Ahead of the game

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

One by one, they emerged from their bunkers, perhaps lured by the free lunch, certainly not by the TV lights.

Blue Bomber assistant coaches were trotted out for a few minutes before the curious media Wednesday, only to quickly retreat to the shadows again.

It happens every spring, football’s version of Groundhog Day. Only if the assistant coach sees a shadow, it’s usually the one on his face.

And instead of providing clues about the weather, it only signals that football season is just a couple months away.

It’s a strange animal, the CFL assistant. On this day he’ll say a few words, grab a sandwich — and we might not hear from him again all year.

Yet, putting together the right staff is a critical part of building a winner.

Done wrong, it can also lead to the whole thing crumbling like a cheap shack on Red River clay.

As the first-year head coach of the Blue Bombers, Paul LaPolice put the finishing touches on his crew Wednesday with the addition of Chris Wiesehan, an offensive assistant down at UCLA, who’ll handle the receivers.

Wiesehan, who has no CFL experience, joins six previously signed LaPolice lieutenants, five of whom have plenty of experience in the three-down game.

So how’d the boss do?

Well, if you ask the only one who was here through last year’s fiasco, the Bombers are already way ahead of the game.

“If we make the playoffs this year, we’ll have a great chance to go all the way,” Richard Harris told the Sun.

And how in the name of Mike Kelly can he already say that, you wonder?

“The way that we’ve been working lately,” Harris said, chuckling. “It’s no walk in the park.”

Harris didn’t come right out and say it. A gentle giant of a man, he’s not one to take shots, even at easy marks.

But you get the impression the all-business approach taken by LaPolice is a far cry from what went on behind the scenes under Professor Kelly in 2009.

“Paul’s been kind of quiet, but he’s been no-nonsense,” Harris said. “We all have put our noses to the grinding stone, and they’re staying there. Let’s just say we’re working together as a group and we’re enjoying it.

“Really there is no comparison.”

The thing is, 2010 will be a year of comparisons.

There’s the obvious comparison of head coaches. How will LaPolice handle the first challenge to his authority? The first crisis? The first losing streak?

How will quarterback Stefan LeFors compare to last season’s debacle in Kelly’s lame offence?

Can the defence be as good as it was in ’09?

The answers will reflect directly on LaPolice and his seven-man backing group.

The great Bud Grant once told me the most important thing about putting together a coaching staff is finding like-minded people.

You can’t mix family men with party animals, for instance.

“You’ve got to get the right people,” LaPolice said. “And if I did take a little bit longer... it’s because of that. In this business, I’ve got a lot of friends. But there’s very few that you attach to your reputation. Their reputation’s tied into me, and I appreciate that.”

LaPolice says the common denominator with his assistants is the way they care about and treat their players. No berators in this bunch.

No wonder Harris stuck around.

At 61, he’s the sage old-timer of the group. Someone who’s pretty much seen it all as a player and coach, on both sides of the border.

What he sees happening here reminds him of what Doug Berry began building in 2006.

“It’s the approach, from Day 1,” Harris said. “It’s, I guess you could say, serious business.”

That’s good.

Because for Bomber fans the running joke that was 2009 got awfully old.

Nobody wants to see that shadow again.

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788.


Videos

Photos