D-coach in waiting?

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

It was raining in Louisville, Ky., yesterday. The question is, will Mark Nelson trade in that rain for some Winnipeg snow?

Nelson could be the Winnipeg Blue Bombers next defensive co-ordinator -- but only if he gets some lousy news, first.

A Canadian who used to play and coach in the CFL, the 52-year-old is coming off a tough season as special teams co-ordinator at the University of Louisville, where the Cardinals, playing in the Big East Conference, lost five straight to finish 5-7.

"Not good enough," Nelson said via cellphone. "You're always hoping to be back. I don't foresee anything, but you never know."

Nelson has a long history with new Bomber head coach Mike Kelly. That makes him a candidate to take over the Bomber defence, run by Greg Marshall the last three years.

But taking a job as a co-ordinator in Canada only makes financial sense for major U.S. college coaches if they're out of work.

"It would be a great opportunity," Nelson said of the Bomber job. "But I'm at a great place, too."

Asked if Kelly had already contacted him, Nelson declined comment.

But the Edmonton native didn't hide his affection for the league that employed him as a player (Calgary and Saskatchewan) from 1980-86, and an assistant coach (Toronto, San Antonio, Edmonton) from 1992-96.

"It has great people," Nelson said. "And the CFL is one of the best-kept secrets. I always call it the Wile E. Coyote of pro sports -- you can't kill it. It's because of the people and the game.

"There's a lot of positives about Canada and the CFL. But there's also a lot of positives about coaching down in the States."

It was Kelly, after failing to land the Winnipeg head job following the '96 season, who lured Nelson down to Valdosta State University in Georgia.

A former linebacker, Nelson was Kelly's defensive co-ordinator for three years, adding the associate head coach's title the last two.

His defence consistently outshone the Valdosta offence over that period.

"I had some good players," Nelson said. "I'm one of those coaches who's honest: I coach good players a lot better than I coach bad players."

After the staff was fired at Valdosta, Nelson and Kelly parted ways, Kelly joining the XFL, then Philadelphia and Washington in the NFL. This past season, he returned to the CFL as an assistant in Edmonton, and last week he became Winnipeg's 27th head coach.

KEPT UP

Nelson has worked at five U.S. colleges over the last nine seasons: Louisville, Tulsa, Baylor, Kentucky and Arkansas Tech.

He kept up on the CFL through various contacts, and knows a thing or two about Bomber history, too.

"Winnipeg is a great football town," Nelson said. "It has great tradition. I can remember when Kenny Ploen, Leo Lewis and those guys were Bombers. And then (Don) Jonas, Mack Herron. I played against Dieter Brock and Tommy Clements. Who was the big O-lineman? Walby.

"It would be a real honour to be offered that position, if that came about."

And, hypothetically speaking, what kind of defence would he run?

"I'm fortunate, I wasn't a very good player," Nelson said. "My biggest philosophy is don't ask people to do things they can't do. That's not very smart coaching. You find out what your kids can do, and that's what we're going to do. And we're going to do it real good."

With that, the next potential defensive boss of the Bombers drove his car off into the Kentucky rain.

In his immediate future, a recruiting trip for his current team.

Beyond that, who knows?

Maybe he'll steer toward Winnipeg, where the paycheques are smaller, the temperature lower -- but where there's something everyone in this nomadic business can appreciate.

A job, waiting.


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