February 26, 2022

Alfieri: Reinebold brings big play ability to Als

Thomas Skrlj/CFL.ca

New Montreal Alouettes special teams coordinator Jeff Reinebold has seemingly been coaching football forever. Of course, that isn’t the case, but he’s made stops all over Canada, the United States and even Europe since his career on the sidelines began in 1981 at Western Montana College.

Reinebold, who was born in South Bend, IN., grew up in a coaching environment because his father, Jim, was involved in minor-league baseball for more than 30 years. Jim mainly served as a roving minor-league instructor. He would work one-on-one with prospects, follow them throughout their journey in the minor leagues and basically serve as an on-field tutor.

During his time in the Chicago Cubs’ organization, Jim helped develop many young players, including former first overall draft pick Shawon Dunston, who went on to have an 18-year career in the majors.

“He would travel through the organization and basically be like a tutor, I guess is how you would describe it, and work with kids when they wanted to improve certain aspects of their game,” Jeff said from his off-season home in Hawaii.

“My father was the best teaching coach I’ve ever been around. He could break a skill down and teach it to a player in an incredibly simple yet precise way. It was amazing to watch him work.”

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Reinebold, seen here with the Ticats in a 2019 game, found success with a number of Hamilton players on special teams, getting eight of them into the end zone in his time as special teams coordinator (Shannon Vizniowski/CFL.ca)

Jim’s work forced the family to move all over the United States. It wasn’t until the early 1980s when Jeff landed in Hawaii for the first time that he felt like he had found a place he could call home.

Much like his father, Jeff has found a way to make an impact in the lives of many young men he’s crossed during his coaching career.

The 64-year-old began coaching in the CFL in 1991 with the BC Lions. As is always the case with Reinebold, there’s a funny story behind his first CFL job.

Former Lions’ general manager Bob O’Billovich was looking for a receivers coach who could also be the special teams coordinator. Even though he had never coached special teams before, Reinebold told O’Billovich he was fully qualified for the position. When the Lions’ GM asked him to come up to Vancouver for an interview, he agreed but began to panic immediately.

Reinebold picked up the phone, called one of his mentors, Dick Vermeil, who will be enshrined in the pro football hall of fame this year, and explained the predicament he was in. Vermeil helped “tutor” him on all things special teams leading up to the interview, and he ended up getting the job.

He also admitted that coaching really good players has also helped deepen his understanding of that phase of the game.

“You can imagine how cool it would be to be a special teams coach and the first guy that you get to work with is Lui Passaglia, who is a hall-of-famer. I go to Edmonton and Henry Williams is there and then I go to Winnipeg and Bob Cameron (is there). It’s just been amazing.”

To Reinebold, special teams isn’t just a throwaway phase of football that you can forget about. That side of the ball can often determine whether a team wins or loses, especially in the CFL. He was frustrated to hear San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan say that he doesn’t try to win the game on special teams, instead he only wants to make sure his team doesn’t lose it there.

“You put a little imagination into it, and you realize there are far more ways to score on special teams than there are on offence or defence. It’s an area where, even to this day, it’s kind of like that other phase that you really don’t spend a lot of time on.

“What we try to do is create an environment on the team where the players look at it as every bit as important as offence and defence.”

Reinebold could have his next great return man in Mario Alford, who has had multiple trips to the end zone early in his CFL career (Walter Tychnowicz/CFL.ca)

There’s no denying that the Als special teams unit struggled once kick-returner Mario Alford suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 7 of last season against the Lions.

The team moved on from Mickey Donovan during the off-season and they were able to land Reinebold, who is no stranger to Montreal, as a free agent from Hamilton in January.

This will be his second stint with the Als, as he previously served as the defensive coordinator for the team under Marc Trestman back in 2012.

“I fell in love with that city,” he said of Montreal. “In my mind, it’s the greatest city in North America. It has a passionate fanbase.

“It’s a great city, it has a great football tradition and I think what really excites me is being a part of – we say ‘Light up the Stadium’ – having that vibe in that stadium again. First of all, that’s a hard place to play. Second of all, when it’s really loud in there and it’s full, it’s as good an environment as you’ll have, ever.

“When you fill up Percival Molson Stadium, that’s the best environment in CFL football, in my mind.”

With Alford back, a new coordinator at the helm and the players they have on the roster, the Als should be able to depend on their special teams unit to produce big plays with a little more regularity.

During Reinbold’s time with the Tiger-Cats, he benefitted from having great players like Brandon Banks and Frankie Williams, but he helped eight different returners score touchdowns.

Since 2019, Alford has found a way to bring back three punts for touchdowns in only eight regular season games and he added a kickoff return touchdown during the 2019 East Division Semi-Final against Edmonton. Assuming he stays healthy, the 29-year-old could be in for a big season.

“I’m excited to work with Mario Alford,” Reinebold said. “He’s a home run hitter. Every time that ball is in the air, he has a chance to make an amazing play. We need to get the other guys to buy in and understand that every time they punt it to us, every time they kick it to us, it’s maximum exposure for them. We’re going to make huge, game-changing plays. I’m telling you right now. You can put it on paper. I guarantee it.”

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