Ready, willing and able

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

That familiar voice with the New England accent at the other end of the line sounded relaxed and even jovial.

"I guess you're not getting as many dumb comments now, eh?" Dave Ritchie asked yesterday, then guffawed. "You've got to be able to laugh at yourself."

Known for his sometimes outlandish anecdotes and fractured phrases, the former Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach has recovered from the quadruple bypass heart surgery he had on Sept. 7 and is ready to get back in the saddle again.

"I'm ready, willing and able to get back to work," declared Ritchie, who was fired in August. "I'm ready to play and do whatever it takes. I think some people have forgotten my name but I'd be very anxious to get back to work."

COULD BE A VACANCY

Ritchie, who turned 66 in September, decided to have the operation that month so that he would be able to return to work when jobs started to open up again. And it looks like there could be a vacancy in Ottawa, with CFL playoff results to determine other possibilities. Ritchie, named 2001 CFL coach of the year, has developed a reputation for turning failing franchises into winners, although they have too often fallen short of winning the Grey Cup. But he could be just what the Renegades need if they do not re-sign head coach Joe Paopao.

Ritchie, remains under contract with the Bombers until the end of this year, could also return to the U.S. college ranks.

Although it does take some time to recover from such major surgery, Ritchie said it is pretty much on schedule and has felt his best the last week or so.

"I was struggling to get better and now I'm struggling to sell my house here," said Ritchie, who had been cleaning out his garage. "The only thing is, we've got no place to go. If we sell the house, then a job could take me somewhere and we could find a place there."

After boasting the best record in the CFL the three previous seasons, Ritchie struggled to a 2-5 record this year when he was relieved of his duties. Then came the surgery. And now, the uncertainty.

"It was a year I don't really want to remember -- just like 1999 when I lost my mom and my dad in the same month," he said. "That was hard. But you get by somehow. We've got great friends and people have been wonderful."

While some may have forgotten Ritchie, his former players haven't. A number have visited him several times, including former quarterback Khari Jones, even after he got dealt to Calgary.

"I felt bad for him," said Ritchie, who was non-committal when asked if he would have been willing to trade Jones.

Other players who have paid visits include Moe Elewonibi, Charles Roberts, Milt Stegall, Mo Kelly, Eric Carter, Doug Brown and Calgary's Brian Clark.

"It was a crazy season," Ritchie said. "But I think I could have fought our way into the playoffs. I only missed them once -- my first year here (1999)."

And Ritchie is hoping to get a crack at erasing the memory of 2004 by succeeding with another team.

"I'd be very thankful if I'd be so lucky," he said.


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