Running, passing and tackling drills are all part of university football training, but U of G’s new head coach has added something to his players’ regimen: practising the correct stance for the national anthem.
Stu Lang, who became Gryphon football head coach this past spring, is ensuring he uses every minute of practice and covers every detail with his players, including how to stand when the anthem is played before the game.
“You can send a message to the other team even before the game starts, from the way you stand during the anthem to how you walk onto the field for the coin toss,” says the 59-year-old. “My goal is to have our team look organized and intimidating, so that we can send fear into the hearts of our opponents.”
The new Gryphon coach knows he is a detail-oriented person. In his previous role with the team as receiver’s coach, he mapped out practices on his clipboard right down to the minute.
As head coach, Lang is taking a broader approach but is still ensuring he makes effective use of every moment with his players. Besides running regular practices, he has brought in guest speakers to motivate the team and also gathers his players at the Cutten Club for dinner every Friday night before game day to help them mentally prepare.
“It’s one last time to focus the guys on being successful the next day. I call it the ‘dream the big dream’ dinner because the idea is that the players will all go home that night and dream about winning the game.”
Lang’s twist on coaching comes from decades of playing the sport.
He played four years of football in high school, four years at Queen’s University and eight years with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League (CFL). He won five Grey Cups with the Eskimos as a receiver.
His passion for football stems from childhood.
“Back then we didn’t have video games, so everyone went outside and played,” he says. “My best friend had a perfect rectangular backyard, and in the fall we would play football, in the winter it was hockey, and in the spring we played baseball. Football was always my strongest sport.”
Lang now aims to instill what he has learned in his players.
His teaching goes beyond the gridiron with life skills such as making sacrifices to achieve your goal.
“I tell the players that life is about choices. You can’t get what you want without making sacrifices. If you choose to play football, you will be sacrificing something, whether it’s your social life or something else.”
However, he also tells his players that they can excel in both academics and athletics. Lang played hockey and football while earning his degree in chemical engineering.
In 2009, he approached former head coach Kyle Walters about joining the Gryphons as a guest coach. Lang had been coaching at Upper Canada College in Toronto and had semi-retired as president of CCL industries, a family business. The Gryphons needed a receiver’s coach and Lang’s CFL background made him a perfect fit.
He says he enjoys the challenges of coaching diverse players.
“It’s one of the only sports where you have big guys, short guys, fast guys and slow guys, and you have to get them to all play as a team and have one heartbeat. It excites me to try and figure out how to take all these different types of people and unite them.”
But for him, coaching football isn’t just about creating a successful team. It’s also about developing successful graduates.
“I try to focus on success rather than winning, because being successful is a higher goal. I am hoping the players become successful as an athlete, as a student and most importantly as a man. Football isn’t just about X’s and O’s and trying to win games. We are trying to make men who will one day be husbands and fathers.”