Hiring young apprentice brilliant move

KIRK PENTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers made Mike Riley the youngest coach in CFL history when they hired him, at age 33, in 1987.

Cal Murphy had been waffling about whether or not he wanted to be the GM or head coach, and he had already talked to Riley, his former assistant, about coming back to Winnipeg to run the defence.

When Murphy decided to sit in the GM's chair, the talk turned to Riley becoming the head man.

"Cal's concern was that (Riley) couldn't handle, at his tender age, some of the veterans on the team," former team president Ted Bartman said yesterday.

Murphy took the chance, and it was one of the best moves the organization ever made, as Riley led the Bombers to Grey Cup victories in 1988 and 1990.

"I'm sure the players had to be very patient with Mike Riley in those days because it was kind of my inauguration into being a head coach, but I couldn't have been with a better group," Riley said. "I had some real, real pros. Those teams loved to play, and right along with that they loved to win."

Long-time Bomber punter Bob Cameron recalled Riley inviting him into his office to discuss the special teams. Cameron made a few suggestions about the punt team, and Riley used them to create a new-look scheme in which the ends were spread wide.

"That really (was) a template for all other teams from then on," Cameron said to Riley during yesterday's press conference. "Your innovations, that's what made you a great coach."

Riley, who went on to coach the NFL's San Diego Chargers from 1999 to 2001, also knew the responsibility of every special teams player and who they were lining up against. He would then ask each player in meetings how he was going to beat his opponent.

That, Cameron said, earned Riley instant respect in the locker-room. Bauer agreed that Riley was the ultimate players' coach, because he listened and accepted feedback.

"They wanted to play damn hard for Mike Riley," Bauer said.


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