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CFL Icon Adam Rita Advocates For Continued Expansion Of Canadian Football Globally

Adam Rita | Head Coach | Berlin Adler

I love their 2.0 plan, the Canadian game is a great game and needs to be exposed to the world. It’s easy to be critical of anything, but a leader must have a vision. I believe in Randy Ambrosie.

Adam Rita

Head Coach

Berlin Adler

× The interview with Adam Rita was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

You have a decorated resume in the CFL, having won the Grey Cup 4 times as a coach and twice as a GM. Specifically, you were the Offensive Coordinator under HOFers Don Matthews (BC-1985) and Ron Lancaster (1993). What impact did they have on your CFL career and how has their philosophy influenced the way you approach coaching today?

Don Matthews had a saying, “IF YOU ARE NOT LIVING ON THE EDGE, YOU ARE TAKING TOO MUCH SPACE” and he lived by that on and off the field. We went back a long way.

He was the defensive coordinator at the University of Idaho when I was a young coach at Boise State University. They had a nationally ranked team and probably one of the best defensive teams in the nation at that time. They had a pressure defense and BLITZING was their forte. It was the first meeting between both teams and they were favoured by 21 + points. We had to find a way to neutralize this, and we used our spread offense to combat their blitzing. We were able to score 42 points and our defense held them to 14. It was a huge upset. I was able to do the same thing when he was the head coach in Montreal and I was the head coach in Toronto.

Don was a great guy to work for and we were good together. We lived and died with his philosophy; on offense we always opened with a special play, usually a deep ball. He had a knack for getting the best players that fit what we did in the 3 phases of the game. I owe a lot to him since he got me into the CFL. His defensive coordinator was Steve Buratto. Steve is one of my best friends and he got me an interview with Coach Matthews. I was hired to be his coordinator on offense. It was a brief interview, he told me what he wanted, asked me if I could do it and I said yes. He knew I was a great fit from his days at Idaho.

Ron Lancaster was a special guy, a master of the Canadian game as a quarterback. His nickname was “The Little General” and player discipleship was his forte. If you were not a great teammate, he would make a move as fast as he could. His son Ronnie David was my RB coach in Toronto, so I got to know Coach Lancaster much more intimately and because of this, I knew we would be a great fit.

The best thing about these guys was that they let me do my thing and surrounded me with great players and coaches. They also made it fun!

In 1991, you lead the Argos to victory in the 79th Grey Cup and were also named Coach of the Year. This team is widely regarded as the most iconic Argo team to win it all for many reasons. The team had legendary players such as “Rocket” Ismail, Matt Dunigan and Michael “Pinball” Clemons. Not to mention, the team was purchased during the previous off season by Bruce McNall, John Candy and Wayne Gretzky. You have been known for having a great passion for coaching football, and this team had a huge buzz around it all year long. What has been the lasting impact of that team on your career?

The 1991 Argonauts had lots of special people involved from ownership to our management team. Mike McCarthy hired me and then surrounded me with great players. I was a great fit for this team since I was a low-key guy (Hawaiian style). The most important thing for me and always has been is my players (OHANA). I love the guys I coach; they were family (OHANA).

As I always say, get the ball to the playmakers because when they looked good, I looked good. We had a ton of talent, staying humble was our forte. As good as we were, when our egos got in the way, our opponents would humble us. It happened enough to get the guys on track. It was indeed an honour to have been the coach of these guys. We had lots of FUN. We were a circus of characters, who had lots of respect for each other.

How did coaching the 1991 Argonauts influence how you share your passion with those you currently coach?

As far as instilling passion for the game in my players and coaches I work with, the important thing is having a passion for the game yourself and working hard to help them perform on the field and in life. The essential things for me as a coach are to set a good example, care for them, love them no matter what level of talent, defend them, respect them, guide them, tell them what you want, help them, spend time with them. It is more than just about the game.

Be tough on them when they put themselves above their teammates. Similar to life, you need to do your job so others can do theirs, be supportive, have a positive mental attitude, and encourage each other. OHANA, FAMILY. Do the best you can no matter what the result, give it all you have, commit. Move on, do not dwell in defeat, have a short memory. If we lose, we learn. If we win, we are humble, again we move on no matter the result.

The CFL launched the CFL 2.0 with the goal of expanding the game of Canadian football globally. How is football perceived in Europe and what opportunities do you see in the future for connections between European football and the CFL?

I love their 2.0 plan, the Canadian game is a great game and needs to be exposed to the world. It’s easy to be critical of anything, but a leader must have a vision. I believe in Randy Ambrosie. I had the pleasure to have known him as a player when I coached in Edmonton. He is a leader of character and vision. We live in a global world now with the internet and advanced technology.

I coach in Europe now, so I never retired from football. I am using my skills to see different cultures. I am a bit of a history buff and coming from the beautiful island of Kauai in the middle of the pacific, I always wanted to see more.

European football has embraced the game of North American Football. With the advent of CFL 2.0, it has given hope to players that the NFL is not the only venue to play professional football. Participation has gone up. We must live in the new world of technology and dream big. The world has shrunk.

I just hope that I am a great representative for the CFL here in Italy. It’s a great game that needs to be exposed worldwide because it’s a huge market for the CFL. However, we must take baby steps and stay the course.

You were the OC of the Memphis Mad Dogs in 1995, one of the expansion franchises from the U.S. during the brief period when the CFL had American teams. What was your experience with how the Canadian game was perceived in the US at the time? What could have been done differently to make the project find more success?

It was an awesome experience, it broadened the CFL fan base, which I feel is a success

People needed more of an education on the game, its rules, its traditions and the longevity of the CFL. They should have used the past heroes of their NCAA universities who were successful in the CFL to boost its image. The CFL will always be compared to the NFL. Money is the separation between the leagues. CFL just needs to find a sweet spot if they do go back and find a venue that is all in. I think we should have a team in the USA, near the USA/CANADIAN border that the NFL would never go to.

CFL 2.0 is a great start, but we must keep at it, keep grinding, and stay the course. There will be nay-sayers, but no matter what we do there are always those people. We must surround ourselves with people who have a vision.

Matias Bueno Matias's Final Thoughts

Being able to chat with Berlin Adler Head Coach Adam Rita was a fantastic experience. He has tons of experience coaching and being a GM across the CFL, and has brought his passion for the game overseas to Europe. His humble personality that focuses on Ohana (family) shows in the work he has done throughout his football career. I had the chance to watch him in the CFL a bit growing up, and I also hear lots about the iconic teams he was part of. Adam Rita is an upstanding role model and ambassador for Canadian football everywhere and it was my pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with the great CFL icon.

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