After spending over a year outside of the CFL following his August 2011 firing as Saskatchewan's head coach, Greg Marshall (no, not that one) has returned to the league as the Edmonton Eskimos' defensive coordinator. The team announced the hiring of Marshall and offensive coordinator Doug Sams Friday. Marshall's return to the CFL had long been rumoured, but given the time and money left on his Saskatchewan contract, some thought he might only come back before then if given another head coaching job. Marshall's brief coaching stint (eight months overall, two months of games, a 1-7 record and lipstick on pigs) was far from an unqualified success, though, and while that wasn't all on Marshall, he wasn't drawing a lot of head-coaching buzz this offseason. Marshall has a long history of success as a defensive coordinator, though, so he might be a nice hire for Edmonton, and if he can demonstrate his prowess in that arena again, he might just get back on the head-coaching radar.
What bodes in Marshall's favour is his track record. He worked in the CFL continuously from 1994 to 2010 with Saskatchewan, Edmonton, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Hamilton, and has spent over a decade as a defensive coordinator, often running some pretty impressive defences. Marshall's known for frequently employing "bend-but-don't-break" principles, and while those may not be as in fashion as the brand of aggressiveness many DCs today preach, they can work very well. Consider Marshall's most recent stint in Hamilton, where he served as defensive coordinator from 2008-2010. He then left to run the Roughriders and was replaced by Corey Chamblin, who came in promising an aggressive defence at least partly in response to the perceived passive nature of Marshall's schemes. As Drew Edwards wrote at the time, "After two years of Greg Marshall’s bend-but-don’t break approach, Bellefeuille has turned to Chamblin who spent two years as defensive backs coach in Calgary’s pressure system and is expected bring a little more heat to opposing offences. “Aggressiveness is a mindset, a mentality, a go-get it type attitude and that’s more than just a scheme,” Chamblin said."
How'd that one work out for Hamilton? Not so well. Chamblin left after the season to take over the Saskatchewan head coaching job Marshall had so recently vacated, but his Hamilton defence was worse than Marshall's by the most critical metric: points allowed. The Tiger-Cats' defence allowed just 450 points (25 per game) in 2010 under Marshall, second-best in the CFL. Under Chamblin in 2011, they gave up 478 points (26.6 per game), third-worst in the league. Of course, Chamblin has done much better as a head coach in Saskatchewan than Marshall did, but the point's not about his struggles as a defensive coordinator, which didn't reach Creehanian proportions. The point is that while Marshall's approach may not be as in fashion at the moment, it can be very effective when run correctly. He'll have solid personnel to work with in Edmonton, too, including 2012 CFL defensive player of the year J.C. Sherritt, who's signed through 2015. Nothing's ever a guaranteed success in the CFL, but hiring Marshall as a defensive coordinator seems like a pretty safe bet. We'll see if he can put up another impressive showing as a DC and perhaps get back into the conversation as a head-coaching candidate.