After a six year run as a defensive line coach with the Ottawa Redblacks, Napanee native Leroy Blugh was set to head west and take on the same role with the B.C. Lions.
His debut with his new club was supposed to be June 11 against Edmonton, but instead the Canadian Football League remains in a holding pattern until at least September due to COVID-19.
Blugh was offered the job in B.C. by the Lions’ head coach Rick Campbell. The duo coached in Ottawa, starting with their expansion year in 2014 through 2019. Along the way they guided the Redblacks to a Grey Cup in 2016.
“I liked the way he operated in Ottawa,” Blugh said of Campbell. “We built a team from scratch really, surrounded by good people. I like the way Rick did things and I like where I fit in to what he was doing.”
Part of what Blugh admires most about Campbell is his treatment of players not only during games, but during the practices leading up to each week’s match. Blugh says Campbell does a great job of keeping players rested and well prepared for when the games start to count.
Similar to his time in Ottawa, Blugh is tasked with trying to complete a quick turn around. The Lions were 5-13 last year. In Ottawa, the Redblacks were 2-16 in their first year before winning it all just two seasons later.
“It’s not quite the same as starting from scratch in Ottawa, but B.C., we’re reloading right now and we hope to make a jump and be better than we were last year,” said Blugh. “I saw the way we progressed in Ottawa and I can only say that we’re going to do the same in B.C.”
The team was just starting its training camps when the pandemic broke and players and coaches told to go home. That’s left Blugh to do most of his preparations and coaching from here in Napanee.
“Some of the local players I was able to meet when I was out there in March, but I haven’t been able to work out with the players and meet everyone of them,” said Blugh. “That’s all going to add to the mix when and if we do get together. The message has been clear to the players by phone, be ready to go when you get the call to hit the ground running in order for us to be better and be more competitive.”
As eager as he is to get started in his new role, he knows it’s better to play it safe.
“It’d be nice to get back to it but it has to be done safely and doing it safely and doing things correctly will get our fans back and get people back at some point into the stadiums and give people another reason to be excited about the sport they like,” said Blugh.
After graduating from NDSS, the now 54-year-old Blugh went on to a 15 year Hall of Fame career in the CFL, suiting up for both Toronto and Edmonton, winning a Grey Cup in 1993. In 2015 Greater Napanee enshrined him into their own Wall of Fame, building a special display case at the Strathcona Paper Centre to highlight his playing and coaching accomplishments.