It’s a postcard day in April like many spent at home in Hawaii, and Jeff Reinebold is developing his own version of ohana with the BC Lions as if the Grey Cup is about to be played the next morning.
In a grander football sense, mini-camp is usually like kindergarten. Nothing too strenuous for players who don’t see pads for weeks. Most never even make it to main camp. But Reinebold is grinding and growling, pushing for more. It’s April, but Reinebold is screaming as if the Lions had lost six of their last seven, which is actually how they ended last November.
Yet moments later after the last session, Reinebold insists on taking a team picture, like a counselor might suggest of kids at summer camp for the last time. This is how the new/old special teams coordinator develops ohana on a CFL team. Football is family.
The changes in the front office involving Ed Hervey and Rick Lelacheur represent the biggest facelift with the Lions but a very close second in importance might be the alterations in Wally Buono’s coaching staff, to some the basis for the team’s first non-playoff appearance in two decades.
A switch to first-year offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson will be the most scrutinized move but the third tour of duty by Reinebold with the Lions could amount to their best chance to improve. It’s easy to think there’s no place to go but up.
Rookie Ty Long was a pleasant surprise, leading the CFL in punting average, but the Lions kick and cover units were simply wretched, surrendering the most punt yards and compiling the least. Small wonder why Chris Rainey was an interested onlooker at mini-camp this week, as the Lions look to surfer dude with the drill sergeant voice to generate a spark.
There’s an appeal to Lotusland that is inescapable for Reinebold, who had interest in the head coaching vacancies the last few years at UBC and SFU and decided he had to pull himself away from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to come west before it was too late.
When Buono made it clear he won’t coach past this season, Reinebold made his move. He settled, for the time being at least, not far from where the head man was renting at the start of last season in Crescent Beach to create the perfect fit. A year with the winningest coach in CFL history and free time steps from the Pacific Ocean. Come by and visit anytime, Reinebold tells an inquisitor. He is, quite frankly, another reason fans find the CFL engaging.
It’s an odd pairing on the surface. Buono had lived in mortal fear when facing teams coached by the likes of Reinebold and Mike O’Shea, knowing both are willing to resort to gadget plays and knowing the Lions counterpart will not respond. Not this year, Buono says. The Lions are back in the trick play business.
“This is like going to work with Paul Brown or Don Shula. It’s like going to work for the Godfather,” says Reinebold in explaining his decision leave Hamilton and another compadre from his Hawaii past, June Jones.
“I had not known Wally, but he made a tremendous impact when I came back to the league (from NFL Europe). He did a couple of things; he gave me a book by Tony Dungy. I really enjoyed my times with him and I wanted more.
“One of the other reasons I came here was (Hervey). I was fascinated by the job he did in Edmonton. He took a roster that wasn’t very good there and took them to a Grey Cup.”
In that sense, the challenge in the Lions in a competitive West Division will look quite familiar. No sense wasting reps in minicamp, or that matter any time at all.
For the last eight years, Reinebold is a co-host of NFL coverage on Sky Sports, a side job that has now made him a recognizable face with a growing football fan base in the United Kingdom.
It means days this week start and end analyzing the NFL draft in ALL CAPS on social media, taking part in wrapup and preview shows rubbing pixels with Peter King, while trying to remind undrafted CFL wannabes about the merits of staying in their lanes on punt cover.
Recruits may choose to bring earplugs to meetings. Giulio Caravatta, the Lions longtime radio analyst who broke into the league on special teams under Reinebold, says film study used to be unbearable for those who were less than perfect.
Even in April.
“My dad, who was a 30-year professional baseball coach had a saying which is true: Big-time is where you are,” Reinebold said. “If I don’t approach every day like its their last opportunity I’m cheating these guys. I told them that any coach who doesn’t demand everything out of you is cheating you.
“It’s like being a parent; you love them but you got to love them tough because that’s the only way they re going to learn. Every kid that comes through that gate deserves to be coached as if it’s the biggest day of their life, because for some of them this may be the last pro football rep they get and how would you like to think that you cheated that kid on their last rep? I ain’t doing that one.”
What he does do is the ohana thing, minus the earring and motorcycle that was part of his CFL past but with a coaching mentality that is almost lost in a softer culture. If the Lions improve in an area where there is massive room for growth, the coach both screaming at them and switching to his network analyst voice this week will have a huge role in the turnaround.