The rise and fall of Jeffries’ Hawks
A staff strike at Laurier forces head coach Rick Zmich to join the picket line, Jeffries takes over as interim head coach midway through the season. Star QB Ryan Pyear goes down with a knee injury. Laurier stumbles to a 1-7 record.
Jan. 2003: Zmich steps down. Rick Zmich resigns after 12 seasons, Jeffries appointed interim head coach. Apr. 2003: Jeffries gets the job and is officially hired as head coach. In Jeffries’ first season as head coach, the Golden Hawks finish the regular season 6-1-1 before losing to McMaster in the Yates Cup. Jeffries is named OUA and CIS coach of the year. Nov.-Dec. 2003: In late November, football players Sephen Ryan McGuffin and Jeff Melis are arrested and charged with assault after Jeff Smith, a UW student is found beaten and sent into a coma. Weeks later, star running back Derek Medler is charged in connection with a shooting at the same time it is revealed that he tested positive for cocaine. Medler is later charged with forcible confinement and several firearm-related charges.
Pyear leads the Hawks to an undefeated regular season before winning WLU’s first Yates Cup since 1991. They would go on to lose to Laval in the national semi-final. Jeffries wins second-straight OUA coach of the year award.
Jeffries guides a veteran squad to an undefeated regular season and a second-straight Yates Cup. The perfect season culminates with Laurier’s second Vanier Cup in school history — the previous title coming in 1991 — in a dramatic 24-23 win over the Saskatchewan Huskies, a game won on a last-second field goal. Jeffries wins a third-straight OUA coach of the year award.
Feb. 2006: Just two months removed from his Vanier Cup win, former quarterback Ryan Pyear is appointed offensive coordinator at just 23-years-old. Having lost the majority of the core of the Vanier-Cup team from 2005, the Hawks post a surprising 6-2 regular season, beating Western in the OUA semis before losing to Ottawa in the OUA final.
Laurier posts a 7-1 season, riding one of the nation’s best defences and a surprisingly solid season from new starting quarterback Ian Noble. The team looks primed for a third-straight Yates Cup berth, but in the OUA semi-final, the Guelph Gryphons overcome a 24-point deficit to shock the Hawks 38-31. According to then-Guelph QB Justin Dunk, Jeffries came onto the Gryphons’ bus to congratulate them following the game.
Laurier’s defence remains one of the best in the country, but a two-QB system between Noble and Luke Thompson proves largely ineffective. The Hawks go 6-2 in the regular season, but a comeback attempt in the OUA semi-final versus Western falls short.
Thompson takes over as the starting QB, but goes down to a season-ending knee injury early in the year. The Hawks suffer several other key injuries, but still finish 6-2, losing to Western in the OUA semi-final for the second-straight year. Jeffries earns his fourth OUA coach of the year award.
Summer 2010: A steroid scandal rocks the University of Waterloo and the football program is shut down for the year. The team’s veteran players leave UW. Seven arrive at Laurier, six of which go on to start for the Hawks. Pre-season 2010: Bolstered by the new additions from the UW and the acquisition of American QB Shane Kelly— who played three seasons in the NCAA — many are talking about Laurier as a shoo-in for the Yates Cup. Pre-season 2010: After an 0-2 start – which included a 46-1 loss to Western – the once-vaunted Hawks ride a rollercoaster season to a 4-4 record, before losing 32-31 to Ottawa in the OUA semi-final. Along the way, Laurier is forced to forfeit a win over Toronto due to the use of an ineligible player.
Looking to rebound from a disappointing season, Kelly puts up some of the best offensive numbers in the CIS, however, the Hawks seem unable to put it all together and finish an underwhelming regular season with a 4-4 record. They would go on to lose to Queen’s in the OUA quarterfinal, marking their earliest playoff exit with Jeffries as head coach. Off-season 2011/12: Rumours circulate that Jeffries is contemplating retirement. The Hawks are looking to replace several departures with the largest recruiting class in school history. In late August, QB Travis Eman is brought in from South Carolina’s Furman University and Jeffries takes a young team into what would turn out to be his final season
The 2012 season proves to be one of the worst in recent Golden Hawk memory. Starting with a 19-0 loss to Toronto, the team struggles to a 3-5 record, backing into the playoffs. Both Eman and fourth-year Steve Fantham struggle at quarterback — playing behind a painfully inexperienced offensive line —, the running game never takes off and the offence finishes as the worst in the OUA, not scoring a touchdown in the entire month of October. Nov. 1, 2012: Jeffries officially announces he’s stepping down as head coach. Speculation continues to swirl that he was forced into the decision, however Jeffries maintains that he’s retiring because “it’s time.”
Gary Jeffries @ WLU
• 1970-71 all-star defensive back
• 1972-84 assistant football coach and director of recreation
• 1984-88 women’s basketball head coach
• 1989-96 men’s basketball head coach
• 1994-02 defensive coordinator for football team
• 2003-12 head coach
Record as head coach: 69 – 31*
Two Yates Cups, One Vanier Cup
Four-time OUA coach of the year, One CIS
*includes regular season and playoffs