Get down, get dirty

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:28 PM ET

Danny Maciocia introduced the final piece of the Edmonton Eskimos' coaching puzzle yesterday.

Former Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker and special teams player Dennis 'Dirt' Winston was formally announced as the man responsible for the Edmonton's defensive line this season.

"He's a hard worker and a no-nonsense type of guy," said Maciocia. "That's what we were looking for, and we expect great things from our defensive line this year."

So does the 49-year-old Winston, a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers back-to-back Super Bowl teams in 1978 and '79.

"I think the D-line is going to be a great one," he said. "They're young, enthusiastic and ready to come in and get started."

CANADIAN FLAVOUR?

With Steve Charbonneau and Randy Spencer coming back from injuries, along with the addition of free agent Tim Fleiszer and having Clinton Wayne under contract, the Esks defensive front could have a real Canadian flavour this season.

In addition to interviewing twice for the Esks' job, Winston has watched a lot of videotape. He likes what he sees and knows what he wants in a player.

"I like very physical, aggressive guys. Guys who have the desire to get to the quarterback and want to make the play, every play," said Winston, Pittsburgh's fifth-round pick out of Arkansas in the '77 draft.

Those attributes pretty much describe Winston's playing style and prompted late Arkansas Razorback teammate Bruce Mitchell to dub him 'Dirty.'

"It was given to me by a friend who died of leukemia back in college," Winston offered. "There was a few times when I was pretty violent on some tackles and he said, 'That's a dirty lick.' We shortened it to `Dirt' and it stuck.

"He's a guy I thought was more physical than I was. He was a guy that really meant a lot to me. His parents kind of took me under their wing and helped me through it."

The Canadian game, with one fewer down, its bigger field, an extra player and one-yard buffer zone at the line of scrimmage, takes some getting used to if you're an import player.

Winston, with his occasionally menacing glare, says the transition won't be difficult for him.

"It's a lot faster game," said the man who sandwiched a three-year stint with the New Orleans Saints between a couple of four-year hitches with the Steelers.

"If you're a yard off the line of scrimmage, if you're not getting penetration in the backfield, that means you're not getting off on the football. The main thing is getting off on the ball."

A LENGTHY PROCESS

For Maciocia, landing Winston was a lengthy process. Winston interviewed for a number of head coaching jobs at NCAA schools during his four-year stint at Toledo.

"He's was definitely my first choice all along," Maciocia related.

"He's had so many different offers or opportunities that came along that I said to myself I'm going to wait it out. That's why it took as long as it did."

All the NCAA programs would have paid significantly more than the Esks were able to put on the table.

According to Winston, it wasn't a matter of him not being a good fit for those schools. It was just the opposite.

Six-figure NCAA head coaching contracts notwithstanding, Edmonton and the land of three-down football is where Winston wanted to be.

"Tennessee State, Grambling, Duquesne came calling," explained Winston, who attributes the longevity of his NFL career to his ability to play all three linebacking positions as well as special teams.

"I wanted to find the best situation that fits me. Those situations didn't fit me. I wanted to try my hand at professional football. I think the Edmonton Eskimos fitted my needs a lot better than those other situations. Sometimes it's not all about money.

"If you're just looking for money, you're not going to be a very good coach. I want to do the best job I can do with these young men that are here now and get them better."


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