Reinebold returns as Alouettes DC

Paul Friesen, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:51 PM ET

Warning: the following may induce flashbacks, bad rashes and/or nervous twitches for Winnipeg football fans.

The CFL East just gets more interesting by the day, it seems.

First it was the quarterback carousel bringing in future hall-of-famers Ricky Ray and Henry Burris to join Anthony Calvillo.

The offensive influx on the sidelines, starting with Montreal co-ordinator Scott Milanovich taking over the moribund Argos, continued with the appointment of quarterback guru George Cortez as head coach in Hamilton and big-time U.S. college play-caller Gary Crowton as OC in Winnipeg.

Now it's a hire on the less-glamourous side of the ball -- although there's nothing bland about the return of Jeff Reinebold to Canada.

Long the punch line for any joke about bad Winnipeg football coaches -- Mike Kelly now shares that honour, at the very least -- Reinebold is the Alouettes' new defensive co-ordinator, marking his first foray north of the 49th since he rode his Harley out of town late in the 1998 season.

His 6-26 record still the worst "winning percentage" of any head coach in Blue Bomber history (discounting Fred Ritter's four winless games in 1930), Reinebold got the Montreal job ahead of people like Greg Marshall, the respected CFL defensive boss fired in Saskatchewan midway through 2011.

While Marshall is as old school as they come, it's safe to say Reinebold broke ground with his approach.

I still remember watching him ride his Harley into a room full of adoring fans at the Convention Centre, a saviour on aluminum and steel, ready to guide the Bombers to the Promised Land.

His training camps were something to behold, the coach a high-energy combination of earrings, bleached-blond surfer hair and tattoos, conducting sessions in flip-flops, while Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix blared their approval from loudspeakers positioned at the four corners of the field.

Sessions with the media provided a flood of stories and quotes rivaling anything the Red and Assiniboine have ever produced.

Using analogies from boxing one day, buddhism the next, Reinebold left notebooks overflowing with copy, and Winnipeg's long-suffering fans drenched themselves in it, convinced their Grey Cup drought was about to end under the watch of the Zen master with the golden tan.

Reinebold wasn't just a free spirit, he was going to set everybody free, and free his players' minds to perform at their peaks.

Then came the actual games.

The man's biggest mistake: banking on quarterbacks who couldn't play.

He won't have that challenge in Montreal. Instead, he'll try to design defences to stop some of the best in the game.

They always said Reinebold could coach defensive backs, and we're about to find out how that translates in today's CFL.

Last at Southern Methodist University, in Texas, the University of Hawaii before that, Reinebold is just two years removed from a bout with skin cancer, diagnosed after a surfing outing in Hawaii.

I'm not sure what brought the man back to Canada. Reached by cell phone, Friday, he was reluctant to talk until the Als gave him the all-clear.

I do know that as far back as 11 years ago, he envisioned the day he'd come back.

"The CFL, it's like a virus -- you catch it, and it's hard to shake," Reinebold, then working in the World League, in Amsterdam, told me. "As painful as that experience was, and the way it ended, that place still has a very, very big part of my heart.

"I don't want my last experience in the CFL to have been what we went through in Winnipeg. I want to go away feeling more fulfilled than that."

More than a decade later, Coach Harley gets his chance.

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @friesensunmedia


Photos