May 31, 2024

Surya a perfect fit with Bombers for Diversity In Football Program

Mark Surya is a strong believer in things happening in the right place at the right time.

At any point in his 10-year coaching career, he would have loved to have taken part in something like the Diversity In Football Program presented by Securian Canada.

That it came this year, as he heads into his first season as the head coach of the Guelph Gryphons — and to get to go to Winnipeg to work with the Blue Bombers — is about as perfect as it could get for him.

“Even though I’ve been coaching for 10 years now, I’ve only been a head coach for five months and there’s no manual that you can go to to say, ‘Hey, these are some of the things that you need to think about,'” Surya said.

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Surya came to the Bombers at the perfect time in his career, via the Diversity In Football Program (

Surya happily accepted the Bombers’ invitation to come to camp, if for nothing else to study up on how one of the league’s top coaches goes about the start of his season.

“I’m sure whatever time I spent there, I helped out a little bit, but I got so much more back in terms of just small things you don’t even think about,” he said. “How to build the culture within the team; who’s in the building? How do you communicate? How do those things happen? Just to see how (O’Shea has) been able to build a championship culture was so rewarding.

“Everybody in that building is A-plus in terms of giving their time and the type of people they are and how open they were to sharing how they operate, how they do things. So I’m really, really lucky.”

Surya spent the last five seasons as the Guelph Gryphons’ offensive coordinator, working under then-head coach Ryan Sheahan. When Sheahan made the move to the Calgary Dinos in December, Surya was quickly named head coach.

“It was a complete surprise,” Surya said.

“The department here made a decision to appoint me the full time head coach the next day. It wasn’t an interim basis, it wasn’t a situation where we had to go to market or those things. They trusted me to build a staff in the next few months to basically continue the recruiting class, all these different things. I was lucky because I’d been here five years prior to this change and role, so I knew who the alumni were, I knew who the key figures were, I could start to build the team with my own stamp on it.”

It was great, career-altering news, but the new role came with exposure to stuff Surya had never done before.

“It was brand new for me. I was in charge of the offence, previously. Now that you’re looking at the whole thing, it’s, ‘How do I learn from somebody who’s really, really good at it?’ That’s where this program has given me that opportunity,” he said.

“Selfishly, it’s helped speed up some of those mistakes I would have made early in my career, if I didn’t have a chance to talk to coach O’Shea, or to (Bombers’ general manager) Kyle Walters. It just gives me a great sounding board to bounce these ideas off of and to talk about leadership.”

On the Bombers’ side, Surya’s participation made all of the sense in the world. Walters played at Guelph and served as the Gryphons’ head coach from 2006-2009, before joining the Bombers as their special teams coordinator in 2010. O’Shea is also a Gryphons alumnus, having played at Guelph before embarking on his Canadian Football Hall of Fame playing career. It only makes sense that the duo would want to help the program’s newest head coach get out to the strongest start that he could in 2024.

Surya got firsthand experience in culture building during his stay with the Bombers in training camp (

When O’Shea saw Surya’s name in the pool of candidates, he reached out to him to see if he wanted to join the Bombers’ camp.

With responsibilities to the Gryphons’ program and with a 13-month-old daughter at home, Surya was up front about having a small window to spend time in Winnipeg. O’Shea worked around it all to get Surya there.

“Even from Day 1 when I got there, we sat down and he said, ‘Why don’t you come to the team meeting and see how we do things? This is what my plan is, this is how I want to communicate to the team.’ It was awesome,” Surya said. “Once he asked me I kind of had to take it up.”

The remaining weeks of his first off-season as the Gryphons’ head coach will fly by and the team will be sweating it out in training camp before he knows it. There will be incoming recruits, a new coaching staff and 11 new support staff coming together. Watching a similar process in Winnipeg this month, that all feels less daunting now.

“My one takeaway from Winnipeg is (thinking about) how can we build the culture of team with anybody that’s new, so that everybody emits the values that we’re trying to build collectively,” Surya said. “Even though coach O’Shea is the head coach of the team, he’s built their value system with others in the building.”

He was blown away by the cohesiveness of everyone in the Bombers’ organization, be it president Wade Miller, Walters, O’Shea, down to the offensive and defensive players and on and on.

“It’s not just the players who show up, but anybody that’s brand new, like I was with Winnipeg. They have to understand what our value system is and how everybody can be a part of that same idea of team,” he said.

Timing was everything for Surya on his stay with the Bombers and with the Diversity In Football Program opening up to him.

“I just can’t speak highly enough for the program,” he said.

“It’s not like a checkmark type of program, where we’re just giving people opportunities great, go and you’re good. They’re really following up and everybody cares about this initiative. I think CFL’s a leader in some of those places. They’re really living their values. They’re invested in the program, and I felt that as a participant.”

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