June 18, 2012

Moffat: The nomadic life of Jeff Reinebold


Jeff Reinebold is roaring down a highway – only this time, there’s no Harley.

The former ‘born-to-be-wild’ once head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is on his way back to Canada to become the new defensive coordinator for the Montreal Alouettes.

However, his mind is not all there. Reinebold’s daughter is in labour, the arrival of his first grandchild is imminent.

His mind is racing, he needs to talk to an old friend – The Don.

“Don Matthews is the biggest branch of my coaching family tree,” says Reinebold, whose own family roots are a remarkable lesson in destiny and devotion.  

How Reinebold got the job in Montreal might be as much of a fluke as it was fate. In fact, it’s almost similar to the way he climbed the ranks to become a CFL head coach before he turned 40.

 » READ IT: Alouettes defence ready to restore lost hunger
After giving up 52 points in their East Semi-Final loss to Hamilton in 2011, the Als are aiming to restore the hunger they admittedly lacked all year long.

Reinebold admits that football was certainly not the first choice of his parents.

“My ‘Dr. Phil’ diagnosis,” he says. “I’m a coach because of my Dad but I chose football because I wanted my own thing.”

Reinebold denies he is a coaching guru.

“No, there are no gurus. Gurus live in caves and teach yoga.”

The 54-year old has roamed from Europe to Hawaii to Texas before winning the job of re-inventing an Alouette defence that was scorched by Hamilton in the Eastern Semi-Final last November.

But long before even Matthews ever gave him opportunity in three-down football, the scrawny son of a legendary high school baseball coach told his mother he was trying out for his high school football team.

“My mother calls football ‘that stupid game.’ I needed her permission to play so she made a deal with the coach who promised to cut me before I got hurt.”

Reinebold made the team. Defying the odds is a family trait.

Jim Reinebold, Jeff’s father, happened to be at a sports-dinner where Charlie O. Finley, the outlandish owner of the Oakland A’s was also speaking.

The eccentric executive who would pay bonus money for players who grew moustaches and have ace relievers ride to the mound on a donkey could be stubborn as a mule when he played a hunch.

So when the Reinebold family phone rang weeks later, Jim was sure it was a buddy playing a prank. It was actually Charlie O. calling to hire Reinebold.

After 30 years in pro baseball for the Athletics, Cubs, Pirates and Diamondbacks, Jeff’s father is still consulting while trying his best to brush back the ill effects of Parkinson’s disease.

“My Dad can teach unbelievably, but it all came from a one chance speaking engagement.”

Unlike his father, Reinebold the younger is not one to wait for the phone to ring. Truth is, he made the call to Marc Trestman asking about the vacant Als’ defensive coordinator job.

That too was a matter of fluke or fate.

“I ran into (Scott) Milanovich and (Jonathan) Himebauch, at a coaches conference and they asked me if I’d ever consider a return to the CFL,” he said.

Then they slipped him Trestman’s number.

“I have a deep love of the game, the league, the players and the comraderie,” says Reinebold, who admits he’s older and wiser than the flip-flop-wearing sideline head-coaching dude he came off as in Manitoba.

“Then again, I always was a church boy compared to Jerry Glanville (who would leave tickets for Elvis at will call). When you’re that age (Reinebold was a head coach at 39) I never worried about how things were going to be perceived. I enjoy life and people and I always gave honest answers.”

Reinebold was used to being the young upstart.  

Another twist of fate had landed him his first job in the pros on Bob O’Billovich’s Lions staff in 1991.  

He was younger than Kevin Konar, one of his players.  

“Steve Burrato told me ‘listen to the veterans’.”

O’Billovich wanted to hire back Greg Newhouse (a Lions assistant in the 80’s) but he took a job in the WLAF.  

Reinebold was recommended, but required special teams experience.

“I lied…and I got the job. I thought I was the luckiest guy on the planet,” he confesses without regret.  

His father had told him every reason NOT to get into coaching.  

Seemed like emotional piling on after his then father-figure, longtime college and NFL Europe coach Jack Bicknell, had called his gritty senior Maine Bear DB into his office one day to ask what he would do when his playing days were over.

“Over? Football was going to be over? Here was the coach who put his arm around me and sometimes put his foot up my butt telling me I had better look into coaching.”

If mom or dad said no, Jeff was sure to hear yes.

That trait could serve him well. The rest of the CFL says Montreal has a drastic leadership deficit after the axe fell repeatedly on veterans like Anwar Stewart, Eric Wilson, Ramon Guzman and most recently Etienne Boulay and Diamond Ferri.

“Aaron Hunt can fill a lot of vacuums,” counters Reinebold. “That’s the fun thing about football, watching the characters grow and emerge. In Winnipeg an older team needed to get younger.”

“It hurt to get fired. All of us have egos. Mostly you feel for everybody who pushed and struggled with you. Does it sting today? No. I never questioned myself as a coach or this as a career.”

Has Jim Popp assembled the right personnel to overhaul the system?

“We have enough football and we have enough science…we aren’t grocery shopping. We need to find out what they do best. We’re here to serve the players, maximize their talents.”

“I’ve never been so excited for a season,” said Reinebold.   

Football has extended the family, from B.C. to Las Vegas, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Amsterdam, University of Hawaii, SMU to Montreal via the happy family milestone in Indiana.

“Aloha,” he says.  

Perfect word for a football coach. It means peace with strength, mercy with might. Hello and goodbye.