Saskatchewan connection for Paul LaPolice reaches far beyond the 13th man

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

Contrary to popular belief and TSN lookbacks, Paul LaPolice’s time in Regina was about much more than a few seconds after penalty flags robbed the Roughriders of the 2009 Grey Cup.

Those old highlight reels of the then-Rider offensive coordinator slamming his hat down and hanging his head below the desk of the McMahon Stadium press box have taken on a life of their own. Heck, Brian Williams even brought it up on the last Grey Cup pre-game show from the same booth.

The legend of that moment has even drawn the curiosity of some of the players on LaPolice’s current-day Ottawa Redblacks.

“I guess TSN had one of their shows on the other day,” LaPolice said. “And Don Unamba said: ‘Coach, I saw you! They talked about these Grey Cup moments or whatever and I didn’t know you coached in Saskatchewan.’ They showed the 13th man clip again. And so, yeah, I had to explain to Don Unamba what happened.”

Fans, TSN and even his own players might focus on the 13th man debacle that cost Saskatchewan that championship 12 years ago but the reality is, LaPolice had as many big moments in his three years with the Roughriders as he has in the decade-plus since.

A little-known receivers coach was recruited to the prairies by then-new Rider head coach Kent Austin along with little-known-at-the-time, offensive coordinator Ken Miller in early 2007. The three of them, Austin, Miller and LaPolice had all worked together on the Toronto Argos staff the season before.

That first year of living in Regina brought LaPolice the birth of his oldest daughter, Payton who just celebrated her 14th birthday and was born a short distance from the old Taylor Field, and his first Grey Cup championship that November.

“There were like 11 Grey Cup babies born that year on that team. There were a ton of kids born that year,” LaPolice said.

The second season in 2008 brought a promotion to offensive coordinator and another 12-win season capped by a home playoff game.

The third and final year in 2009 included the Riders finishing first in the west for the first time in 33 years, the emergence of star quarterback Darian Durant and an appearance in the Grey Cup.

That was enough to land LaPolice his first head coaching job with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Life was good in Regina for this young football coach and he loved every second of it.

“Just an amazing experience, going there and having the opportunity to be in their first home playoff game in 19 years and seeing how the fans were so good,” LaPolice recalled.

“Just the environment and the people were so nice. I can remember, you’d walk into the store and an old lady would come up to you and say: ‘Hi coach, why did you call the draw last week?’ It was amazing how knowledgeable they were and how great of fans they were. Having three great years there was really something special.”

LaPolice was even reported as a front-runner for the Roughrider head coaching job before the 2019 season when Chris Jones vacated Mosaic Stadium for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.

It was reported the Blue Bombers irked LaPolice by blocking him from being interviewed for the job that eventually went to Craig Dickenson.

However, it all worked out just fine for everybody as LaPolice would capture his second Grey Cup ring running Winnipeg’s offence and earned the head coaching job in Ottawa.

LaPolice did admit that while a win would be his biggest pickup in Regina this weekend, there’s some additional merchandise he has his eye on while he’s in town, too.

“I did that last [season] when I went out there and at the Italian Star Deli, I will definitely see the boys over there, real soon.”

The veteran coach really does know Regina inside and out.