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Eastern Washington University Football

Locals in the CFL: Former Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin now quarterbacks coach for CFL’s Calgary Stampeders

Former Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin is now the quarterbacks coach for the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Dave Cook The Spokesman-Review

Perhaps it was just meant to be.

Beau Baldwin spent a decade developing quarterbacks for the Canadian Football League, so it’s only reasonable to see him now in the league.

The former long-time Eastern Washington University head coach and assistant is in his first season as quarterbacks coach for the Calgary Stampeders following three other stops after departing EWU after the 2016 season. He’s one of seven Eagles playing or coaching in the league, to go along with a pair of former Washington State Cougars and one Idaho Vandal listed on CFL rosters.

At Eastern, Baldwin helped develop future CFL quarterbacks Matt Nichols, Bo Levi Mitchell and Vernon Adams Jr., as well as Mike Reilly at Central Washington. Mitchell and Adams are starters for Hamilton and British Columbia, respectively, as the CFL’s 2024 regular season gets underway this week.

Baldwin spent a tumultuous season as an assistant at Arizona State last year, but landed in Calgary, where Mitchell played for 10 seasons and the head coach is former CFL and Big Sky Conference quarterback Dave Dickenson out of Montana.

Getting his first opportunity to coach in the league is thrilling for Baldwin. Through the years he has witnessed his four quarterback protégés combine for 100,545 passing yards and 564 touchdown passes in 37 seasons worth of regular-season CFL games .

“It’s been exciting,” Baldwin said an in interview he did this spring with the Stampeders. “When they get to keep playing the game they love and you see that, it becomes a lot of fun.”

As luck would have it, Baldwin and the Stampeders will host Mitchell and the Tiger-Cats on Friday. Calgary won both of its preseason games and is looking for its first league championship since 2018 when Mitchell led the Stampeders to the title.

The second game for Calgary is equally intriguing. The Stampeders will play versus Adams in Vancouver, the site of this year’s Grey Cup, which will crown the CFL champion for the 111th time on Nov. 17 at BC Place Stadium.

“It’s was pretty funny to see that,” Baldwin said of facing Mitchell and Adams in the first two games. “You love to compete against great players and great people, and both of those guys and those clubs do it the right way. It will be a challenge for us, but it’s exciting.”

Adams is a bona fide candidate for league MVP honors this year after passing for 4,769 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2023. He helped lead the Lions to the West Division final – one victory away from advancing to the Grey Cup – as B.C. finished 12-6 in the regular season before going 1-1 in the playoffs.

In seven seasons in the CFL, Adams has accounted for more than 100 touchdowns while playing his first 5½ seasons in Montreal and the past 1½ in British Columbia. He has completed 64% of his passes (956 for 1,488) for 13,261 yards, 80 touchdowns and 45 interceptions in 99 career games, while adding 265 rushes for 1,431 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Mitchell is in his second season in Hamilton after playing from 2012-22 in Calgary and winning multiple league MVP awards. In 2023 for Hamilton, he was 78 for 132 for 1,031 yards and six scores while missing most of the season with a pair of injuries.

His 10-year career with Calgary yielded the 2018 and 2016 CFL Most Outstanding Player Award, 2014 Grey Cup MVP and title, another Grey Cup title in 2018 and three Grey Cup runner-up finishes (2017, 2016, 2012). In 171 career games (123 as a starter) spanning 11 seasons, he has completed 2,574 of 3,998 passes (64%) for 33,572 yards, 194 touchdowns and 99 interceptions, plus rushed for 786 yards and 13 scores.

Mitchell played in 165 regular-season games for Calgary, and those totals don’t include the 17 playoff games (9-8 record) the Stampeders played with Mitchell on the roster.

Nichols played at EWU from 2006-09 when Baldwin was offensive coordinator (2006) and later as head coach (2008 and 2009). He went on to play eight CFL seasons for three teams during a 12-year span.

He finished his 120-game CFL career with 108 touchdowns and 18,907 yards passing, and his 66.6% completion percentage ranked as the seventh highest in CFL history. He officially retired after the 2021 season when he was with Ottawa, having also played for Winnipeg and Edmonton.

As head coach at Central Washington in 2007, Baldwin coached Reilly, who went on to play 11 seasons with British Columbia and Edmonton from 2010-21. He helped both teams win Grey Cup titles in (2011 with B.C. and 2015 with Edmonton). Like Mitchell, Reilly was Grey Cup MVP (2015) and the CFL Most Outstanding Player (2017). He finished his 168-game career (125 starts) with 34,805 passing yards and 182 touchdowns.

Before he departed Eastern, Baldwin spent a year in Cheney with Eric Barriere, who went on and break the all-time passing and total offense records Nichols held for EWU and the Big Sky. Barriere was signed in the 2024 offseason to play for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but he was released on May 25 after playing just one preseason game in the league.

“The style of play that we ran at Eastern and Central probably had some impact on them having some success up here,” Baldwin said. “I felt like we were always ahead at Eastern in terms of spreading teams out and doing things in four and five wide (receiver) sets.”

There are several differences between the American game of football and that played in Canada, namely 12 players on each side, one less down, wide receivers in forward motion at the snap and a larger field in the CFL. Baldwin said his former players were never overwhelmed despite the variances.

“They were used to seeing a lot of receivers at once, and we threw the ball quite a bit,” he said. “We put a lot of emphasis on the quarterback position – we are going to empower you to be a big part of our success. That was just one of our philosophies.”

Baldwin originally considered going to the CFL as a guest coach, much like his processor as head coach at EWU – Aaron Best – did in the 2007 season when he helped in Toronto. But Baldwin’s chance turned into a full-time gig thanks to Baldwin’s relationship with Dickenson, who played in the early 1990s for Montana and was offensive coordinator at Calgary when Mitchell arrived to play for the Stampeders.

“I remember watching him as a legend for the Grizzlies,” Baldwin said of Dickenson, who was honored in 2022 in the inaugural class of inductees into the Big Sky Conference Hall of Fame. “I always knew he who he was and followed his career.

“One thing led to another,” Baldwin added of joining Dickenson in Calgary, “and I guess it led to a longer stint as a guest coach, so to speak.”

Baldwin said that when he arrived in the CFL it was like learning a second language. The key, he said, is to develop it into a first language.

“There is a learning curve, I don’t care who you are,” he said. “There are enough differences to it, but it’s a fun difference and that’s why I’m excited.”

Baldwin’s starting quarterback in Calgary is Jake Maier, who played in the Big Sky from 2017-19 at UC Davis. In three seasons for the Stampeders, he’s passed for 7,844 yards and 38 touchdowns, including career bests of 4,244 yards and 19 scores in 2023.

Baldwin left EWU prior to the three times the Eagles faced and defeated Maier, including a 34-29 Eastern home win in the 2018 playoffs. Maier joined the Stampeders in 2020 and unseated Mitchell as the starting quarterback in 2022.

That switch prompted Mitchell’s trade to Hamilton, and he’ll make his first return trip to Calgary’s McMahon Stadium this week. Last year he was injured and didn’t play in the matchup against Calgary on Hamilton’s home turf.

“I’m pretty excited. It’s something I wanted to happen last year, but the year of suspense I guess makes it just a little bit bigger,” Mitchell told the media in Hamilton. “I have no ill feelings about anything that happened over there, so, if anything, I’m just excited to go play in front of the fans in a city I’ve played in a lot and I’m very familiar with. I’m just ready to go get my first win there.”

Besides Allen and Mitchell, former Eagles All-America defensive back T.J. Lee III is still active in the league and entering his 10th CFL season. He’s beginning it on the B.C. Lions’ injury list because of a hamstring ailment.

Lee, an All-American and three-time first-team All-Big Sky selection while at Eastern, has played his entire career in B.C.

Another former Eastern defensive back, Ryan Phillips, is the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the Lions after a productive career in B.C.

Lee has 557 tackles, 26 interceptions, five sacks and eight forced fumbles in 127 regular-season games. He was named a CFL All-Star in 2023 for the second time in his career (also in 2018), and has been a CFL West Division All-Star three times (2023, 2021, 2018).

In addition, former Pullman and EWU standout J.C. Sherritt is also back in the CFL, now as linebackers coach and defensive running game coordinator for Saskatchewan after spending his entire playing career as a record-breaking linebacker for Edmonton. He played on EWU’s NCAA Division I championship team in 2010 along with Mitchell and Lee.

“It will be awesome,” Sherritt said of renewing relationships from EWU that have extended to Canada. “The CFL has been wonderful to all of us from Eastern Washington. It’s been a league that has treated us incredibly well and given us job opportunities. We all hold the league in high regard and have a whole lot of respect for it. We love it.”

A veteran of 109 career CFL games in eight seasons, Sherritt was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2012 before winning a Grey Cup with Edmonton in 2015. He had a CFL-record 130 tackles in his second season in the league after having 85 tackles on defense and special teams as a rookie in 2011.

He retired in 2016, finishing with 552 career tackles, 14 interceptions, 15 sacks, 17 forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries and one touchdown in those 109 games (108 starts)

David Ungerer III, a receiver who played at Idaho from 2014-18, is entering his second season in Toronto in 2024 after playing for Hamilton in his first three seasons in the league. He had a breakout season in 2023 with 54 catches for 579 yards and three touchdowns for the Argonauts, giving him career totals of 74 grabs for 1,035 yards and five scores.

Two former Washington State players are on practice squads in the CFL, including wide receiver Dezmon Patmon in Hamilton. He played for the Cougars from 2016-19 and was a sixth-round NFL draft choice in 2020 by Indianapolis. He played three seasons for the Colts, playing 10 games and catching four passes for 45 yards and a TD.

The second WSU player on a CFL practice squad roster is Calgary offensive lineman Christy Nkanu. He played the 2023 season in Pullman after transferring from Southern Utah.

Former Cougars running back Jamal Morrow (2014-17) could find himself back on a CFL roster this season after having three productive seasons playing for Saskatchewan. In 16 games for Saskatchewan last season, he rushed for 907 yards and four touchdowns while catching 36 passes for 349 yards and one score.

He’s a free agent and Calgary showed interest in picking him up in the offseason, but concerns over a wrist injury has derailed those plans. He’s rushed for 1,614 yards and seven touchdowns in his first three seasons in the league, and has had 82 receptions for 744 yards and two scores.