Long-time CFL coach Jeff Reinebold: ‘We have to do a better job of growing the game within our country’

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

In the long and storied history of Canadian football, there have been few fiercer advocates for the game than current Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ special teams coordinator Jeff Reinebold.

The CFL lifer joined The Rod Pedersen Show from Hawaii on Friday and made his case for a better three-down league.

“We have to do a better job of growing the game within our country,” Reinebold said. “Frankly, the growth that has happened in Canada has happened without the help of the Canadian Football League.”

The 31-year coaching veteran has worked with six different CFL franchises, as well as stops in the NCAA and NFL Europe. He believes the CFL has some things to learn from its southern counterpart. While he believes that fan interaction has always been better in Canada due to the league’s intimate nature, the NFL has created a stronger pipeline of talent.

“If you watch the NFL, the NFL does a great job when it comes to fan development and player development. Player development doesn’t happen when a player is drafted to the National Football League, that’s individual player development. It’s getting more kids playing the game, getting women playing the game, flag football,” Reinebold explained.

“The NFL gets it. The spin-off benefit to all of that is that you create fans. Maybe it’s someone who will only play flag football because they don’t want the physical side but now they appreciate the game, watch the game and you grow the game in your own backyard.”

Reinebold believes initiatives to develop a fan and player pipeline nationally have never been more important because of the growing number of prominent Canadians in the NFL and NCAA.

“When a guy like (Chase) Claypool goes out there and does what he does, that immediately sends a message to every young Canadian, unrealistic or not, to think ‘why not me?'” he said.

“We need to echo that message and we need to create opportunities for young Canadians to play the game and get good coaching.”

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That quality of coaching is still not where it needs to be to develop lifelong passions for the game.

“Canada has gotten diametrically better in the 30 years I’ve been up here, but it’s still not where it needs to be at the grassroots level. Yeah, you’ve got Laval and Western, but we are talking about at the high school level, the junior high level,” Reinebold continued.

“Those guys are the lifeblood of our game and they not only supply the players, the talent pool, they also supply people who will become fans of the game.”

According to Reinebold, these homegrown programs are where the CFL should be spending its money in tough economic times.

“My personal feeling is that when you are in an economic situation where money matters, invest at home before you invest outside your home because you need to grow your homegrown talent,” he said.

On the business side, Reinebold believes a lack of centralization has harmed the CFL. While the NFL has long ago adopted centralized control and revenue sharing, which Reinebold dubs as ’32 of the biggest capitalists working in a communistic system,’ the coach believes each CFL team’s desire for control has left the league without a safety net and floundering whenever a team struggles.

The league has to do better economically and Reinebold has a firm belief on how that can happen.

“It’s not by cutting salaries. I’m telling you, it’s not the answer. Pat Riley will tell you. He wrote a great book about how to build a franchise and he said it’s not by cutting salaries. You don’t cut to a profit, you grow to a profit. We have to understand that,” he warned, clearly pointing to cost-cutting measures by commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

“You keep cutting player salaries, you are going to have less talented players and a poorer game. You keep cutting coaches salaries and you aren’t going to get coaches who want to come up here and invest in our league.”

Reinebold believes that only through unity will the CFL come out of 2020 stronger.

“We’ve all got to understand that we have to link arms and fight this thing together, that is the only way we will come out of this for the better. We’ll come out of it, I have no doubt about that. This league has more lives than a cat,” he said.

“But for it to come out strong, for it to come out as good as it can be, it’s going to take all of us realizing it’s not the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Hamilton Tiger-Cats or Toronto Argonauts, it’s the Canadian Football League and we all need to stand up for our game and do what it takes to make it right.”