18/2014 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - For nearly 20 years, Jim Daley has spent countless late nights at the office away from home working under the constant threat of being fired at any time.

But for the 61-year-old Ottawa native, life as a CFL coach has its perks.

"I like Canada and you certainly get to travel," Daley said Tuesday after being introduced as the Toronto Argonauts' special-teams co-ordinator. "When you stay in it long enough you're going to hit a lot of cities and I enjoy that.

"I enjoy coaching, I enjoy adapting to new environments as you have to if you're going to stay in this profession. I've found a lot of excitement and challenge in it, it's always invigorating when you re-start."

This will be Daley's 16th season as a CFL coach, with Toronto being the seventh different team he's been with. He began as a special-teams co-ordinator with the former Ottawa Rough Riders in 1992 and has worked as a defensive co-ordinator, defensive line coach and linebackers coach and twice served as a head coach ('96–'98 with Saskatchewan, '04-'05 with Winnipeg).

Daley earned a Grey Cup ring as an assistant with Calgary in '01 and led Saskatchewan to a CFL championship berth versus Toronto in 1997, which the Argos won 47-23 at Commonwealth Stadium. But those successes come with a price — working with little to no job security and under the constant threat of having to pull up stakes at a moment's notice.

It's a lifestyle that's especially hard on coaching families. During football season, spouses often handle much of the parental duties while the coach burns the midnight oil at the office.

When the coach lands another job he often goes on ahead, leaving the family to pack up for yet another move. And for a coach's children, it means often having to change schools and face the challenge of making new friends.

"It's a vagabond lifestyle and it gets harder as you get older but that's the decision you make when you start," Daley said. "If I was speaking to a young group of CIS or (junior) coaches I'd tell them if they are thinking of making the transition into this career at the CFL level to understand there are challenges to you and your family.

"But that's the lifestyle you have to buy into or it will eat away at you . . . you have to understand the way it is."

It's an understanding Daley and his wife, Diane Hilko, have reached. Their home remains in Calgary, so when Daley lands a CFL job he heads there and returns to Alberta when he can during the year as well as after the season.

"This is normal, it's all relative, right," said Daley, who has also worked as the CFL's director of officiating. "There's a point in time for various reasons you'll make a decision to retire and wrap it up, but right now the challenge of trying to contribute to an organization's success is really something I enjoy.

"When it becomes less enjoyable that's when you better step away and let another person fill that role but right now I'm not in that mindset."

Daley is one of five new faces on head coach Scott Milanovich's nine-man staff this year, joining defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke, linebackers coach Casey Creehan, defensive line coach Will Plemons and offensive line coach Pat Perles. Daley and Burke take over for Mike O'Shea and Chris Jones, who were hired as head coaches in Winnipeg and Edmonton, respectively.

Offensive co-ordinator Marcus Brady, receivers coach Jason Maas, running backs coach Anthony Ierullo and defensive/special-teams assistant Eddie Brown are the returnees.

"I'm proud of the mix we've assembled," Milanovich said. "We've got guys who are going to be great teachers and people I think our players are going to respond to."

Brady will handle Toronto's offence for the second straight year as Milanovich effectively gave Brady control early last season. And Burke, the former Winnipeg head coach, will be in charge of the defence.

"Marcus had a lot on his plate already a year ago and that dynamic isn't going to change a whole lot," Milanovich said. "There's not really much more I can give him.

"Tim and I, even back when we were assistants (in Montreal) spent a lot in each other's office asking, 'What would you do here, what would you do there?' There's a great dynamic in terms of communication and using each other to bounce ideas off of. Ultimately he's going to be the one calling the defence. If I have something to say, I'll say it, but I trust him. He has earned the right to be the guy based upon his success."

When O'Shea left for Winnipeg, Milanovich didn't have to look far for a replacement. He and Daley worked together as assistants with Calgary in '03.

"Primarily I was looking for experience in the CFL or the CIS and Jim has both, clearly," Milanovich said. "On top of that I've worked with Jim so it was a fairly easy sell for me.

"It's a difficult position to coach in this league in my opinion and there's not a lot of candidates who have the experience factor I happen to look for in that position. It was a pretty natural fit for me."

Toronto's special-teams units features two dynamic performers in kicker Swayze Waters and kick-returner Chad Owens. Waters made 32-of-43 field goals last season and also sported a 46.5-yard punting average. The electrifying Owens was the CFL's top special-teams performer in '10 and its outstanding player in '12.

"Right now we have the potential to have a very strong field position-type game in part due to not only our kicking ability but also our return ability," Daley said. "We always talk about alignment, assignment, technique and effort and if you can apply those four characteristics and get guys who are buying into being real physical and competing, you can be really good on special teams.

"Just like an offence needs a quarterback, special teams need specialists and the players see that and are excited about the opportunities to make big plays because special teams is all about big plays."

But the special-teams co-ordinator also must coach all members of the football team.

"I enjoy the opportunity to talk to guys whether they're on offence or defence and work with them in their specific role," Daley said. "Over the course of the year everybody on the team has some role to contribute on a special team.

"Even when I was coaching high school in Ottawa, I really enjoyed the organizational part of co-ordinating special teams. That's because it's a mammoth organizational challenge to be smooth and efficient on special teams because of the fluidity of the roster, in-game changes due to injury, and I like that challenge."

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