Matthews CFL Coach of the Year

January 27, 1995|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

As an opening act in Baltimore's first Canadian Football League season, Don Matthews was as good as his word.

Carve a winner from his first-year roster? Check.

Claim a playoff game at Memorial Stadium? Check.

Create anticipation of victory? Check.

At 14-7 with a berth in the Grey Cup, Matthews did what Ron Meyer, Kay Stephenson and Forrest Gregg -- expansion coaches in Las Vegas, Sacramento and Shreveport -- couldn't.

In the process, he broke the stereotype for an expansion team.

And last night, when he was named Coach of the Year in the CFL at a banquet in Edmonton, Alberta, Matthews was recognized for the accomplishment.

"I think everything he said the first time we met in December '93, he lived up to," said Baltimore Football Club owner Jim Speros. "He said he'd put a team together and be competitive right away. He said we'd expect to win every game we played.

"He made me look a lot smarter. It was the best move, the most significant move, I made for the team. Don is quite deserving of Coach of the Year."

Matthews was an easy winner over Ray Jauch, his successor in Saskatchewan, by a 45-23 margin in the voting of CFL media members. Matthews collected 35 of 52 first-place votes and 10 seconds.

Jauch, whose Roughriders went 11-7 and lost a first-round playoff game, had nine and nine. Wally Buono of Calgary was third with a total of 19 votes.

Matthews, 55, deflected credit for the award to the people who surrounded him last season.

"I receive it in the name of a lot of people who made it happen," he said. "Jim Speros had the vision. Jim Popp [personnel director] assembled the personnel. And all the coaches.

"The thing I've always preached is players win games. If a guy is Coach of the Year, it's because his guys won a lot of games."

Still, it was Matthews who ultimately made the decisions that placed Baltimore in the Grey Cup as an expansion team. Previously, no team in pro football history had achieved so much as a winning record as an expansion team.

"The uniqueness is what makes it special," he said.

It was the second Coach of the Year award in Matthews' 10 years as a CFL head coach. The first was in 1985, when his British Columbia Lions won the Grey Cup. He also was chosen Coach of the Year in a first-ever ballot of players and coaches this season.

"Starting at ground zero and ending up in the championship game is special," said Steve Buratto, Baltimore's offensive coordinator. "Sure, you get a lot of help along the way. But so many decisions are made along the way. So many are made on instinct. And that's one of his strengths."

Still, the award did little to dilute Matthews' disappointment over losing the Grey Cup, 26-23, to B.C.

"Does it make up for the loss in the Grey Cup? Not even close," Matthews said. "If I could trade 10 years of this award in a row for victory in the Grey Cup, I'd trade it in a New York second.

"The loss is still very much on my mind. I went to Israel [on vacation] to get away, and I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, thinking about the Grey Cup. I've talked to Maureen [his wife] about it and told her I can't get over this.

"I find it a motivation in my eagerness to get started for next year."

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