'Dirt' is ready for prime time

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

Around here, the Grey Cup ring is the thing. But Super Bowl rings are welcome.

The Eskimos welcomed Dennis (Dirt) Winston to their assistant coaching staff this year.

Back when the Eskimos were winning the first two of their five-in-a-row Grey Cups in 1978 and 1979, Winston was winning back-to-back Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"To be honest with you, at the time, I didn't know. I was kind of concentrating on Super Bowls. I didn't know Edmonton won five in a row back then until I came up here."

Which, he says, is embarrassing.

"I was well aware of Canadian football. To some extent, I was following Warren Moon. I knew the teams because I had friends who were playing up here. But I never paid any attention as to who was actually winning the Grey Cup games.

"Joe Hollimon from that Eskimos era and I had a connection. We dated sisters. He married Glenda and I was dating his sister-in-law."

Winston, who played linebacker with the Steelers, has joined the Eskimos as defensive line coach.

Dirt, who played his college football at the University of Kansas, was Pittsburgh's fifth-round selection in the 1977 NFL draft. He played eight years as a Steeler and three more with the New Orleans Saints.

Winston, 49, has coached at Kentucky State, Toledo, Arkansas, Arkansas State, Grambling, Norfolk State, Slippery Rock and Grove City College.

"I've been in college 16 years with two years of high school football coaching. I'm trying to take it level by level. I started in Division III, moved up to Division II, then to 1AA and then to 1A. After being in Toledo for four years and going to bowl games three out of those four years, I thought it was time to step up another level, which is professional football and the Canadian Football League."

At age 49, Dirt figures he's in the prime time of a coaches career.

"Head coach is the next step," he said.

"It was time to see how it is at the professional level."

And how is it?

"The big difference is that in college you have to recruit. In the pros you don't.

"And it's a different kind of coaching from the teaching end of it.

You're dealing with men who have already played the college game. Now they're professional. When you're teaching professionals, it's more about techniques and things dealing with team and scheme.

"The game is different. It's definitely not as physical. But it's faster. You have 20 seconds between plays. And your get-off has to be a lot quicker.

"One thing I know is that I'm probably with the best organization in Canadian football. People are very professional. It's very professionally run. I like this organization. I always pride myself in being with the best."

Dirt is not older than dirt.

"I'm 49," he said. "In a coach's career, I think that's getting close to prime time. It's a good age. It's the age a lot of coaches become head coaches."

That, he hopes, is next.

But being black, the odds are long against that in the U.S.

"The ratio of coaches to players isn't close," he said. "Look at the number of teams in the NFL with minority coaches. It's the same way in college football. There are 116 teams and five minority head coaches.

"It's crossed my mind that it's easier for someone of minority to become a head coach up here. You have one in Saskatchewan, Ottawa and Toronto. Canada has more of a blind eye. I think Canada looks more at the best person for the job. In the U.S. so much is who you know, not what you know, too."


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