That’s it, on to Winnipeg

Revered defensive coordinator Pat Tracey set to take his talents to the CFL

Tracey’s defences were often top in the OUA, featuring lineman John Miniaci (top) and this blistering hit from 2007 (bottom).
Tracey’s defences were often top in the OUA, featuring lineman John Miniaci (top) and this blistering hit from 2007 (bottom).

Queen’s football is facing the bittersweet departure of a key member of its coaching staff.

On Jan. 7, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hired longtime Gaels defensive coordinator Pat Tracey as their new special teams coordinator.

Tracey started at Queen’s in 2000 as a special-teams coach, moving to his current position after one season and becoming a full-time assistant of head coach Pat Sheahan in 2008.

Considered the preeminent defensive mind in the OUA, Tracey’s defences often topped the province in many categories. Under his reign, Queen’s defence was Ontario’s best overall five times, finishing first against the run and pass in multiple seasons.

“Coach Tracey has done a tremendous job here in his 14 years as my assistant,” Sheahan said. “He had great passion for the defence — he was one of those guys who was all in.”

Tracey’s career highlights include capturing the Vanier Cup in 2009, a year his unit led the OUA in overall defence, and a 2011 regular season in which the Gaels’ defence didn’t concede a rushing touchdown.

“You don’t win consistently without great defence,” Sheahan said. “We’ve had four defensive coordinators over the last 60 years at Queen’s, and all of them won a national championship.”

During his 13-year tenure at the head of the Gaels defence, Tracey helped mold many players into all-stars. His program produced four CIS and eight OUA award winners, in addition to 39 conference All-Stars and 16 CIS All-Canadians.

Cornerback Andrew Lue, linebacker Sam Sabourin and defensive lineman Derek Wiggan are all top-10 ranked 2014 CFL Draft prospects. All three flourished in Tracey’s system, often acting as leaders of their respective position group.

Tracey schemed his defences to take away opposing teams’ best plays and playmakers, forcing offences to play to their weaknesses. Player deployment fluctuated every week, as Tracey would move players into the matchups that best suited them.

He utilized Lue as a shutdown back against wide and slot receivers, and started the versatile Justin Baronaitis as linebacker, defensive back and safety in different games.

The constant changes demanded persistent practice and dedication from both players and coaches.

“Coach Tracey is the hardest working member of Queen’s defence,” Lue said. “He demands a lot from his players, but always has us prepared for a game.”

Tracey’s promotion should come as no surprise to the Queen’s community. Following the 2009 national championship, other CFL teams have snatched up several members of the coaching staff, including the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ hiring of assistants Ryan Sheahan and Grant Schelske.

Ex-Gaels coaches have even made an impact south of the border. Three are currently working on successful careers coaching American high school football.

The rise of many of them to higher levels is indicative of the CFL’s recent acceptance of the CIS product. Andrew Bucholtz, editor of Yahoo Canada’s 55-Yard Line CFL blog, said this shift has coincided with the addition of full-time assistants in many CIS programs.

The more hours that can be put into recruiting, film-study, and coaching, the better the overall product a school can produce.

“The excellent thing about full-time assistants is they can devote all their time to football,” said Bucholtz, a former Journal Sports Editor. “They don’t have to worry about working or having a job in the off-season.

“Queen’s should look to hire another full-time assistant as Tracey’s replacement, as it’s a huge benefit to the team and would likely attract a higher calibre of coach.”

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