Brent Monson’s answer to the inevitable shoe question is along the lines of “you do you. I’ll do me.”
So does he have big shoes to fill, taking over for DeVone Claybrooks as defensive co-ordinator of the defending Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders?
“No, I’ve got my own shoes,” Monson replied. “He’s got bigger shoes than me. I’ve got size 10 and a half feet. I’ve got my own shoes that I’ve got on, so we’re good.”
Claybrooks had a similar response when he was named head coach of the B.C. Lions and took over for retired legend Wally Buono.
“The funny thing is everyone asks me, ‘How are you going to fill Wally’s shoes?'” Claybrooks told The Canadian Press. “I’m like, ‘I’m not. Wally wears a 10 1/2 or 11 and I wear a 14.'”
The Lions host the Stampeders on Friday in the second and final pre-season game for both teams.
Shoes aside, Monson has a different management style than Claybrooks.
“I learned from him, but I’ve still got to be myself,” Monson said. “It’s not the same. I’m not as big as a personality. I do things the way I do things.”
A 23-year-old Monson joined Calgary’s staff as an assistant video coach in 2009. He spent the next decade working various rungs of the organization’s coaching ladder.
The Hamilton native had played linebacker in high school and with the junior Burlington Braves. Monson saw coaching, not playing, in his football future.
Joining Calgary’s staff the same season was current head coach Dave Dickenson after the all-star quarterback’s retirement in 2008.
Monson oversaw Calgary’s linebackers both in 2010 and from 2014 to 2018 and won a pair of Grey Cups.
Calgary’s defence was the stingiest in the CFL all four seasons of Monson’s second stint with the linebackers.
“He was underappreciated the last few years,” Dickenson said. “I think the guys who were around him last year realize how much he did and how important he was in the schemes and the X’s and O’s.”
Monson’s career accelerated when he switched to offence and ran the running backs from 2012 to 2014 under Dickenson, the offensive co-ordinator at the time.
“Looking at the other side of the ball, I’d never played offence so it was great to see the other side,” Monson explained. “That really extended my knowledge.”
“It was like night and day just because I knew so much more about the game as a whole.”
Added Dickenson: “I gave him his own meetings with the running backs to see if he could handle it. He passed with flying colours for a guy that had never really coached on that side of the ball.
“We talked and I felt if he was ever going to get to a co-ordinator role, it was best to go back to defence.”
Stampeders general manager John Hufnagel and Dickenson have been Monson’s primary mentors in the CFL.
But Monson feels lucky to have also worked with former Stampeders defensive co-ordinators Chris Jones and Rich Stubler, as well as Toronto Argonauts coach Corey Chamblin when the latter oversaw Calgary’s defensive backs.
“It was kind of like the best degree I could have gotten really,” Monson said.
And then there was his long relationship with Claybrooks.
Monson coached him in 2011, which was Claybrooks’ last season at defensive tackle before he swapped his pads for a coach’s whistle.
“DeVone and I have always had a great relationship,” Monson said. “When I came back to defence with DeVone, we were always so close (and) he would give me the opportunity to implement ideas. We were always side by side.”
Corey Mace (defensive line) and Joshua Bell (defensive backs) are former Stampeders players now deep into their coaching careers in the same organization.
J.C. Sherritt is the newcomer this season. The former Edmonton Eskimo coaches Calgary’s linebackers.
Monson, Mace and Bell took on additional duties for a week last season when Claybrooks was hospitalized with what turned out to be diabetes. Calgary downed Winnipeg 39-26 on Aug. 25.
“Coach Mace and Coach Bell, they’ve been huge in the success of this defence too,” Monson said. “It’s not just me. Last year when DeVone was ill, it wasn’t just me running the show. It’s a group effort.
“Now I’m just controlling the group effort.”