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Robinson: Butler's Milanovich next Canadian import to NFL?

| Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The 49ers played an entirely different game from what the Packers were accustomed to seeing in last week's NFC divisional playoff game, as evidenced by the confusion they caused and the extreme-for-the-playoffs yardage they gained.

The Packers' defense kept surging forward to try to sack or hurry Colin Kaepernick, just as they would any traditional quarterback. But the quarterback who is anything but conventional was long gone in the other direction, another defense-confusing, zone-read run perfectly implemented on a night he ran for 181 yards.

It was new to the NFL, but Scott Milanovich has seen it for a half-dozen years now.

The Texans last week never did slow down the Patriots, struggling from start to finish to keep up with a hurry-up New England offense that ran more plays than any in NFL history this season.

Scott Milanovich sees it every week.

Today's NFL innovation is frequently nothing more than an importation of yesterday's scheme in the Canadian Football League, where the fields and the season are longer, the franchises are fewer and big yardage is required to keep up in a league in which the temperatures are low but scores are high.

That's why Milanovich, the former Butler High star who coached the Toronto Argonauts to the Grey Cup championship in his first year as a head coach, wasn't surprised to see his former boss, Marc Trestman, hired as the Chicago Bears' head coach.

With NFL teams no longer reluctant to steal offensive tactics from college football or the CFL, Milanovich believes it was time for one of the best coaches he has known in more than 25 years in the sport to get another chance in the NFL. Trestman was an NFL assistant for 17 years.

Now, Trestman is following a path that quite a few well-known names — Joe Theismann, Doug Flutie, Marv Levy, Warren Moon, Jeff Garcia and Rocket Ismail among them — have taken by moving from the CFL to the NFL.

There is considerable speculation up north that Milanovich will be the next.

Milanovich was Trestman's offensive coordinator in Montreal when the Alouettes won the Grey Cup in 2009 and '10, so the son of longtime Butler High athletic director Gary Milanovich has three Grey Cup titles in four years.

“The talent keeps getting better and better. The coaches up there are excellent,” said Milanovich, a former quarterback who still holds many of Maryland's career passing records. “It's a fun league and a very competitive league.”

A fast one, too. Teams get only three downs to gain a first down, and the play clock is only 20 seconds — a pace at which only the Patriots play at in the NFL. It forces a coach — and Milanovich was his own offensive coordinator — to think rapidly and get plays called in a hurry.

Milanovich has the resume — he played or coached in the NFL, CFL, Arena League, XFL and NFL Europe — yet he's still relatively young; he turns 40 on Friday. This season, he took a team that was 9-9 and struggling, turned it around to win five in a row behind hot quarterback Ricky Ray and took home Toronto's 16th Grey Cup title.

“It was a good first year,” said Milanovich, who was Tommy Maddox's backup with the Los Angeles Xpress in the short-lived XFL.

That Grey Cup championship game in Toronto on Thanksgiving weekend featured a pair of former WPIAL quarterbacks as head coaches; former Montour High and Penn State quarterback John Hufnagel coached the losing Calgary Stampeders.

Milanovich grew up hearing about and watching many of those from Western Pennsylvania's cradle of quarterbacks — Dan Marino, Joe Montana and Jim Kelly. Like so many others during a bygone time, he once camped all night outside Three Rivers Stadium to get Steelers playoff tickets.

But it was his father who remains his biggest influence.

Gary went to all of Toronto's home games this season, and, just like he did when his son was quarterbacking Butler, his first question after a game often was, “Why'd you do that?”

“Football was always important to me,” Scott Milanovich said. “I don't know if it would have been any different if I had grown up anywhere else, but for me it was the only game.”

Now that the NFL has realized again it's not the only game in town — well, in North America — perhaps a coach known for his calm, steadying demeanor and sharp offensive mind will be the next Canadian import.

“Don Shula once told me, ‘Don't worry about your next job. Take care of the one you've got,' ” Milanovich said. “I'm fortunate to have the job I've got.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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