Long road for former Terps QB Scott Milanovich leads to head coaching job with Toronto Argonauts

It never would have occurred to Jim Barker that on the day he began coaching in a league meant to combine the antics of professional wrestling with football, he would meet a man he'd later hire as his own replacement.

It was about 9:30 p.m., and Barker had just finished one of his first meetings as offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Xtreme of the XFL, a league started by World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon.


Barker walked out of the meeting room and was immediately greeted by Scott Milanovich, a former Maryland star, and Tommy Maddox. The two quarterbacks had some questions for Barker.

The Xtreme had their first day of minicamp early the next morning, but Milanovich and Maddox wanted to talk protection schemes.


"It was about 3 in the morning by the time we finally got out of there talking about nothing but protections," Barker said. "It was at that point that I kind of knew Scott was more than just a player. He was a guy that was interested in the whole deal, and that really impressed me."

So when Barker stepped down as coach of the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League to become the club's general manager at the end of the 2011 season, he only had one candidate in mind.

Milanovich was his man.

When making his decision on the Argonauts' new coach, Barker couldn't help but think back to that meeting in Los Angeles.

"To sit there and talk about protections for four or five hours — nobody does that," Barker said. "And it was an intense four or five hours, just the three of us, and I had a sense about Scott that coaching was going to be his path."

Always a student

Milanovich was 7 years old when he first ambled into a video room and saw his father, Gary, a former assistant football coach at Butler (Pa.) High, breaking down film. Scott had yet to play an organized football game, but he took an immediate interest in analyzing tape with his dad. The game already fascinated him.

"He spent a lot of time as a young kid watching film that didn't involve him, stuff that I was watching for the teams I was coaching," Gary said.

Interest in the schematics of the game stuck with Scott even as he reached the highest levels of professional football. He never lost the curiosity surrounding a game plan that he discovered as a kid, even when he started smashing records at Maryland.

Milanovich still holds almost every major statistical record for Maryland quarterbacks — and he graduated almost 20 years ago — but it wasn't because he was exceptionally talented.

It was because he had already started looking at the game from a coach's perspective.

"When you're not talented, you kind of have to be good at some of the other things," Milanovich said. "I think that was probably as big a reason as any that I found the coaching side of the game interesting."


Mark Duffner, Milanovich's coach at Maryland, added: "We had a pretty wide-open, spread attack and he was able to operate at a very productive level in that offense. You have to be sharp and you have to be aware to be able to do that."

The Terps went 12-21 in Milanovich's three seasons as a starter, even though a quarterback who was rapidly rewriting Maryland's record books was leading the offense. Milanovich threw for almost 3,500 yards his sophomore year, and still is the Terps' career leader in completions, yards, completion percentage and touchdowns.

After graduating from Maryland in 1995 and going undrafted in the 1996 NFL Draft — his stock partially hurt by a four-game suspension for betting on six college basketball and football games not involving the Terps — Milanovich signed on as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He saw action in one game his rookie year, and then didn't see the field again until after his release in 1999.

Bouncing around

As soon as his stint in the NFL was over, Milanovich started to prepare himself for coaching while bouncing around almost every conceivable professional football league. He kept playing to offset unpaid coaching jobs, but also to soak up lessons from across the globe. The learning never stopped, no matter what continent or country he happened to be in.

Milanovich had stops in Berlin (NFL Europe), Los Angeles (XFL), Florida (Arena Football) and Calgary (CFL). In Los Angeles, the Xtreme used the first overall pick in the initial — and it turns out, only — XFL draft in 2001 on Milanovich, who attempted just nine passes for the organization.

Milanovich's role expanded to include coming into the office during coach's hours to learn from Barker and the rest of the staff as he watched Maddox become the XFL's top star. Maddox, a first-round pick of the Denver Broncos in 1992, eventually won the 2001 XFL MVP and the 2002 NFL Comeback Player of the Year with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In 2003, Barker — then the coach of the Stampeders — brought Milanovich to Calgary as a player-coach, a hybrid position that prepared him for his first full-time coaching stop in NFL Europe as the quarterbacks coach for the Rhein Fire in Dusseldorf, Germany.

"The NFL was more concerned about developing the players than they were with who won or lost," Milanovich said. "I was able to go be a coordinator and make a lot of mistakes without necessarily having the pressure of your job on the line."

He spent the next two seasons in NFL Europe before moving back to the CFL to join the staff of the Montreal Alouettes, where he became quarterbacks coach in 2007. The Alouettes promoted him to offensive coordinator the following year, when he directed an offense that was consistently one of the best in the league. The team won back-to-back Grey Cups — the championship of the CFL — in 2009 and 2010.

Success was following Milanovich, and teams were starting to take notice.

Opportunity in Toronto

Barker was the coach in Toronto, but he knew he didn't want to keep that role for much longer. Still, he wouldn't have stepped down for just anybody — he was waiting for Milanovich.

"Scott was a guy I had targeted that I thought could be a great young head coach that philosophically was on the same page as me, that had a presence about him, and that would be a great leader," Barker said. "I was afraid if I was going to stay and coach another year, we would have lost him to another team, and that was not right for our organization."

So in December 2011 — 10 years after that meeting in Los Angeles — Barker introduced the 39-year old Milanovich as the franchise's 42nd head coach.

The Argonauts (1-2) won their first game of Milanovich's tenure on a last-second field goal July 7. Leashes for coaches in the CFL are not long — half the coaches in the eight-team league turned over after last season.

But Milanovich sticks to a piece of advice that Mike Shula — the Baltimore-born son of former Colts coach Don Shula, who was Scott's offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay — gave him long ago: too many coaches worry about their next job. Take care of the one you have.


Barker walks by Milanovich's office sometimes in the morning. His old quarterback is already sitting down, looking up at his screen. It's no longer the whir of the video machine that comes with analyzing film, but the heat of equipment that has already been running for several hours. The machines presenting the video may be different, but the figure sitting next to them is not.

At the end of the day, there is always something new to learn.


Scott Milanovich

Age: 39

College: Maryland, 1992-96

Professional player career:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1996-99

Berlin Thunder (NFL Europe), 2000

Los Angeles Xtreme (XFL), 2001

Tampa Bay Storm (Arena Football League), 2002

Player/coach for the Calgary Stampeders (CFL), 2003

Professional coaching career:

Player/coach for the Calgary Stampeders (CFL), 2003

Rhein Fire (NFL Europe), 2003-05

Quarterbacks coach in 2003 and 2004

Offensive Coordinator in 2005

Cologne Centurions (NFL Europe), 2006

Offensive Coordinator

Montreal Alouettes, 2007-11

Quarterbacks coach 2007

Offensive Coordinator 2008

Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator, 2009-11

Toronto Argonauts, 2012-present

Head Coach

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