Doug Hargreaves remembered

Gaels pioneer left a lasting impact on his players and Queen’s football legacy

Hargreaves (left) won two Vanier Cups during his tenure as Gaels head coach.
Hargreaves (left) won two Vanier Cups during his tenure as Gaels head coach.
Supplied by Art Martin

July 5, 2016 was a tough day for the Queen’s football program. 

It stung. It was the day the school lost an innovator, a mentor, a colleague, a friend, and a beacon of brilliance to the sport of football. It was the day Doug Hargreaves, the long tenured Queen’s football coach, passed away at the age of 84. 

Acting as head coach for 19 years (1976-94), Hargreaves, who surpassed the legendary Frank Tindall as the Gaels’ all-time winningest coach, finishing with a record 110 wins, 59 losses and three ties. He led the team to 16 consecutive playoffs berths, eight conference titles, and hoisted the Vanier Cup twice — in 1978 and 1992. 

But behind his abundant successes was a man who many were fortunate to come across. The wins, the playoff appearances, the rings, and even the losses barely scratch the surface of Hargreaves’ impact on his players and staff. 

“He was a quiet leader but he knew how to lead,” said George Jackson, former Gaels football player from 1981-85. 

Incumbent football head coach Pat Sheahan called him a “principled man” and someone he deeply revered. 

In a nutshell, Hargreaves sewed the thread that tied together an illustrious, respected football program, and ushered Queen’s to the pinnacle of CIS football.

After graduating from Queen’s in 1962, Hargreaves went on to serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force for several years before bouncing around coaching positions at RMC and Dalhousie. When the opportunity arose to succeed his former coach, Frank Tindall, Hargreaves jumped at the chance — though the job didn’t come without its share of difficulties. 

“The student athlete in the ‘50s and ‘60s — which [Tindall] had — was a very different kettle of fish than what Doug was dealt during his tenure,” said Mervin Daub, a player for Queen’s through 1962-65 and an assistant coach under Hargreaves for a couple of years. “They were functioning in different worlds — people, cultures, players were just different.” 

In the post-baby-boom era, the drastic expansion of enrollment in schools across Canada raised the importance of recruiting to unprecedented rates. And with attention coming from competing schools, recruiting became tougher and more systematic. 

For Hargreaves it was just part of the job — something he embraced. During his 18-year tutelage at Queen’s, Hargreaves saw 34 of his players drafted into the Canadian Football League. 

But talent is only a small variable in a rather large equation. 

What separated Hargreaves from the pack was his style. He was tough but considerate. Daub likened his character to the charismatic Yogi Berra and the free-wheeling Casey Stengel.

“[He] respected the intelligence of the guys that he had — whether that be in his coaching staff or the players. He wasn’t a yell-at-all-costs type of coach, and the players understood that he simply expected them to perform,” Daub said of Hargreaves’ approach to coaching. 

Hargreaves was not a “‘ra-ra’, ‘go-go’ kind of coach,” Jackson agreed. 

“He was cerebral.” 

Jackson added that Hargreaves was remarkably frank, recounting conversations where Hargreaves “would tell us we were too slow, too small — but that’s what made him, him.”

“It makes you grow as a player and person to represent Queen’s and withstand the legacy that its name bears on the football field.” 

To a certain degree, the players were playing exactly into what Hargreaves wanted. 

“From a player’s perspective, his style was a lot like good-cop-bad-cop — and it made you end up really playing for your unit coach, which, in turn, was playing into what [Hargreaves] wanted. It was all part of a master plan that we at the time didn’t really see, but after the fact is absolutely brilliant,” Jackson said. 

An important part of running a football team is keeping problems in-house, and not allowing issues to affect the team’s play. Hargreaves took care of the little things, Jackson said, and ensured that the team remained fixated on strictly winning football games. 

“There were all kinds of little fires that needed to be put out, just like with any organization,” he said, “but we didn’t see that. We would be focused on the game and opponent at hand and that was it.” 

His candid bluntness and undeniable wit had a way with the players — they respected his nonchalance and confidence, and he respected their play. It was a fair trade-off and it worked wonders. 

Hargreaves’ coaching style found success because it expedited the maturing process of his young players. The responsibility for winning, which was made abundantly clear by the coaching staff, was contingent on the players’ play and effort — and there was nothing wrong with that. 

Without their knowing, Hargreaves was preparing them for a life after football, where responsibility and action would be demanded by none other than themselves.  

During a training camp in late August on Richardson Field, Hargreaves called a few of his players to chat. “The football you’re playing right now is for all the right reasons — you’re playing for yourself, your coaches, and your school. This is the best football you’ll ever play,” Jackson recalls Hargreaves telling his team.

“He didn’t think there was anything higher than playing in the CIS and putting on the tri-colour,” Jackson said. 

The Queen’s football program embodies a rich history of tradition, respect, loyalty, and most importantly, winning. Hargreaves encompassed all of that and then some. 

The reverence for the coach was and will continue to be palpable, and for good reason. He carried the tradition left by his predecessor and made players truly proud to be Golden Gaels.

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