A dejected Connellan at the 1995 press conference announcing his resignation as Dinosaurs Head Football Coach, less than a week after winning the Vanier Cup.
Gauntlet file photo

Return of the King

He left the Dinosaurs on top, now Peter Connellan hopes to help the Dinos get back there

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Seven years later, the U of C athletic department has finally welcomed Peter Connellan back into the fold.

For 13 years, Connellan, one of those coaches who you feel required to refer to as "Coach," manned the helm of the Dinos football team. In that time, the Dinos won a remarkable four national championships and seven conference championships. He never coached a team to a losing season and compiled a 70-32-2 record. Since his departure, the Dinos haven't so much as won a playoff game.

In 1995, a mere three weeks after he won the Vanier Cup, it was announced that Connellan's contract would not be renewed. As Connellan said goodbye, the coveted trophy sat on a table nearby.

"It's a classless act by the University of Calgary," said then-quarterback Jason Assen, one of the more outspoken Dinos at the time of Connellan's departure. "He's done nothing but win for this university."

If Peter Connellan put together a career like that at USC or Ohio State, he would have gone down in history with such luminaries as Bear Bryant or Knute Rockne. He would have had streets named after him and holidays declared in his honour. But this being western Canada, he was unceremoniously dismissed only days after reaching the pinnacle of his sport.

In then-Athletic Director Dr. Bob Corran's defence, Connellan had agreed several years before to retire following the 1995 season. Still, you'd think the athletic department might have reconsidered following a national championship.

Last week, the Dinos announced that Connellan would be returning to the Dinos football program as the offensive coordinator under Head Coach Tony Fasano. Oddly enough, Fasano was Connellan's defensive coordinator for ten seasons before being hired to replace the departing master. With Connellan commanding the offence and newly hired John Stevens handling special teams, the defence will be left in Fasano's hands.

Although Connellan said at the time that he was "bitterly disappointed not to have the opportunity to continue as head football coach of at the U of C," he now admits that there are "no lingering feelings" of disdain toward the university.

Since 1995, Connellan remained loosely connected to football, while living out the typical existence of a retired coach.

"I did what retired people do," he admits. "I golfed, I went to the lake. I did a little bit of football. I did pro camps; I did some two-a-days with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I helped a bit with high schools, and I worked with the university team, doing some spring camps."

As an offensive expert, Connellan was recently called upon by Fasano to work with the Dinos' young quarterbacks. This is what led to Connellan accepting a greater role with the team. When Connellan took the opportunity to help the pivots, he wasn't expecting anything more to come of it.

"When [defensive coordinator Dave Johnson] left, they were looking at various combinations of coaches," he explains. "They asked if I would consider working with the offence."

"Pete had worked with us in the past," Fasano points out. "He had been working with the quarterbacks since late January. We had several discussions with him about whether or not he was interested in coming back. We felt that he's still got passion and love for the game, and he still likes working with student athletes. Because of these things, I felt it was the right decision."

Connellan doesn't expect any difficulties in returning to the Dinos organization. Considering the team is being coached by his own protege, it makes sense that he'd be comfortable in the situation.

"In general terms, they're doing the same things they were before," he explains. "The situation is about the same, I haven't found any surprises that way. I've always enjoyed coaching university athletes--that's one of the attractions of coaching at this level."

As for working with Fasano, Connellan reserves his excitement, but sounds optimistic.

"I don't think there'll be any problems at all," he states. "Our jobs will be left up to each other. We'll each be busy looking after our own side of the ball. There won't be any difficulties."

Fasano is clearly looking forward to Connellan's return, likely hoping it will bolster an offence that has been lacking creativity and originality over the last few years, and which will be led by an inexperienced quarterback, whoever that may be.

"He knows the game of football very well," Fasano says. "The offensive side has been his strength. I have a deep respect for his attention to detail and the things he can bring. It'll be a good fit."

While Connellan is careful not to utter the "V-word" so early in his new career, Fasano is quick to mention his expectations for the new relationship.

"I know him well and he knows me well," says Fasano. "He gives us a chance to get to the Vanier Cup. We have the same goals in mind, but a lot of people play a part in that."

It remains to be seen whether or not Connellan can lift Fasano's team to the glorious heights of the '80s and '90s. At the age of 65, he has nothing to prove, but as offensive coordinator, he has nothing to lose either