In 1965, Wilfrid Laurier University took a chance on David (Tuffy) Knight.
Knight, an Ohio native, was hardly a household name when at age 29 he became Laurier’s head football coach. But he patrolled the Hawks’ sidelines until 1983 and led the school to three Yates Cup titles before leaving to join the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.
This week, Laurier rolled the dice again by hiring Michael Faulds to head up a football program that posted a 3-5 record last season and averaged just 13.6 points per game. Faulds is not only a rookie head coach but the youngest in the CIS at age 29.
Faulds, who has spent the last three seasons as York’s offensive co-ordinator, was among 30 candidates who applied to replace long-time coach Gary Jeffries, who resigned in November. But Peter Baxter, Laurier’s director of athletics & recreation, said Faulds stood out immediately.
“Well, there’s one thing about youth and particularly now it (CIS football) is a high-energy game,” Baxter said during a recent telephone interview. “Student-athletes change over time and Michael can really relate to this generation.
“He has a lot of experience football-wise, he’s very mature in football years. A legendary coach by the name of David (Tuffy) Knight was hired when he was 29 years old and he built a legendary career out of it. Michael has those qualities and knows exactly how to build his own legacy at Laurier.”
Faulds has some big shoes to fill as Knight not only three times received the Frank Tindall Trophy as coach of the year but in ’07 was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. He returned to coaching in ’88 with cross-town rival Waterloo, leading the Warriors to the ’97 Yates Cup before retiring as the CIS’s winningest football coach with 153 career wins.
To his credit Faulds doesn’t shy away from discussing his age. His self-confidence is clearly evident, but it’s not overpowering and falls well short of being perceived as over-confident. And Faulds willingly admits he’s a football junkie.
“My work ethic is second to none and my knowledge of the game suits where the game of football is right now,” Faulds said. “In terms of the professional development . . . I’ve lived the life of a 50-year-old coach within my 29 years, I’ve just compressed everything in there and it’s been, really, the only part of my life in that time.
“I was recently asked, ‘What are your other interests?’ Well, I don’t have any. This is what I do. My wife hates it but when I go home and there’s a football game on . . . that game is on to. It’s just my life.
“Obviously there’s pressure to win at a school like Laurier that has a history of winning. But I would also say no one puts more pressure on me than the pressure I put on myself. I was the same way as a player, I have that mentality I can always do more, I can always get better. If I can look myself in the mirror and feel OK about what I’ve done, no critic is going to make me feel bad.”
There’s no questioning the legacy Faulds created during his stellar CIS career. The six-foot-two, 197-pound native of Eden Mills, Ont., was a standout quarterback at Western, passing for a Canadian university record 10,811 career yards.
Faulds led Western to Yates Cup wins in 2007 and ’08 — being named game MVP both times — and threw for a record 3,033 yards in ’09 when he was the OUA’s top player.
He joined the CIS coaching ranks in July 2010 when he was named York’s offensive co-ordinator. The late appointment gave Faulds no chance to recruit and the Lions went 0-8 that season.
While York’s record improved marginally over the next two seasons —1-7 in 2011 and 2-8 last year — Faulds’ no-huddle offence took off. After finishing ranked 26th overall in yards per game in 2010, the Lions were seventh nationally last year (434.1).
Faulds will implement a similar gameplan at Laurier, where he will also be the offensive co-ordinator and call offensive plays.
“We’re going to be a high-tempo offence,” he said. “We have to be balanced in terms of run and pass but we’re going to be exciting and get a lot of players in and out of the game.”
But Faulds admits he has a big job ahead of him.
“We were 3-5 last year, there is work to be done,” he said. “But guys who love football, are never late for anything, work hard and compete are going to get along with me very well whether they’re offensive or defensive guys.”
And unlike his first season at York, Faulds will have time to begin rebuilding Laurier’s program.
“We have seven months to put together a system, assemble our staff and do things exactly the way we want,” he said. “In a coach’s mind it’s never enough time, there aren’t enough hours in a day and I never leave here thinking I’ve done enough.
“But it is January and you just have to keep plugging away one task at a time.”
The 2013 season will have plenty of memorable dates for Faulds. He’ll make his head-coaching debut Aug. 25 at Guelph (where he served as a ballboy) then travel to York two weeks later. And on Sept. 21, the Hawks host Western.
“My first game as a head coach will be huge and having it in my home town will make it more special,” Faulds said. “Playing at York will also be real special and then having (Mustangs head coach) Greg Marshall and the guys from Western here Sept. 21 is also pretty meaningful.
“But we’ll need every single win we can get because each week is so important when you only play eight games.”
Given his age and background as an offensive player and coach, it’s not surprising Faulds has drawn comparisons to McMaster coach Stefan Ptasek. Ptasek is a former Hawks’ receiver who later served as the school’s offensive co-ordinator from 2003-’05, capping his Laurier coaching career with a Vanier Cup title before becoming McMaster’s head coach.
Ptasek earned a second CIS crown in 2011 by leading McMaster to its first Vanier Cup title. Ptasek was named the OUA and Canadian university football’s top coach in ’12 as McMaster returned to the Vanier Cup before losing in a rematch to Laval.
“I respect Stefan Ptasek greatly,” Faulds said. “I know what type of coach he is, how organized he is, how dedicated he is, how badly he really wants to win and how much of a competitor he is.
“To be compared to him is a great honour because I know what he means here. At the same time, I don’t feel I have to be Stef Ptasek, I don’t have to be Greg Jeffries or Greg Marshall. I can put my own stamp on me as a head coach and I think I will over time.”