Greg Mohns, who earned Grey Cup rings in separate stints as an executive with the Toronto Argonauts, died Wednesday of throat cancer. He was 62.
Rita and Mohns worked together in the CFL with Toronto, the B.C. Lions and Memphis Mad Dogs. The two won a Grey Cup together in 2004 with the Argos when Rita was the club's general manager and Mohns its player-personnel director.
"He was my wingman, that's what he called himself," Rita said. "He was very loyal and he worked extremely hard. His worth ethic was unbelievable, he was very trustworthy and he was a good teammate.
"The trust between he and I was very very good, I knew where his heart was and over the years we became very good friends. But that never clouded his focus on getting personnel and evaluating people and what players to bring in.''
Rita said as Mohns's health worsened, Rita took to writing emails to his friend because Mohns found it very difficult to speak on the phone.
"It's always very very sad when anyone passes on but the relief, not only for him but all of us, is he's in a good place now," Rita said. "Hopefully, down the road we'll be able to meet up again.''
The native of Pasadena, Calif., began his CFL career in 1991 as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats player-personnel director before becoming the club's assistant general manager the following season.
"The thing I liked about Greg was he was extremely loyal and an extremely hard worker," said John Gregory, who served as Hamilton's head coach and football-operations director from 1991 to '94. "He was very good at his job, a real pro.
"He was also a good guy and a very fun guy to be around.''
Mohns went on to become the player-personnel director of the expansion Memphis Mad Dogs in '95 before joining the Argos in '96 as their assistant general manager. With Doug Flutie at quarterback, Toronto posted a 15-3 record before capping the season with the first of two straight Grey Cup titles.
Mohns and the Argos parted company following the '96 campaign but he returned to the CFL with the B.C. Lions in '98 as an assistant to the president. Mohns became the club's head coach and led the team to a 22-12 mark, his .647 win percentage leaving him third in club history for head coaches.
Mohns began the 2000 season on B.C.'s sidelines but resigned with the club sporting a 3-4 record. He was replaced by Steve Buratto, who went on to lead the Lions to the Grey Cup that season.
"I've always had a lot of respect for Greg Mohns," said B.C. Lions general manager Wally Buono. "We had a very friendly but, I guess, heated rivalry. That's all part of what makes friendships friendships.
"But, you know what, I had a lot of respect for him as a football man. We’ve crossed paths many a time, but it was always on a friendly competitive situation."
Buono said Mohns' legacy will be his role in bringing key players into the CFL. Although Mohns was perceived publicly as a controversial figure, he was always friendly and open with others at coaches' conventions and league events.
"To me, what happens on the field during the game is all part of the competition," Buono said. "At the end of it, Greg enjoyed life. He enjoyed football and he did a lot to help our league."
B.C. Lions trainer Bill Reichelt recalled how Mohns arranged to have an RCMP motorcade escort the team bus to training camp one year.
"He liked to do that sort of thing," Reichelt said. "I don't know if it was just for the show or he just wanted to do it."
Mohns often had a love-hate relationship with media. But Reichelt and other Lions personnel said he was popular within the team.
"I got along great with him," Reichelt said. "He was your consummate football guy. Football, he just knew it in and out.
"He knew how to treat people. He knew how to get what he wanted out of his employees. I’ve got nothing but real good memories of when Greg was here."
But Reichelt acknowledged Mohns was a polarizing figure within the CFL.
"His persona was like that," Reichelt said. "Greg was that kind of a person.
"Everything had to be right. Clothes and everything had to be perfect. Whatever he did was right down to the letter."
Reichelt did recall Mohns chewing him out once but couldn't recall the reason. Although the two were not in regular contact in recent years, Mohns did send Reichelt a Christmas card every year.
After leaving B.C., Mohns served as the player-personnel director for the XFL's San Francisco Demons before returning to Toronto in 2003 as the club's director of football operations and player-personnel director. After the Argos' Grey Cup victory in 2004, he was promoted to assistant general manager in 2005 and remained in that capacity until 2009.
He then became the player-personnel director of UFL's Omaha Nighthawks, a position he held up to his death.
Lions coaches and staff praised Mohns for his expertise on personnel. B.C. coach Mike Benevides said that when Mohns ran the CFL combine camp, he made sure measurements of players’ tests, size and weight were exact. He also told people in the stands to "shut the hell up" if they were distracting evaluators from their duties.
"That's just broke my heart when I found out just now, because I knew he was ill," Benevides said.
Benevides said Mohns played a large role in 2008 when the Argos tried to hire Benevides, then the Lions assistant coach, as their head coach.
"He picked me up at the airport, and he was part of the first interview and the second interview," Benevides recalled. "The hard part was, you could tell he had been suffering the last little while."
Benevides, who formerly played an active role in recruiting Canadian talent for the Lions, praised Mohns for making his personnel duties easier.
"He was a football man that lived and breathed the game, loved it and had a passion for it – and a guy that did what he did extremely well," Benevides said.
Lions receiver Arland Bruce III, who hadn't always gotten along with coaches and management in his previous stops in Winnipeg, Toronto and Hamilton, praised Mohns for making him feel welcome right away with the Argos.
"My prayers go out to him," Bruce said. "He was a straight shooter, man.
"Him and (former Argos coach and general manager) Adam Rita were real close. They were very similar guys to me. When I first came to Toronto in '04, I had dinner with Adam Rita and Mr. Mohns, and they accepted me right off the bat. We had great conversations over there. I have a lot of respect for Mr. Mohns. That’s too bad."
Lions defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler, who worked with Mohns during a previous stint with B.C. as well as with the Argos, called him "a great detail guy."
"He knew every personnel guy in the entire world," Stubler said. "He was very opinionated and a great guy."
The CFL is a league known for a high turnover rate. Stubler said Mohns recruited many players who stuck with teams for several years.
"But he was a non-computer guy," Stubler said. "If you walked into his room, there were 6,000 books in there, not one thing on a computer.
"But he could always lay his hands on what you needed."
Stubler praised Mohns for helping to build Grey Cup champions in B.C. and Toronto and getting both clubs through difficult transitions. The Lions defensive co-ordinator said Mohns got the Lions "back on even footing" prior to Wally Buono’s arrival as general manager and coach.
Lions centre Angus Reid never played for Mohns but suited up against his clubs and described Mohns as a "character" and "personality."
"Some people loved him," Reid said. "Some people didn't like him at all. He was a very polarizing guy from what I understand. I never met him.
"He was a pretty charismatic and a pretty vocal, emotional guy from what I could see. He showed a lot of what he was thinking visually."
Mohns was an offensive lineman at Bradley University and Baker University. He began coaching at Oklahoma State in 1972 and remained there until 1977. He also worked as an assistant coach under Frank Kush at Arizona State as well as Bum Phillips and Wade Phillips at Oklahoma State.
Mohns served as a head coach at Ventura College from 1980-81, posting a 15-3-2 overall record.
Mohns went on to spend five seasons with the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs (1983-'87), including the final two as the club's director of pro personnel.
Mohns was also an avid musician and drummer and played in bands with jazz performers Pat and Mike Methany.
Mohns is survived by his son, Jason, currently a high school head coach in Scottsdale, Ariz.
With files from CP reporter Monte Stewart in Vancouver.