CFL Legend Frank Clair passes
Professor dead at 87 - Legendary Clair led Riders
Longtime Ottawa Rough Riders coach and GM Frank Clair was credited with turning around the sorry franchise in the 1950s. Clair, who led the Riders to five Grey Cups during his tenure, died yesterday of heart failure at the age of 87. Legendary Rough Riders coach & GM died at his home in Florida.
The CFL icon know as "The Professor" was remembered by friends and colleagues yesterday, including former Rough Rider player and coach George Brancato.
Clair brought Brancato to Ottawa from the Montreal Alouettes in 1957 and played with the Riders for seven years.
"ASTUTE FOOTBALL MAN"
"He was a sharp and astute football man and that was the key," Brancato said yesterday. "He knew the type of problems coaches had."
Brancato was coach of the Rough Riders in 1976 when he led Ottawa to its last Grey Cup win -- a 23-20 triumph over Saskatchewan. He last saw Clair two years ago when he stopped by his home in Sarasota, Fla.
"He'd had a minor car accident about three years before that and hurt his back. He couldn't play golf anymore. He wasn't too happy about that."
As coach, Clair secured Grey Cup wins for Ottawa in 1960, '68 and '69 -- when he was also honoured as coach of the year.
He was GM of the team for two more Grey Cup wins in 1973 and '76 and amassed an incredible 174-125-7 regular-season record as a coach.
Clair was often compared to former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry. In 1989, former Sun sports editor Jane O'Hara met the legendary Clair for the first time. She described him as a no-nonsense, to-the-point, type of gentleman who was short on smiles, but always seen coaching his team wearing a snap-brim fedora and standing poker-faced and erect on the sidelines.
Clair arrived in Ottawa in 1956 to take over a beleaguered Rough Rider club. He came up the highway from Toronto, where he led the Argos to two Grey Cup victories in 1950 and '52.
"I remember coming in there and things were a sorry mess," Clair said in the late '80s. "Ottawa was really a challenge. The executives there were in a position where they really didn't know what was going on. The money was kind of low, too."
Although Clair had many prosperous years on the field and as part of Rough Riders management, it eventually soured when he left the club in 1978.
Clair once told the Sun that after the Rough Riders won their last Grey Cup in 1976, he had been disappointed with the team, saying it had suffered from bad trades, poor recruiting and too many personnel changes.
In 1995, the Rough Riders were no more, but seven years later the Ottawa CFL franchise, reincarnated as the Renegades, took to the field.
"His name is synonymous with football and sports in the national capital and the Renegades are honoured to play in the stadium named after him," said Renegades spokesman Arash Madani.
Often regarded as one of the greatest coaches in Canadian professional football, Clair was also often fondly referred to as the absent-minded professor.
Although the "absent-minded" monicker took root mainly because Clair would sometimes forget his players' names or fail to recall he'd traded them, when it came to the game itself, his brain seemed mapped for football.
"I always coached scared. I always thought that if I didn't win I wouldn't have a job," Clair told the Sun in 1989. "Maybe I should have relaxed a bit. But I always felt that you had to work hard to do your best."
Back when the Rough Riders enjoyed much success under his helm, the stadium still didn't have a name. Clair once joked: "Why not name it after me."
One August night in 1993, they did.
Clair is survived by his wife, Pat, and daughter, Robin.
It's 106 miles to Chicago, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses - Elwood Blues