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55 Yard Line

Jeff Reinebold’s worldwide coaching odyssey took him to the Ticats’ special-teams’ job

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

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Jeff Reinebold's career has taken him from Germany (where he's pictured) to Hawaii.

The CFL is full of assistant coaches with interesting backstories, from CFL quarterbacks-turned-offensive coordinators like Dave Dickenson and Marcus Brady to coaches with notable NFL and NCAA backgrounds like Winnipeg OC Gary Crowton and Saskatchewan OC George Cortez to CIS products like Montreal DC Noel Thorpe, but Hamilton Tiger-Cats special teams coordinator Jeff Reinebold (a rare CFL coach who's an engaging guy to follow on Twitter) might have the most unusual background of any of them. He likely has the longest and most geographically-diverse resume, anyway: Reinebold has made 19 football coaching stops since 1981, working everywhere from Las Vegas to Dusseldorf to Montana to Amsterdam to Hawaii to Vancouver, and he's perservered through firings, a bout with cancer and more adversity. As Reinebold told CBC's Malcolm Kelly in a piece published Wednesday, he's still coaching because he loves the game:

"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."

It's remarkable how many different roles Reinebold has filled over the years. Like players, most coaches tend to stick to one side of the ball, moving around from one position group to another but rarely jumping from offence to defence or vice-versa. As with players, though, there are exceptions, and Reinebold is certainly one. The son of career baseball coach Jim, the younger Reinebold grew up in South Bend, Indiana (next to the University of Notre Dame), but then went to the University of Maine and played for Bicknell. After taking Bicknell's advice on professions, Reinebold started his coaching career in 1981 (at age 26) as a graduate assistant at the NAIA's Western Montana College, where he worked mostly with quarterbacks and wide receivers. He then worked as a defensive coordinator at Division I FCS Dartmouth, a running backs coach at Div I-FCS Montana, a head coach at NAIA Rocky Mountain College before making the jump to the Division I-FBS ranks as a linebackers coach with New Mexico in 1990.

After that, Reinebold headed to the CFL as a wide receivers/special teams coach with B.C. in 1991, where he was hired by famed coach and executive Bob O'Billovich. He almost didn't make it there, though: Reinebold was far from the first choice, but grabbed the job thanks to lying about having special teams experience. It's a good thing that worked out for him, as resume-padding has doomed other coaches, including George O'Leary at Notre Dame. That time in B.C. started Reinebold's long CFL stint: he worked with the Lions for three years, then joined the ill-fated (but hilarious to remember) Las Vegas Posse during the CFL USA expansion, worked as the Edmonton Eskimos' defensive coordinator, headed to Europe with the Rhein Fire (in the World League of American Football, which later became NFL Europe), came back to Canada with B.C., and then became the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' head coach and general manager in 1997. That part of his career alone has more jumps and switches than many coaches pile up over a lifetime.

Reinebold really attracted notice in Winnipeg, though, where he was famed for a variety of quirks, including Harleys, flip-flops, bleach-blond hair and reggae music. His two-year stint there wasn't the most successful, though, as he went 6-26 before being fired. Reinebold told The Canadian Press' Judy Owen last year he's changed since his time in Winnipeg:

We all have changed, we've all grown, hopefully, and we've all evolved in the 20 or so years since I first went (to the CFL)," Reinebold said from Phoenix on Saturday. "You live for today and tomorrow. You don't let your past define you, whether it was positive or negative, because if you do that then you're living in the past and I'm not interested in that.

After Winnipeg, Reinebold returned to NFL Europe before stints with prominent NCAA programs like Hawaii and SMU. He's also worked as a NFL commentator for Britain's Sky Sports, and headed back to the CFL last year as Montreal's defensive coordinator thanks to a random meeting with Scott Milanovich and Jonathan Himebauch at a coaches' conference. His stint there wasn't terrible, but he was let go at the end of the year in the wake of the East Final loss. Now, he's wound up in Hamilton and has been effective thus far, with his schemes clearing the way for Lindsey Lamar's outstanding return work this season. It's just the latest stop on a world-spanning coaching career for Reinebold, one that's often involved upheaval, transitions and firings. He told Kelly it's all been worth it, though:

"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."

That's the sound of a football lifer, and one the CFL's lucky to have back in the fold.

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