Paul LaPolice is back running his own training camp as a head coach for the first time since 2012. He is taking a new approach with the Ottawa Redblacks, drawing inspiration from his recent stint as the offensive coordinator in Winnipeg.
“I am very much more head coach-focused,” said LaPolice in a videoconference. “I think I’m teaching more situational football to the whole team this time as a head coach. I also think I don’t have to talk all the time. Maybe in my first time as a head coach I probably thought I had to speak too much. I can carry a message in different ways or let the staff carry a message.”
LaPolice also believes he’s mellowed since his first stint as a head coach, no longer worrying about the little things that won’t affect the outcome of games.
“Maybe not sweating some of the details. You want to always sweat the details that are crucial to the success of the team, maybe not crucial to other parts. Some things I would have looked, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t be doing it that way.’ Well, some things are battles that aren’t really important. If a guy’s jersey is a little bit untucked, I think more importantly the player’s focused in the practice than his jersey’s a little bit untucked, which maybe a couple of years ago I would have though too much about,” he said.
The native of Nashua, New Hampshire was hired as the head coach of the Blue Bombers in February 2010 following a two-year stint as the offensive coordinator of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Winnipeg won just four games in his first season on the bench, though the club set a new league record by losing nine games by four points or fewer.
Things improved in 2011 when the team started the season off with a 7-1 record and finished atop the East Division at 10-8. Winnipeg beat Hamilton easily in the East Final, though they were outclassed in the Grey Cup by the hometown B.C. Lions.
LaPolice was fired in late August 2012 after the Blue Bombers got off to a 2-6 start. Tim Burke lost his first game as the interim head coach by a score of 52-0 in the Labour Day Classic as it became clear that general manager Joe Mack had made a coaching change to save his own job.
The 51-year-old spent three years as an analyst for TSN before returning to Winnipeg as the offensive coordinator in 2016. He developed a run-oriented offence that helped Andrew Harris reignite his career, culminating in a Grey Cup title in 2019.
Coaching under Mike O’Shea in Winnipeg provided valuable learning opportunities for the veteran coach. When asked for examples of things he’s incorporated from O’Shea, LaPolice declined to identify particulars.
“I don’t know if there’s anything I can divulge,” said LaPolice with a chuckle. “Certainly, there’s a ton of things from [O’Shea] from the last four years, just seeing it a different way and being around people and how they do it in situations. There’s a bunch of things I think I’ve done to emulate because I thought [O’Shea] was great at building team.
“Certainly there’s some things that I’m emulating and certainly my time with (defensive coordinator) Richie Hall was outstanding, just watching him operate on a daily basis. The whole staff were good guys and I’m fortunate to have a great staff — a bunch of guys that are … really good technical teachers here in Ottawa. It allows me a little bit more flexibility.”
The Redblacks open their season with a visit to the Edmonton Elks at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 7.