Bombers offensive coach not afraid to go for broke

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:53 AM ET

Each week a Sun staffer gets to know a sports figure a little better in Up Close. This week, Kirk Penton goes to the sideline to chat with Bombers running backs coach and de facto offensive co-ordinator Manny Matsakis, who will call the plays today in Winnipeg's critical clash against Hamilton.

The Sun: So you were a head coach and offensive co-ordinator at the high school and college levels for 20 years. You get fired from Texas State, and shortly thereafter, in January 2004, you hop in your motorhome and drive away. What gives?

MM: Motorhome? Where did that come out? (laughs) When we got let go, I'm like, 'OK, what do I really want to do?' So I got in my RV and took off for eight months. I just figured I'm going to take a break and figure this out. While I was doing that, I was living anywhere I could park, basically. It was cheap, too.

Sun: You used to go for it on fourth down a lot when you were a head coach, correct?

MM: A lot. Probably more than anybody else -- when I was in control of the situation as a head coach. Really, the head coach is the one who can say, 'Go for it.' So when I was the head coach, it was different. It would be fourth-and-six, and I'd go for it. I didn't care. And we had the uncanny ability to get it.

Sun: Did it matter where you were on the field?

MM: My deal was if I crossed the 50, I didn't punt. You're either putting pressure on them, or they're putting pressure on you. It's never in between. So you've got to put the heat on people, and defences hate it. It's the worst scenario.

Sun: Going for it on fourth down is one thing, but you took your retirement fund out of the bank to start up a couple of high school football magazines in Ohio after your RV adventure. That's different, no?

MM: Yes, but you do things because you gotta believe in yourself and your ability to do it. And if it didn't work out, you learn from it and you go on and you make something bigger happen. Donald Trump has probably filed for bankruptcy half a dozen times. OK, who doesn't want his purse strings? There's nothing ever gained without massive risk. We could all sit here status quo, but the ones that everyone looks at, the highest achievers, are the ones who risk it. You don't risk stupidly, but you risk based on what you believe is going to happen.

Sun: Aren't you a motorcycle guy, too?

MM: Oh yeah. I love them. Harleys.

Sun: So is risk the theme of the Manny Matsakis story? Motorcycles, using your retirement fund to start a business ...

MM: Those are risks. Every business that I've started hasn't always worked out. Some do, some don't. But you don't win every game, either. As long as you don't make the same mistake over and over, you're going in the right direction.

Sun: You live with head coach Mike Kelly. What's the best part about that?

MM: He makes breakfast on game day.

Sun: What's the worst part about living with Mike Kelly?

MM: Early morning departures to work on practice days.

Sun: Who's the most famous person in your cellphone?

MM: Since I moved to Winnipeg, I decided to go off the grid, and I have no cellphone. Life is actually much simpler that way, and I love it.

Sun: What's your favourite TV show?

MM: I rarely watch TV, just CFL games on TSN. The NFL bores me because it's too slow.

Sun: Who would play you in the movies?

MM: George Clooney.

Sun: If you're cooking, which Greek dish would you whip up?

MM: I make an outstanding rosemary and lemon roasted chicken with potatoes and a Greek village salad.

Sun: What's your favourite Winnipeg restaurant?

MM: I have to admit that of all the cities I have lived in, Winnipeg has more outstanding restaurants per capita than any other city. My favourite is Homer's on Ellice Avenue. George imports his olive oil from his estate in Greece.

Sun: You came to Winnipeg to be a guest coach, and now you're running the offence for a team that has to win this weekend to make the playoffs. Is this just part of the big journey?

MM: When I came up here to be the guest coach, I told Mike my goal was to go back to Capital (University in Ohio) and then after the season I wanted to interview to be an offensive co-ordinator in the CFL. I just figured give me a month, I'll figure this deal out, and then I'll come back and one of these eight teams is going to need an OC and I'll have had the experience. And if I interview I have a shot. If not, I'll take an OC job at a college because I was going to get back in it. And it happened faster than I thought. The next thing you know I'm doing it here.

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca


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