Als eye Marshall

PAUL FRIESEN

, Last Updated: 11:49 AM ET

It's not a call Winnipeg Blue Bomber head coach Doug Berry had been looking forward to.

But it came, nonetheless, early this week. From Montreal Alouettes GM, Jim Popp.

Popp asked Berry for permission to speak with Greg Marshall, his defensive co-ordinator, about the vacant head coaching position in Montreal.

So Berry swallowed a couple of times and uttered four words that could impact his team's off-season more than any free agent signing or player retirement.

"I said, 'You have my permission,'" Berry said yesterday. "You do it reluctantly. I've walked that road. Greg is a very deserving guy and deserves an opportunity. And if one comes along I'm going to try to help him get it."

Yesterday, Sun Media learned, Marshall was in Montreal, interviewing for the position left vacant by Popp.

He's no shoo-in, up against other established co-ordinators like Steve Buratto (Toronto), Richie Hall (Saskatchewan) and the two top assistant coaches with the Alouettes, Marcel Bellefeuille and Chris Jones.

None of them, though, are more qualified than Marshall. Or held in higher esteem by most of their players.

The man's secret?

No. 1, he's been there, as one of the CFL's best defensive linemen in the 1980s.

But unlike most players, he's a great teacher, too, and has a good feel for the talent around him and how to best utilize it.

"As all co-ordinators do, there's certain things you might want to do but you realize the talent level that you have, and what you're able to do with that," Berry said. "And Greg has done an outstanding job in being able to maximize the defence with what we have here."

Through 14 seasons, beginning with six in Saskatchewan, five in Edmonton, one in Ottawa then two here, Marshall has put together defences that stop people.

What he's done here borders on miraculous.

"It's all in the numbers," Berry said. "Two years ago this defence was setting records for being the worst in the history of the CFL."

It's true. The laughing stock of the league in 2005, the Bomber defence was giving up 458 yards per game, an unheard of total.

Berry, a rookie head man in charge of turning a 5-13 team around, hired Marshall to fix it.

In '06, the Bomber defence ranked third. This year it was No. 2, at 328 yards per game.

If that wasn't enough, it held Toronto to nine points in the East Final and actually gave the Bombers a chance to beat Saskatchewan in the Grey Cup, despite an injury to their starting quarterback.

"I have no idea why he's not a head coach," Bomber lineman Doug Brown said during Grey Cup week. "I would take him over 50% of the head coaches in this league right now."

Marshall has a knack for knowing what opposing offences are going to do, and an ability to get his players to give their all.

Berry, long an offensive assistant, suspected as much when he hired him, even though he'd never worked with him before.

"I had only coached against him, and each time I coached against him I liked the way he coached the defence," Berry said. "Players play for their co-ordinators and head coach. I always thought they played hard and understood what they were doing."

If Marshall gets the Montreal job, Berry will be facing him again, this time as head coaches. In the same division, no less. Plus he's become friends with the guy.

"It is a tough one, there's no doubt about it," Berry said. "Business-wise, you probably wouldn't want to do it. But I guess I'm of the belief that you only live once, and you've got to make the most of it."

The next move is Jim Popp's.

He knows Montreal's gain would be Winnipeg's loss -- one more factor in Marshall's favour.

Maybe next time Doug Berry should just ignore his phone.


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