By Scott Taylor/Photos by Jeff Miller
Maybe Jeff Reinebold should have been an assistant coach all along. Heaven knows, he should have always been a TV star.
Remember Jeff Reinebold, the Harley-riding, flop-flop wearing, ear-ring-sporting head coach of the 1997 and 1998 Winnipeg Blue Bombers? Yep, the same Jeff Reinebold who coaches special teams for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and stars on Sky TV in England as the No. 1 NFL analyst. That guy.
Well, it seems that times change for everybody and Coach Reinebold will be the first to admit how much a person’s outlook on life changes when a person reaches a “certain age.”
“I’m 56 now,” he said shortly after getting off the train in Montreal on Wednesday evening. “I just have a completely different outlook. When you’re young and climbing the ladder you worry about all kinds of things, but when you pass 50 and you’ve lived it, you just kind of approach things a lot differently. I know I certainly do.”
Back when he was climbing the ladder, he left the B.C. Lions, where he was the wide receivers and special teams coach, to take the head-coaching job in Winnipeg. He was young, refreshing, funny, open, accessible and brutally honest. He drove a Harley to the stadium, looked like a skateboarder on the sidelines and waxed poetic about why he loved coaching and why he was so awestruck by the game.
But even by his own admission, he was a disaster. OK, to be fair, the Bombers were a disaster. He just happened to be the guy who was hired to take the eventual fall.
Can’t pull any punches here. The Bombers have not won a Grey Cup in 26 years and in an eight or nine team league, you should stub your toe in 26 years and win one trophy. So the fact is, Reinebold was just the guy who had the reins about a third of the way through the drought.
Still, no one understands more clearly why he was not successful.
“T.J. Rubley, what was I thinking?” he once said about his inexperienced, marginally talented quarterback.
“Listen, T.J. was a great young kid but he wasn’t ready to be a starting quarterback in the CFL,” Reinebold said. “If he’d had a chance to be a backup in a good program behind a veteran CFL quarterback, he might have developed, as Drew Willy did in Saskatchewan, but he and we didn’t have that luxury. We decided to take a shot with a young quarterback and for a lot of reasons, it didn’t work.
“The biggest problem we have in football today is that there aren’t enough quality quarterbacks,” he continued. “And let me tell you, I know from experience. There aren’t 32 No. 1 quarterbacks in the NFL and that means there aren’t nine good quarterbacks in the CFL. And if you have a good quarterback and you lose him to injury, you have big trouble.
“We were talking about this the other day. Is the East that much better than the West this season? The answer is no and it will probably even out as the season goes along. We knocked out (Drew) Willy and beat Winnipeg handily. Edmonton is without Mike Reilly. Saskatchewan is without their No. 1 guy (Darian Durant). B.C. just got their QB back and they’re going through a program change out there. And Calgary has some guys out of position on the offensive line because of injuries.
“I learned in Winnipeg a long time ago that if you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t have a hope.”
This week, Reinebold and his Tiger-Cats are in Montreal for a game on Thursday night (6:30 p.m. CDT on TSN). The Ti-Cats are 1-1 while the Alouettes are 1-2. Still, Reinebold has the utmost respect for a Montreal club that beat Calgary 29-11 at Molson Stadium two weeks ago.
“Montreal has a real good club,” said Reinebold bluntly. “We have a lot of respect for them. This is going to be a real good football game.”
It’s also going to be fun for Reinebold. While he loved being the head coach in Winnipeg, he’s still not certain that he’d do it again. He has a good gig working alongside young defensive coordinator Orlando Steinauer (a man he calls, “one of the up-and-coming young coaches in the game) and when the CFL season ends, he heads back to London to wax poetic about the NFL on Sky TV.
“I have a really good life,” he said with a laugh. “I coach here during the season and when we’re I done I go back to London to work for Sky Sports. They have the NFL rights in England and the game is growing so fast in Britain that the NFL now has a 10-year agreement to use the new 62,000-seat stadium being built for Tottenham Hotspurs. I think that one day in the not-too-distant future, the NFL will have a team in London.
“Anyway, I got the gig a few years when I was working at the NFL office in London and Darren Woodson was hired to fly in and do some commentary one weekend. For some reason, Woodson couldn’t make it and my boss asked me if I’d like to do it. Well, I went down to the studio, did it and they liked it and asked me to come back and they’ve kept asking me to come back. I have a different style, I guess. I just analyze these games as if I were sitting on the living couch talking to you.
“I do every game I can from the end of our season to the Super Bowl. I have fun with it.”
So here’s the big question: If he had to do it over again, would he have taken the job as head coach of the Bombers in 1997?
“The lesson I learned in Winnipeg — and I needed to learn a lesson — is that the job was a wake-up call,” he said. “When I took that job, I just wanted a head-coaching job so badly that I probably would have taken any job. I guess I did. But I learned that there are just some jobs out there that maybe you shouldn’t take. That’s why Chris Jones waited so long and was so careful before he took the job in Edmonton. He waited to take a job that gave him a chance to win, to be successful.
“Would I take another head coaching job? Yeah, maybe. But I have a really good situation here. My son Kekoa, whose 20 now, is at radio and TV school (Conestoga College in Kitchener) and he’s spending the summer here working for Ticats TV. And I like what I do. This is a beautiful game. If you could just cut out all the other stuff…”
Reinebold didn’t want to talk about “the other stuff.” At 56, he’s just way too happy to start that conversation.