Bob O'Billovich -
Head Coach -1982-87, 93-95
Bob O’Billovich left his mark on Toronto
Argos - Bob
Mitchell - The Toronto Star
Scott Milanovich capped a brilliant rookie season as the Argonauts
head coach when he turned a last-place team into Grey Cup champions
in November. Some 30 years earlier, Bob O’Billovich, who announced
his retirement from football on Monday after half a century in the
game, took over an even-worse team in 1982 than Milanovich did. Obie
guided the Boatmen to a Grey Cup appearance in his first stint as a
head coach before winning the crown the next season, ending a
O’Billovich, 72, known affectionately as simply “Obie” around the
CFL, spent the last five seasons as general manager of the Hamilton
Tiger-Cats. But he carved his greatest coaching career with the
Argos, where he spent eight seasons during his first go-around with
the Double Blue, leading the team to three Grey Cup appearances,
twice earning coach of the year accolades (1982, ‘87). He remains
the Argos’ winningest head coach, with a record of 89-89-3 in 11
“The experience of 1983 when Toronto hadn’t won a Grey Cup in 31 years
was probably one of the things that I remembered the most,”
O’Billovich said on Monday from his home in Oakville. “The neat
thing was in my rookie head coach season of 1982, we played in the
Grey Cup and lost but they still had a parade for us downtown.
“There were about 20,000 people, and when we got back to the stadium
I told the players to imagine just what kind of a reception we’d get
when we won the Grey Cup. So when we won it the next season, there
must have been 60,000 people at the parade.”
In 1982, the Argos whipped Ottawa 44-7 in the Eastern final before
meeting the Edmonton Eskimos in the Grey Cup, making the big game
for the first time since 1971. Toronto would lose 32-16 to the
Eskimos as Edmonton won its fifth straight title. But the Argos
would beat the B.C. Lions 18-17 in Vancouver the next year.
“He turned around a perennial last-place team. He came in after my
2-14 rookie season, which is still the worst season of any Argo
team,” said former Argo Dan Ferrone, an offensive lineman who played
for Obie during his first stint with the Argos.
Obie returned to the Argos in 1993 as their GM after being the B.C.
Lions head coach for three seasons.
It was late comedian John Candy who enticed him back to the Double
Blue. Candy had become part-owner of the team with Wayne Gretzky and
L.A. Kings owner Bruce McNall in 1991.
“When I left Vancouver, John Candy called me. We had met a few years
earlier and then when he became an owner with Gretzky and McNall, he
wanted me to come back,” O’Billovich said.
“Some times things just happen.”
By the end of the 1993 season he was back on the sidelines again,
this time replacing Dennis Meyer. He started as GM in 1995 but
returned to coach the Argos one more time, replacing Mike Faragalli.
“The late great Ralph Sazio gave me my first chance to be a head
coach and we had a pretty good run in Toronto,” O’Billovich said.
“We changed the whole culture from losing to winning. I guess I
lasted a lot longer than a lot of other coaches in Toronto.
“But it’s hard to believe I’ve been in this game 50 years. It’s
really gone by very fast. The memories seem like just yesterday.
It’s hard to believe that I came up here in 1963 to play for the
Ottawa Rough Riders and I’ve been here ever since.”
“My kids tell me I should have my own reality show — the coach’s
family,” O’Billovich said.