Former CFL coach Rich Stubler dead at 74

TORONTO — Rich Stubler was a football lifer.

Since the 1970s, football has been a constant in Stubler's life, having coached in the high school ranks, U.S. college and CFL. On Sunday, Stubler died at the age of 74.

The cause of death wasn't immediately known. Stubler was in his second season as the defensive coordinator at Clearwater Academy International, a prep school in Florida.

"Rich was an incredible coach and an even better person," Jesse Chinchar, the head coach at Clearwater, said in a text to The Canadian Press. "He treated everyone how he’d want to be treated and had a way for making people feel special.

"He lived life to the fullest and got to do what he loved until the very end. I’m lucky to have gotten the chance to work with him and be his friend."

Last season, Stubler helped Clearwater win a second straight state title. Chinchar said his team has dedicated the remainder of the '23 season to Stubler.

"We are finishing this one in his honour as we know that's what he'd want us to do," Chinchar said. "Rich impacted so many people in his years of coaching and his legacy will live on in all that played for him and coached with him."

Stubler, of Glenwood Springs, Colo., coached with six different CFL teams. He first came to Canada in 1983 as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' defensive coordinator, a post he held through 1986.

He also spent time with the Toronto Argonauts, Edmonton Elks, B.C. Lions, Calgary Stampeders and Montreal Alouettes, sometimes having multiple stints with an organization.

For example, Stubler had four different tenures with Toronto, including as head coach in 2008 but was fired after compiling a 4-6 record through 10 games.

Stubler also had multiple stints with Edmonton and B.C., either as a defensive coordinator or position coach. His final CFL season was in 2021 and fittingly, it was with Toronto, where he served as a defensive assistant.

"He will be missed," Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said of Stubler. "Rich was old school; he had a wealth of knowledge and a real passion for the game.

"He invented the match defence that teams around the league still use today. He certainly made a deep impact on the Canadian game."

Neil McEvoy, the Lions co-GM/Director of Football Operations, agreed.

"Rick was a giant in Canadian football," he said. "Along with being instrumental in our Grey Cup win in 2000, he had a profound impact on many Lion players throughout his various tenures as a coach with the B.C. Lions."

Stubler then shifted to Clearwater Academy International, a school that's prepared a number of Canadian players for the NCAA ranks. That includes Isaiah Thomas, a defensive back from Markham, Ont., who has committed to playing at the University of Miami.

"Coach Stubler runs a very advanced defence that we all had to learn," Thomas told The Canadian Press earlier this year. "I'm with him every day, he's showing me different formations, different schemes.

"He's seen so much as a football coach and all I can definitely do is try and grasp all of that."

Stubler was Edmonton's defensive coordinator on three separate occasions (1991-95, 1998-99 and 2011).

"We join the entire CFL family in mourning the passing of Rich Stubler," the Elks said in a statement. "Widely regarded as one of the league’s best defensive minds, Stubler had three stints with the Green and Gold over his career, including from 1991-1995 when he was part of the 1993 Grey Cup championship team."

Not surprisingly, tributes to Stubler poured in on social media at the news of his passing.

"RIP Coach Stubbs," tweeted Montreal defensive lineman Shawn Lemon. "Just talked to you last week.

"You believed in me when no one else did, You will be missed coach."

Derek Dennis, the CFL's outstanding lineman in 2016 with Calgary who retired in June, echoed those sentiments.

"Prayers up to coach Stubby family all-time great," Dennis tweeted. "Told me one day in practice who I was going to be before I became it.

"Rest easy coach."

As did Hall of Fame receiver Nik Lewis, now a receivers coach with Calgary.

"RIP Stubb" he tweeted. "Glad I got to work with you.

"Very sad day."

Added the Montreal Alouettes: "The Alouettes are saddened to learn of the passing of former coach Rich Stubler. Our condolences go out to his family and friends."

Stubler was part of five Grey Cup-winning teams during his time in Canada and was regarded as one of the CFL's most innovative defensive coaches. One of his championship seasons was in 2014 as Calgary's defensive coordinator.

"Rich was a football junkie,” Calgary head coach/GM Dave Dickenson said. "He lived his life to the fullest.

"We will miss his spirit, but we are thankful to have had him as part of our Stampeders family."

Stubler spent two seasons in Calgary, which boasted one of the CFL's stingiest defences. The club allowed 347 points in 2014 and 346 in '15, finishing second overall in that category in each of those seasons.

And Jean Lefebvre, Calgary's communications director, took to social media to pass on one of his favourite Stubler stories.

"So many memories of Stubes," Lefebvre tweeted. "One was quickly learning that he most definitely did not want a copy of the post-game stats report.

"'Did the score change?' he would ask. Uhh, no. 'Then I don't need to see the stats.'"

Stubler's coaching resume also included stops in the NCAA at Colorado, New Mexico, Southern Methodist, Colorado State, New Mexico State, Oregon as well as the Arena Football League's Detroit Fury.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 27, 2023.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press