When Jeff Reinebold was six and growing up in South Bend, Indiana, his parents gave him a globe for Christmas.
One of those on a pedestal that you could twirl and travel the world in your imagination.
"I used to spin that thing, and then stopping it with my finger, I'd say 'I'm going to be here one day ... I'm going to be here one day. And it just worked out that way."
What worked out was a life in coaching football, one that currently has the 55-year-old in charge of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats
' special teams but has taken him through so many places that his life reads like that Johnny Cash song (written by Geoff Mack):Been to West Montana, Dartmouth, West Montana, Pennsylvania,
Rocky Mountain, New Mexico, then I went to British Columbia ...
Las Vegas, Edmonton, B.C. again and Dusseldorf auf Germany,
Winnipeg, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, Ruston, Honolulu, Dallas, Montreal
and now I'm here in Hamilton,
I've been everywhere man, I've been everywhere ...
That's 19 stops in 32 seasons going back to 1981 as an unpaid grad assistant at Western Montana.
Along the way, Reinebold has been a defensive coordinator, worked with running backs, defensive backs, linebackers, tight ends and was a head coach in Winnipeg for almost two seasons (6-26, fired). Of the 19 jobs, 15 he left of his own volition to move up or simply on.
Begging the question: What is he still doing here? Especially since Reinebold was hit with cancer a couple of years back (melanoma), something he seems to be clear of.
"It's been an incredible ride," he says after throwing his head back, laughing heartily at the question and launching into a five-minute description of how he got into the business thanks to a suggestion from Jack Bicknell, his legendary coach at the University of Maine.
"It's been a long way, through a lot of twists and turns, but it's been more fun than I can imagine. I can't imagine having as much fun or as much opportunity to do what I've done, or go to the places I've been."
That's one way to put a life dedicated to coaching, where you live by the one year contract, make about the same as anyone out there in the working world of similar experience for three times the hours and absolutely no job security, and put enormous pressure on your family and personal life.
You have got to love it. Because the life is going to make you live it hard.
Coaching lifers are all over football, and they're easy to find on any CFL
staff. For example:
- Mark Nelson, linebackers coach in Montreal, has made 12 stops in 21 years, all in the CFL or the NCAA college ranks.
- Gary Crowton, offensive coordinator for the Bombers, has been through 13 teams in 31 years, touching the NCAA, National Football League and Canada.
- Richard Kent, at Saskatchewan to work with the defensive backs, has put in 14 stops in 28 seasons, including nine years in Europe.
When Wally Buono, president and GM out in B.C., talks about career assistants, the respect he feels is obvious.
"Each of these men has a tremendous love for the game," he says over the phone. "And I think the love for the game drives them to do what a lot of people, I don't believe, would have the courage to do, or would have the conviction to do, or the will to do."
He believes their commitment "from both an emotional and physical and time perspective" is way out of proportion to what they are paid.
Hours are long. Pressure to perform is high. And you can be the best in the league coaching your particular position but still lose your job because the head guy was fired.His father's son
Jeff Reinebold can do other things. He can, for example, sit and discuss 20th century American literary icons at length and quotes Hemingway from memory.
Like Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea
, something has kept him going out there, and it seems to be almost a reverential love of the players he coaches.
First, however, he had to overcome the objections of his father, Jim, himself a career baseball coach who had taken the family hither and yon. Reinebold called his dad and told him what he wanted to do with own life.
There was dead silence on the phone.
"Then he proceeded to tell me why not, there's no money in it, and it's hard on families, you're going to have to move, there's no security, yadda yadda yadda," he says. "What he was doing in his own way was being a loving father and trying to make sure that ... if you get into this business you can't get into it half way."
So off through the college ranks went this chip off the old man, without any real idea of where it was going to take him.
"Mao Tse Tung had a five-year plan. I didn't have a five-month plan."
It was 10 years in the college ranks and a growing reputation as a young upstart with a big-time personality before a friend, Greg Newhouse, got him into the B.C. Lions to do receivers and specials.
Seven years later, he was handed the reins of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a club coming off a couple of bad seasons under the legendary Cal Murphy. It would get worse, and 14 games into his second year, they invited him to leave.
Along the way he dumped the Harley, the bleach blond hair and the earrings.
"I would never trade those 18 months in Winnipeg for anything in my life," Reinebold says. "That was such a unique time, that was such a unique group of people. I learned so very much from that opportunity."
Back to Europe. And ultimately the University of Hawaii, where he bought two surfboards and discovered the place to where he will eventually retire. Living the life
It was back in Week 2
of this season that the heavens opened and the rain pelted down on rookie returner Lindsey Lamar, who fumbled four kickoffs against Edmonton and had to head to the sidelines to face the music.
He was met by Reinebold, who put his left hand on the young man's right shoulder and spoke quietly to him, something the coach admits 15 years ago likely would not have happened. There would have been yelling.
Not to say he can't kick ass when needed, but the moments now are more carefully chosen.
In these relations with players, you find the key to this man, someone who used to take life and wrestle it to the ground, pounding it into submission in order to have it do what he wanted. Then one day, Reinebold went surfing, noticed a growth on his stomach and started his cancer fight.
Now, he's learned to really live. And why he's living life as a coach.
"I would just say that, when I think back on all of the great guys, and I'm talking about players, coaches, administrators, fans, all of the great people that I've met ... I mean, wow ...
"Even to this day I walk ... I'm sorry, I have a contact lens problem [he takes the left one out, looks at it and replaces it into tear-filled eyes] ... I walk in that locker room, into the special teams meeting every day, and I absolutely love those kids."
He will always, Reinebold says, be there for them. As the game has been for him.
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