In the days before the NBA’s Raptors and MLB’s Blue Jays, Leo Cahill helped the Toronto Argonauts reign supreme among Canadian sports fans.
He battled for the spotlight with the NHL’s Maple Leafs by winning and luring top-tier talent to the Argos and the Canadian Football League from the late 1960s through the 80s.
On Thursday at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta, Cahill died at 89, his daughter Christy Aldridge confirmed to the AJC. A legendary figure in the world of Canadian football, he had lived in Sandy Springs for the past five years, she said.
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Cahill was born in Utica, Illinois and went on to play football for the University of Illinois. He played in the 1947 Rose Bowl and then served in the U.S. Army, according to the Associated Press.
A veteran of the Korean War, Cahill pursued a career in football coaching after his honorable discharge. As an assistant, he made stops at his alma mater, South Carolina and Toledo before getting a job in the CFL with the Montreal Alouettes.
Nicknamed “Leo The Lip” for being talkative and colorful, he was hired as Toronto’s head coach in 1967. For the next eight years, the team led the CFL in attendance.
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"In the long and colorful history of the Canadian Football League, few have left as lasting an impression, or added as much color, as Leo Cahill. He was truly one of a kind," CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement. "His shoot from the hip style helped to keep fans coming back for more. His showmanship, however, may have led some to overlook his deep knowledge of the game. He had a keen eye for football talent and an ability to knit diverse and sometimes equally flamboyant personalities into a winning team."
Cahill was a successful coach, but made a name for himself as a great recruiter. He landed Jim Corrigal, a second round NFL draft pick and defensive end from Kent State in 1970. Corrigal played 11 seasons in Toronto and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
The following offseason, Cahill signed Notre Dame All-American quarterback Joe Theismann, Outland Trophy winner Jim Sillwagon, and future NFL players Leon McQuay and Tim Anderson. The Argonauts competed in the Grey Cup that year, the CFL’s version of the Super Bowl. Theismann would go on to win a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins.
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In 1974, Cahill helped start up the World Football League by luring Miami Dolphins’ stars Jim Kiick, Larry Csonka and Paul Warfield to the Toronto Northmen. The team moved to Memphis and were renamed the Southmen after the Canadian government threatened to ban the league from taking root there. The Southmen had a league-best 17-3 record in 1974, but the WFL folded before the end of its second season.
Cahill returned to coach the Argos in 1977, and was then their general manager from 1986 to 1988.
He also worked as a broadcaster on Argonauts games and was named the team’s “goodwill ambassador” in 2004. Cahill was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.
He is survived by five children, Steve, Lisa, Terry, Bettye and Christy.
“He enjoyed daily walks and was a stickler for lifting weights each morning. He looked forward to Sunday dinners with family,” Christy Aldridge said. “He was absolutley one of a kind. He will be missed beyond measure.”
Toronto Sun sports columnist Steve Simmons wrote: "There was no one on the Toronto sports landscape quite like Leo Cahill, not before him, not after him. Not ever."
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