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Coach Elizondo has been busy building foundations for new Elks culture

While the plan has always been to win, the fact there is someone new again in Edmonton tasked with making it all come together can’t be overlooked

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The Edmonton Elks didn’t just spend the past three weeks in training camp building their roster for the 2021 Canadian Football League season.

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As a first-time head coach, Jaime Elizondo has also been building his vision of a winning culture in the locker-room after finally being able to gather his players together for what was a one-of-a-kind pre-season.

And he hasn’t wasted any time, both in installation and disposal, in making sure the right pieces are in place.

Nor was he shy in the way he’s gone about it, stating flat out when a player wasn’t the right fit, as veteran wideout Kenny Stafford can attest with his mid-camp dismissal.

But for Elizondo, establishing winning culture goes deeper than his roster. It’s an attitude the head coach is looking to have permeate through the walls of Commonwealth Stadium itself.

“I think we’ve got a great group of men in that locker-room, we even cut some great men in Vontae Diggs and Shawn Lemon,” Elizondo said. “As we try to build this thing, and I’ve said this before, culture is what wins championships.

“We cut some men that would fit to what we’re building in that locker-room. But we’ve got a great group of guys in there right now, it starts with you as a person.

“And if you have a really great group of men and they happen to be a great group of football players as well, that’s a great combination to have. That’s the starting point for building this thing the right way.”

Then again, it’s not like Elizondo is new to the coaching realm, even if it is his first time as a head man.

He’s been coaching football since 1998, having worked under the likes of Jimmye Laycock, Joe Gardi, Doug Marrone and Pete Mangurian in the NCAA, as well as Jim Barker, Rick Campbell and Marc Trestman (on both sides of the border).

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“You pick up things from every coach and you kind of build your own plan and your own philosophy,” Elizondo said. “I think it’s been a different year, a challenging year. We had a plan, we stuck with it, we’ll see how that pays off.”

While the plan has always been to win, the fact there is someone new again in Edmonton tasked with making it all come together can’t be overlooked.

Not when the neighbouring CFL club 300 km to the south have only had two different head coaches since 2008. And the succession only happened so the previous one could focus on general manager duties.

In that same span, things have been a bit more, shall we say, fluid in Edmonton, which has gone from Danny Maciocia to Richie Hall to Kavis Reed to Chris Jones to Jason Maas to Scott Milanovich to their current head coach, Elizondo.

Tally up the wins in over that time and Calgary comes in with a 155-58-3 record, compared to Edmonton’s 113-103-0. Grey Cup championships are 3-1, also in Calgary’s favour.

Whether it should all fall on the shoulders of the head coach, be it a team’s successes or failures, is open for debate. But one thing isn’t: They all have to start somewhere.

And this week, it’s Elizondo’s inauguration.

“I think the biggest thing is just trying to be adaptable and flexible because that’s ultimately what you have to do on game day,” Elizondo said. “I tell the players that football is really just a game of solving problems. You try to solve problems through the week as coaches: How we’re going to handle that blitz, how we’re going to handle that route, how we’re going to stop that returner. And in the game, all you’re trying to do is solve problems. Players are trying to solve problems, get lined up, react to this.

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“So, a little bit of our philosophy is, ‘Let’s keep analyzing it. Let’s keep solving problems and let’s put the best plan together.”

WHAT TO DO WITH DIGGS?

It turns out the Toronto Argonauts have had their eye on Vontae Diggs, even if they’re not sure where exactly the former Edmonton Elks linebacker will fit in the mix now that they’ve got him.

The Argos signed the 25-year-old U-Conn product July 30, one day after being shown the door at Commonwealth Stadium among the other final camp cuts.

“I liked him from his film,” said Argos head coach Ryan Dinwiddie. “He’s a physical kid who will get after the passer. He can play coverage at the WIL (weak side) linebacker position. We felt he was a guy who would fit in our room.”

However, Diggs isn’t expected to dress for opening day since he has been undergoing various COVID protocols since arriving.

Once he’s on the practice field, the team will have a chance to decide on his role, either as a designated import, special teamer or as a backup at linebacker.

Then again, this is a team that still hasn’t named its starting quarterback for Saturday’s opener.

In and out: OT SirVincent Rogers (chest), OT Kyle Saxelid (back) and LB Malik Tyne (hamstring) did not practise Tuesday, while DB Dotun Aketepe and S Jordan Hoover were placed on the long-term injured list. Aketepe, drafted in the fourth round (32nd overall) in 2020, will undergo surgery this month after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee.

E-mail: gmoddejonge@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

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