Kudos for new coach

Mike Kelly will be the next Blue Bombers head coach. (Sun Media/Jordan Verlage)

Mike Kelly will be the next Blue Bombers head coach. (Sun Media/Jordan Verlage)

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

He will be introduced as the 27th head coach in Winnipeg Blue Bomber history today.

And what better way to gain some insight into Mike Kelly and his potential coaching style than by picking the brains of the people who worked with him.

Chris Walby, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman who played under Kelly from 1992-96, when Kelly was Winnipeg's offensive co-ordinator, says it's a terrific selection.

"He's one of these guys that made playing football fun," Walby told Sun Media yesterday.

"If you're down, he'd slap you on the backside and bring you up. He constantly reinforces -- positive, positive, positive. The players are going to really respond to that."

Fired coach Doug Berry's message was generally positive, too. But Berry sometimes criticized his players publicly, during or after games.

Walby says Kelly's dealings with players won't be through the media.

"He's a guy that really protects the team," Walby said. "He keeps stuff in-house, which I love. And he's got a strict side to him, too. It looks like he's all laughter and hugs and kisses, but if you get out of line, he'll straighten you out pretty quick."

The man who hired Kelly the first time was Murphy, the Winnipeg head coach or GM those years.

"I wanted somebody that was interested in throwing the ball, not running the ball all the time," Murphy recalled, saying he hired Kelly on a recommendation. "He's a very good coach. A sound coach. A very good worker. He'll do a good job there."

The thing Murphy liked most about Kelly: the game didn't take a back seat to anything.

"I don't think he gets distracted from football," Murphy said. "A lot of guys have other things to do. He's very good that way. That says it in a nutshell. He's going to keep his nose to the grindstone and work hard."

Under Kelly, the Bomber offence set all kinds of club records, advancing to the Grey Cup in '92 and '93, but losing both times.

Kelly was a candidate to replace Murphy following the '96 season, but lost the job to Jeff Reinebold, a disappointment he's often talked about over the years.

Since then, he's worked in the U.S. college ranks, the now-defunct XFL and the NFL, the latter mainly in personnel.

The only head coaching job he's held was at Valdosta State University, a Division II school.

He returned to the CFL this season, as the receivers coach in Edmonton.

The jump to being a head man is a big one, Murphy acknowledges, but one Kelly, popular with his players as an assistant, should be able to handle.

"It's not a popularity contest," Murphy said. "And when you get to be a head coach, it's not quite the same. And I think he'll make the hard decisions. I would be very surprised if he didn't."

Kelly may have to back off a bit from becoming too friendly with players.

Walby says he always had an open door, whether it was about football or not.

"You can go to him and talk about professional issues," Walby said.

"But he's also willing to listen to you about personal issues. The human side of him really comes out. That's one of his more endearing qualities."

Walby is looking forward to watching Kelly's offence, too.

"You utilize the entire playbook," he said. "You see some gimmick plays. He's got a tremendous mind. And one of the big question marks in Winnipeg the last couple of years, no offence to coach Berry, was the offence. They just didn't have any imagination."


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