What a long, strange trip it's been

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

Brendan Taman shouldn't be the Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager.

Really, how often does a Canadian kid start out as a hockey-loving, self-proclaimed "gym rat" -- from Saskatoon, of all places -- and end up as a GM in the CFL?

It just doesn't happen.

"It's a bizarre story. I would have never, ever, ever dreamt I'd be a GM -- ever -- when I got into it," Taman says. "There wouldn't be a chance in hell."

And in Winnipeg, no less.

"When I was with the Roughriders I hated these guys. Hated. Hated," Taman says. "I hated the uniforms, I hated everything. I hated Winnipeg.

"I'd never liked Winnipeg -- ever -- until I got here in '99 and worked for them. I'd never been a Blue Bomber fan. You can't when you grow up in Saskatchewan.

"It is very ironic that the team I probably didn't like the most is where I'm working."

And it's probably even more blasphemous that he's dating the Bombers' cheerleading coach, but that's not the point of this story.

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Taman's parents -- mom Pat and dad Don -- had a thing for alliteration, producing five children named Bev, Brian, Barb, Barry and, finally, Brendan.

Brendan graduated from Saskatoon's Aden Bowman High School in 1984 and decided he was going to work on the railroads.

CN hired him to be a junior industrial development representative. It was part of a youth employment program, and he spent most of his time doing data entry on computers.

"It was a great job," Taman says. "It was a great company to work for. Paid well."

He also got to travel a lot, too. He even worked in Winnipeg for a few months. The only problem was it was a three-year term.

As the summer of 1987 approached, he knew he was going to be out of a job soon.

Taman's brother Barry was working in marketing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders at the time, and Brendan had gotten to know Saskatchewan GM Dan Rambo through his brother.

Rambo had just re-organized the staff and was looking for a "gopher" -- a person who picked players up at the airport, helped the coaches or did whatever was needed.

Rambo offered the job to Taman in December 1986.

"It paid $18,000, and I was intrigued, because I knew I didn't have a job in about a half a year," Taman says. "I thought well, it sure sounds interesting, and it's pro football, so what the hell."

"... It was fun. When you first get into pro football it's like, 'Oh my God! This is going to be amazing!' Six months into it you knew it was a pain in the ass dealing with these guys.

"And that hasn't changed."

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Taman is asked what he thinks his former classmates at Aden Bowman would think he'd be doing these days.

He pauses, likely because if his peers weren't in the gym, they didn't know who he was.

"I was sort of a gym rat in high school, just hanging around shooting baskets, watching volleyball games," Taman says. "I'd always stay late at school, trying to play badminton or basketball or football.

"We'd have a group of about six or seven guys who would stay there until seven or eight at night just doing whatever."

Hockey was Taman's passion growing up, and he got pretty good at it.

"When I was young I wasn't bad -- until I got chickenpox," he says. "That set me back. I was leading my team in scoring, and I just went downhill."

He played football in Grade 9, and he was a backup safety for two whole games before deciding it wasn't for him.

"I didn't last long," he says.

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Another thing that didn't last long was Taman's gopher job in Saskatchewan. It was starting to wear on him after only two seasons.

When Roughriders offensive co-ordinator Steve Goldman left to coach the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1989, he asked Taman to join him.

"That was a major move for me, because I'd never been outside Saskatchewan," he says.

He decided to go for it, and the Ottawa job began paving the path to where he is today. He was named the Rough Riders' football operations manager, which enabled him to get his first taste of the scouting business.

It wasn't stable in the nation's capital (the Gliebermans owned the team for a while, after all), but Taman saw the good, bad and ugly of the CFL.

"That was my true eye-opening to the football world," he said.

Goldman got fired, Joe Faragalli got canned, and then the Gliebermans blew it all up and hired Rambo to be the GM, which worked out well for Taman, who survived all the purges.

Alas, it wasn't for long. The Gliebermans sent Rambo packing early in the 1993 season.

"When they canned Dan, I was done," Taman says. "I quit."

At age 27, Taman was out of pro football almost as quickly as he had gotten into it.

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What could a kid from Saskatoon -- who didn't play football -- possibly know about football?

Don't you have to grow up in football-mad Texas or Florida to know who the best slide protector on the offensive line is?

"After being in it for so long, you know what you're looking for," Taman says. "When I first got into it, I didn't have a clue.

"People think it's so detailed. It really isn't. When you look at a receiver, can he catch, can he run, what kind of routes does he run? That's really not hard to figure out.

"Now, with linemen and stuff, it's taken me a while to get, picking that up over the years. And there's little things about every position you gotta pick up on.

"You can make scouting as complex as you want. I don't, because you just end up muddying the waters even more."

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It was the summer of 1993, it had been three months since Taman quit his job in Ottawa, and he was doing a whole lot of nothing in Regina.

"I was loving life, golfing," he says. "I was enjoying myself."

He was in Medicine Hat, Alta., on his way to a wedding, when he got the call.

It was the Roughriders again.

Jim Popp, now the Montreal Alouettes GM, was Saskatchewan's director of player personnel at the time, but he was on the road a lot. He and head coach Don Matthews, also now with the Als, wanted an assistant to work out of Regina.

Just like that, Taman was back in the football business.

"Jim was good to work with," he says. "It was fun, but then he left (for Baltimore). It didn't last long."

The Roughriders replaced Popp with -- you guessed it -- Rambo, and Taman stuck around to continue his march up the CFL's corporate ladder.

Rambo gave him the added responsibilities of scouting NFL camps and Canadian colleges.

"I wasn't really in a decision-making position at that stage yet, either, but I was trying to assist in everything, trying to give them names and telling them what I think," Taman says.

After three years of that, he was officially a football man.

And it was about to get serious.

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Adam Rita got to know Taman because all GMs and player personnel people in the CFL know each other. It's a very small world.

Rita was hired as the head coach and director of football operations with the B.C. Lions in 1997, and he wanted a director of player personnel.

He hired Taman -- even though he was from Saskatoon.

"It didn't matter to me where he came from," says Rita, a Hawaii native who is now the Toronto Argonauts GM.

Rita says he simply liked Taman as a person, and he felt he had the perfect demeanour to be a player personnel man. He also believed the 30-year-old would be easy to work with.

Taman got a lot of breaks on his way to the Bombers' big chair, but the one Rita gave him was the biggest.

"Adam gave me my big chance," he says. "He actually brought me out of the back light and put me into the direct light."

Three years later, in 1999, the Bombers hired head coach Dave Ritchie, who brought along this guy named Brendan Taman to be the team's assistant GM.

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Ritchie is long gone, but Taman is enjoying his eighth year in Winnipeg and his third as the team's GM.

His story is compared most often to that of Bob Ackles, a good Canadian kid who started out as the Lions' water boy and worked his way up to the president's chair, which included a stop as the team's GM.

"The neat thing about mine is I just got a break, a huge break, and then I kept getting breaks, to be honest with you," he says. "I got lucky, there's no doubt about it."

He's also not sure if someone growing up in Steinbach or Stonewall today will get a chance to do what he's doing.

"They could, but it's such a hard nut to crack, to get into the league," he says. "We're not like the NFL, where we have 20 guys in our personnel department. We have maybe two.

"... I've talked to so many guys I'd love to be able to bring in to help, but there's not a position for that to happen."

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Taman, who will turn 40 in December, has no interest in going to the NFL.

"I've dealt with people down there, and I've talked to people," he says, "and I'm not interested in going in a room with 30 people to voice an opinion that doesn't mean anything."

He's content to continue tracking down talent for the Blue and Gold, which he has done admirably for the last eight years.

He is coveted often by other CFL teams, even though the Grey Cup has eluded him during his 20-year career, but he seems happy where he is, even if it involves working about 350 days a year.

"I've reached where I can get probably ... probably a little bit faster than I thought," he says. "But now that I'm here, we'll see what happens."

Perhaps even more amazing than the fact that he's a born-and-bred Canadian GM is that he's never been fired in the football business.

The straight shooter that he is, Taman has told Bombers president and CEO Lyle Bauer to do the same when it's time for him to be let go.

"I hate moving. I hate it," Taman says. "But I'm hoping I'm here for a long time before that scenario plays out. I plan on it."


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