Just 12 hours after the most important win of their CFL season, some shocking news put the Winnipeg Blue Bombers back on their heels.
Bombers head coach Jim Daley said it got emotional in the locker-room yesterday morning when defensive co-ordinator and linebackers coach Rod Rust addressed the entire team and told them he was leaving to attend to a family medical situation at his home in New Jersey.
"He'll make you smile, and he'll make you play," dejected Bombers defensive end Tom Canada said. "He's the type of coach you want to play hard for. It's going to be tough to see him go."
Daley said the Bombers will be "very lucky" if Rust returns to the team this season.
"It's an emotional moment," Daley said. "He's had a very, very big impact on these people."
To fill the hole in his staff, Daley brought Urban Bowman out of retirement for the second straight season, this time to coach the linebackers.
Daley and his remaining defensive assistants -- John Kropke, Dave Easley and Bowman -- will assume Rust's duties. They met last night to determine how the defence will be coached and who will call the plays.
The players are going to miss the well-respected Rust, who turned 77 three weeks ago.
"I'm just ... sad. I really am," Canada said. "He can relate to players as not necessarily a coach would, but as a person. His demeanour, the way he treats you, it's like you're a person. You're not a pawn in some game.
"He'll take the time to understand who you are as a player and as a person. For me, that's what I look for in a coach. It's sad."
Outside linebacker Lamar McGriggs is the player closest to Rust.
McGriggs played for Rust when they were a player and defensive co-ordinator, respectively, for the New York Giants in 1992.
"I'm losing not only my co-ordinator, but my therapist, too," McGriggs said. "It's huge for me, man."
Middle linebacker Ryland Wickman said Rust's 43 years of coaching experience and his troubleshooting skills will be missed most.
"When we're out there, he'll come up with new ideas on the fly about things that are messing us up on the field," said Wickman, who added he will spend even more time breaking down film now that Rust is gone.
Rust informed Daley 10 days ago that he would be leaving, but he stuck around until yesterday to pump Daley full of information. The other assistants didn't learn of the news until 9 a.m. yesterday.
"He stayed as long as he could to sort of get a transition in place, which I really appreciate him doing," Daley said.
Rust's departure is tough timing for Winnipeg, which has won two straight games after their 38-17 dismantling of the Ottawa Renegades on Friday night at Canad Inns Stadium.
The Bombers are 3-6 at the midway point of their season. They are tied with the Saskatchewan Roughriders (3-5) and are only two points behind the third-place Calgary Stampeders in the West Division.
Daley isn't worried.
"The foundation that Rod's laid here is something we can build on," he said.
HASHMARKS: Bombers DT Doug Brown (foot) and SB Keith Stokes (shoulder) suffered minor injuries in Friday's game, but Daley said they'll be ready to play Friday night in Hamilton against the 0-8 Tiger-Cats ... Fourth-string QB Spergon Wynn had knee surgery Thursday and will be out of action for three or four weeks ... Renegades LB Robert Grant, who suffered a neck injury Friday night and was taken off the field in an ambulance, was released from Health Sciences Centre yesterday and flew home with the team.