On January 5, the Varsity Blues football program announced the appointment of their 27th head coach, Darrell Adams. 

In what is currently a transformative period for the Blues, Adams brings a multitude of experience and a successful track record in team development and leadership. His proven history in rebuilding and bringing programs to playoff success looks like a positive step in the trajectory of the Varsity Blues football program. 

From player to coach

Originally from Long Island, New York, Adams attended and played football at Villanova University, where he was a three-time captain and first-team All-Conference player. After graduating from Villanova, he briefly played for the New York Jets in 2006 before moving to Canada in 2007. He signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as a defensive tackle and played for three years. 

Before his retirement in 2010, Adams reached out to the Ti-Cats in need of employment. Luckily enough, he had just obtained his strength and conditioning coaching certification. As a result, the Ti-Cats hired him as an assistant coach and player mentor — specifically, helping players make the transition from American football to Canadian football. 

“After coaching the Tiger-Cats for two years and really seeing the nuances of the game, [and] learning how I could do more as a coach and as a player, I really fell in love with the coaching,” Adams said in an interview with The Varsity

From 2013–2016, Adams worked as the defensive line coach and strength and conditioning coordinator with the Carleton University Ravens, leading them to the playoffs after a 15-year hiatus. 

Following his time at Carleton, Adams worked with the Waterloo Warriors in 2016, serving as their associate head coach, defensive coordinator, and recruiting coordinator. With his help, not only did the team secure a playoff spot in four out of five seasons, but he also led them to their first playoff win in 18 years. 

Coaching philosophy: Relationships come first 

When discussing his coaching philosophy, Adams spoke about how crucial it is to build relationships. Reflecting on his high school and university playing career, Adams expresses how he met like-minded players and coaches who communicated well and trusted one another. As a result of these bonds, Adams saw each player become the best version of themselves.

“Student-athletes do not care [about] what you know until they know that you care,” Adams explained when asked about applying these lessons as a head coach. “[And] the only way they know that you care is if you’re accessible [to them].” With this mindset, Adams has an “open-door policy” where he can get to know his players beyond the football field — understand what drives them, their morals, and what they need from him as a leader. 

“I can’t ask my players to run through a wall for me if they don’t know I’ll run through a wall for them,” Adams exclaimed. He coaches his athletes based on mutual respect, love, and by truly counselling them in times of need. 

A holistic approach to student-athlete recruitment

For recruitment, Adams does look for players who are qualified academically, athletically, and financially for U of T, but also stresses the importance of getting to know two other aspects of each potential recruit: their love for football and their background. 

For Adams, having players on the team who have a true affinity for football — not just viewing it as a hobby — is crucial. Furthermore, a student-athlete who is committed to themselves on the field but also in the classroom is key, as they both go hand-in-hand. Additionally, he says getting to know his potential players’ personal background and upbringing is important. 

“Can you identify cover three? Can you identify what the smash concept is? I am going to teach the student-athlete all [these tactics],” Adams said. Compared to the personal details of his players, their football knowledge isn’t as important. “What I need to know is how am I going to help this kid become the best student-athlete possible. I cannot know that until I know where he comes from,” he added. 

Creating a championship program

In meetings he conducted with all 83 players of the 2023 season, Adams asked each player what they needed and what they believed was missing within the team. From here, he identified crucial attributes for success in the team: adopting a championship mentality by giving the team dedication, establishing cultural values of love, discipline and accountability, and lastly, the expectation of each of his players to conduct themselves as kind and respectful men. 

“All of [these] elements are things that I am bringing to the table to get this program — not just the team — back to a championship level,” Adams said. He also stresses the importance of setting standards and accountability for his players. Adams strives for the team’s upperclassmen to be mentors for freshman players, establishing a mentality that is ingrained within each player in the program now and in the future. 

Overall there are four major pillars for the program Adams wants to institute. Firstly, he wants everyone on the team to graduate. Secondly, he wants his team to create relationships and find hobbies outside of football. Thirdly, he wants everyone to apply the tools and lessons they learn in the program, outside football — a necessity to succeed. Lastly, Adams wants to bring championships to U of T. 

With Adams as head coach, the Blues football program will certainly undergo significant changes and growth in rebuilding and team development as they commit to success on and off the field.