Interview transcript: Jeff Reinebold, special teams coordinator for Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Liz Bhandari: Welcome to the show. Jeff. How are you?

Jeff Reinebold: I’m really good. Really, really good. How are things? You know, I follow you on Twitter and I tell you what, I thought I travel a lot, but you’re like, you should be writing a travel blog.

Liz: I really should be, shouldn’t I? Clearly got too much time on my hands. Well thank you so much for joining. Obviously, we’ve met quite a few times. And you’re a regular at our NFLUK fan meal, Christmas parties. Obviously, we missed you last month but otherwise it’s always amazing to have you with us.

Jeff: Well, you know what, when we started that or when you started it and I came up for the first time, I was amazed at the passion of the fans up there and I guess I shouldn’t be because it’s just a microcosm of how the game has grown around the UK. But man, I’m telling you it was such fun and such great questions and when you can get a group of NFL fans together, it’s always a great evening. And then your Christmas parties have been amazing. I’m sorry I missed this one, but we had this conflict with Sky, but I’ll be back next.

Liz: Awesome, can’t wait. Now you’ve had, I would say one hell of a career; you’ve played, you’ve coached and you’ve seen everything from CFL to NFL Europe to college football and back to CFL again. How did it kind of start for you and how have you managed to get to where you are today?

Jeff: Well, it really, it started by accident. Not, I don’t think, I never had a plan, like this was what it was going to be when I was a kid. I just loved the game and I loved to play. And as a player, you think it’s going to last for ever and I remember I was walking past the head coaches office one day and he said, Jeffrey, get in here and like, there’s two people in the world that call me Jeffrey. And my mother was one of them and it’s usually was when she was mad at me. So I’m like, Oh God, what I do? And you start going through that role that in your brain of all the crazy stuff that you could get in trouble for. And he sat me down and he said, you know, this is going to end now, right. He said, the end is coming and I had gotten hurt and was struggling to play through the injury and he said what are you going to do when this is over? And that was a shocking question because as a player you think you’re just going to keep playing forever. 

And for all of us, the end comes at some point. And it was the first time I was faced with that kind of realisation and he said, I think you should coach. And I had never really thought about it because my dad was in pro baseball and so I grew up a coach’s kid. And to be honest with you it’s a hard life because moving all the time and anyway, I went home that night and I called my dad and I said, dad. And I told him what’s going on and I said, what do you think? And the phone went dead silent for 15 seconds. And he goes, well, let me tell you, there’s no money in it, there’s insecurity personified. There’s no money in it. At that time, there wasn’t any money in it. He gave me all the reasons why not to because I think what he was trying to tell me in his own way was this is not something that you should do unless you’re really passionate about it. And I decided to jump in and it’s been like everything I own or everything I am or everything that I’ve gotten, I owe to football. So it’s been a wonderful life.

Liz: Yeah, absolutely. And as we all know, the Raiders have just become the Las Vegas Raiders. Does that bring back any memories of your time with the CFL’s Las Vegas posse and if so, how different an experience was that?

Jeff: I think, someday, I want to write a book about it because some of it… I mean, if I told some of the stories, you’d shake your head go, no way that’s happened. But it’s been an experience. We went into Las Vegas and this is really interesting because I’m not watching the Raider thing real close. Las Vegas is a really unique experience. It’s just this place in the desert that is blown up and it’s all transient people. I mean it’s a fabulous place to live, but it is different now. And so we’re in there with a pro football team and at that time the NFL wouldn’t touch Vegas because of the gambling thing and they were trying to keep their arm’s length from the gambling. But our team hotel is the Riviera hotel and Ron Meyer, who was the head coach for the Patriots and was the head coach today in Annapolis Colts and was our head coach. And I was the youngest guy on the staff and he used to call me kid and Ron had this, he was a legend, but he had this thing he says why drive when one can be driven? 

So I was his driver because I was the youngest coach on the staff and one day he goes, kid, let’s go. And he had his big Cadillac. I drive him around in his Cadillac. He goes, I’m going to show you the practice facility. I’ve been there like three days. And so we’d drive right down the strip in Vegas and the Rivieras sits on the steps and he goes pull in kid and I pull into the Riviera parking lot and he goes, go to the back and there’s a big parking lot in the back of the rib. And he said, what do you think? And I said, think about what, Ron? He goes, this is it kid. I said what, it was an asphalt parking lot. I said, coach it’s a parking lot. He goes, no, no, no. Where is your vision? This is Vegas, things happen in Vegas, and I swear to God, man, in two days they took and made like the world’s biggest sandbox and with dirt, covered it with sod, put goalposts up, put bleachers up. And we had a practice, you know, built in the Riviera parking lot in two days. And so at for training camp they would give you a chip in the casino that you could come out, you get a drink, I’m talking about like a margarita or whatever. And you could come out and watch us practice in the parking lot field. I mean that’s some of the bizarreness that went on when we were in Vegas. And I got a million stories. Some I can’t tell on the radio, but I got a million of them.

Liz: Now last year, you were part of the coaching staff that although you didn’t win the grey cup, you did set a franchise record for wins. How proud of you to be part of that and how much do you appreciate the heritage of Tiger Cats generally?

Jeff: You’ve got to understand that the CFL is the oldest professional sports league in existence. It’s older than any other professional league. When I talk about we, we as a league have been around for a hundred and I think it’s a hundred and fifty years or something like that. And so there’s so much tremendous history in the CFL and there has been so many great players come through the CFL and so many legendary teams and all of that. And to think that you’re a part of a team that won more games in the regular season than any other team in Tiger Cat history. And that’s like I said, that’s over a hundred year history. That’s pretty, pretty special. But in the final analysis, it really comes down. And this is one of the things that one of the teams that are going to play in Miami next week is going to have to come to grips with at the end of the game. You didn’t finish the job. And in pro football there’s one team that ends up happy at the end of the year and in the NFL we got a 31 and in the Canadian Football League, the other eight go back and home and go to work again. Because you have to try; winning the Super bowl is the only thing that matters.

Liz: And have you been following the CFL, global combines and what do you think of like the European plays especially?

Jeff: Well, I think the globalisation of the game. And I’m talking about football, both the national football league now that you start to see global players, international players. You’ve got the Scottish hammer, you’ve got guys, legitimate guys. I’m not talking about kids that were born outside of America and then moved over there when they were eight and then grew up in America. Those guys don’t count me as international players, the truly international players, the guys that played in the indigenous game in their country and then came to North America to be pros. Those are the guys that really are to me, the legitimate international players. Well you recognize that the growth of the game has to happen outside of the confines of your country, whether the United States or whether it’s Canada.

So last year for the first time our league brought international players. Every team had one active and two practice roster players from around the globe. We had a French national and we had two Mexican players on our practice lesson. So those guys were the first. Now, the league has since expanded and we’ve now branched out. There’ll be English players next year, kids from UK, kids from Scandinavia, the French. Again, we’re going to do a combine in Japan for the first time, we signed a television contract with Mexico and we will play our first international game in modern CFL history next year in 2021. So it’s moving as a matter of fact, every few minutes, CFL now next year we’ll have two actives. So like for example, the pathway program at the NFL has those guys go over there and take along the practice roster and they cannot be elevated to the regular reps because they don’t take regular roster spots.

Those are special practice roster spots they are given, but they can’t be activated to the active roster. But the difference in our situation is the kids that come into the CFL, they play, there on the active roster, they’re on the game day roster and then the practice roster kids, if there’s an injury or if one of them just developed, you can activate them and push them up to the roster. So in a way it’s a more, I won’t say legit because that’s not fair, but these guys actually are on the field playing in games. 

Liz: That’s amazing. 

Jeff: Yeah, it really is. And kids have really done well. You know the kid that we have, the first kid we have, Noah, he does a fabulous job. He’s a really, really good as specialties player and it was tough for him. It’s hard for these guys to not… this is just the reality of it; when they come to us, they have no idea about how physical the game is and how fast the game is, how intense learning is, all that stuff. So there’s a huge learning curve for them first. But we’ve been through it before with the NFL Europe situation, with the national players in Europe and you just have to throw them in the pool and they’ll learn how to swim. But if they never jump in the pool, you can’t learn how to swim and so you got to immerse them in training camp and get them in and give them an opportunity and then they get it as they learn to play. One of the big plays in the grey cup, a play that you can watch on CFL highlights is a hit that the German kid that played for Winnipeg had on our returner. I mean, he blew our guy up on a kick-off. So they’re making an impact. They’re just not playing, they’re making an impact.

Liz: As everyone knows the XFL launches next month, being a special teams coach, I know you might have different perspectives. So what do you make of the new XFL kick-off rules?

Jeff: It’s interesting because I was asked to coordinate specialties in Houston in the XFL for June Jones and so I’ve looked at; he sent me the rules and how it was going to be. I think that that’s interesting. Here’s what I see in the XFL. The XFL is trying to embrace big plays in the kicking game, but yet preserve the safety for the players because the reason that they’re the NFL keeps pushing to get rid of the kick-off, which is I think, I’m afraid to say it, but I think it’s common, is because they say it’s an injury problem. Well, if you’re going to get rid of the challenges for injuries, you’re going to stop the game because that’s just the nature of football. It’s a contact sport. It’s a violent contact sport. And what is interesting, Andrew, Luck’s father, Oliver, who was our general manager for our first Ryan fire team and then became the commissioner of the NFL Europe is now the commissioner of the XFL so he’s borrowed some ideas from NFL Europe and then came and looked at our Canadian game and to see how they could make an impact with the kicking game.

Because the kicking game is much more important to CFL than it is in the NFL. You can’t fair catch points. Every ball has to be returned if you don’t bring a ball out of the end zone. There are no touch backs if you don’t bring a ball out of the end field and the kicking team gets a point. So there’s so many more ways to score. And so what Oliver did was he looked at the stuff and it’s really interesting how they’re going to do it. The players are placed I think its five yards from one another at the 35 yard line, then the kicker kicks the ball and nobody can move until a returner catches it and then they push, it lessens the big collisions that happen sometimes on kick-off return, but it also keeps the kick-off return a part of the game. And you know, if you go back, look at the Texan Chiefs’ game, the Chief said that big kick-off return and that was the spark that got them going.

Liz: If you had to point to one play in any league that you’ve coached in as an example of how to approach being a pro athlete, be the player you aspire to be, who would you pick and why? 

Jeff: That’s a really, really interesting question. Maybe the guy that impacted the game the most as a player that I’ve been around, Doug Flutie, because you know, Doug had an unbelievable ability to, as you know, there’s leadership and I see this with Maholmes too, but it doesn’t matter what the situation in the game is, he always thinks as long as he can get the ball back one more time, he can win the game. And there was a case, Liz, we’re playing one game when Doug was our quarterback and we were down by 21 points with three minutes left to go and won that game in overtime.

Liz: No way.

Jeff: Yeah, I mean he was phenomenal that way. And everybody talks about the throw that he made against the University of Miami, that iconic college football play. Well, that wasn’t the only one he did, that was like regular with Doug. He could make plays in the worst situations when it seemed like the game was completely out of hand and he could come back and win for you. I mean just had that and everybody in the huddle and everybody on the football team felt that way, and that’s what great players do. Whether it’s Michael Jordan in basketball or you know Maradonna or Pele or any of the great soccer players, they transcend the game. They’re bigger than the game. LeBron James does it. You just feel like as long as they’re playing, that game’s not over. And Patrick Mahomes, who is the new face of the NFL, has proven the last two weeks that he can do that same thing.

Liz: That’s incredible. So get back to the CFL and global players. The takeouts are hard. The first global player to score points in the league and all players made an impact on special teams too. Is that the best way to get onto a squad and be active there? Special teams route.

Jeff: Yeah, I think that’s really true for any player, unless you’re are a first round draft choice quarterback, whether it’s the national football league or the CFL, the two professional leagues are available in the world. Most young players, most rookies will start their career as special teams players. And the reason for that is they have to learn the game. And there are those kinds of guys that are just so good, they come into the league and they go right to the starting line-up, but typically the rookies are going to be the guys that are going to populate your special teams and then some of those guys will move on to be starters. Raheem is a perfect example, cut by five teams but eventually made it as a special teams guy. Then was a gunner on the punt team and learned to be running back, learned how to protect the football, learn how to be a good impasse, protection.

The things that he couldn’t do when he first came to the league, he learned how to do in special teams, bought him an opportunity to do that. So for us as special teams coaches you typically work with, it’s really a unique job because it’s the only job other than the head coach that works with every player on the football team and every position on the football team. And so when you look at it, you’re typically working with young kids, or the bottom of the roster guys that are veterans, they’re like situational players. And then you’re working some of the older guys that are fighting to hang on to play for one more, two more years. So it’s really a unique coaching situation.

Liz: And you recently started your segment Coffee with Coach, which I love by the way. How does it feel to be able to have this level of engagement with the fans?

Jeff: It is the coolest thing I keep trying to find, because I’m not a technology guy. I mean like as you can tell by my tweets, I don’t spell very good and all that but I keep trying to find a way to get more interactive with the fans. And the reason for that, Liz, is because like I said to you earlier in the interview, everything I have I owe to football and so you’ve got to give back, and I learned it from my dad. Like I said, my dad was in pro baseball for 30 years and baseball has a lot of really cool sayings and one of them is the guy never learned how to say hello until it was time to say goodbye and I don’t want to be that guy.

Liz: Yeah. That’s understandable. That’s understandable. And so what’s next for Jeff Reinebold?

Jeff: Well, next is I’m going to, right now, I’m going to go to yoga class and then after that I’ll get my workout in and then we’re leaving on Sunday to go to the Super Bowl and we’ll be on radio row doing Inside the Huddle every day. It’s going to be fun. Rob Brian’s going to; Josh Norman’s going to join us. And when we get the radio row, it is amazing the number of players and coaches and among Hall of Famers and everybody that we’re able to get on the show. As a matter of fact, it’s gotten to the point now where we have to turn people away, which is really, really amazing.

Liz: Wow.

Jeff: But we’ll do a half an hour TV show every day that you can get on Sky. And then obviously we’ll have Coffee with the Coach on Tuesday where we’ll take questions from anybody about anything that has to do with football. And then I’ll do a daily hit for odds checker through the week as we talk to people and see what people’s thoughts are on the game and the prop bets you can make and all those things. And I have to tell you I should actually not worked for Oz tech. I just have to vet the games, because I’m an eight for 10 in the playoffs. I didn’t make it. I’m making somebody rich but it’s not me. Then we’ll do the game on Sunday and then on Monday morning I will get on an airplane and I will be in the water in Hawaii in less than 16 hours.

Liz: Wow. I bet you can’t wait.

Jeff: No, I can’t. That’s my time to, the month I get to go home between the CFL season and doing the NFL work for Sky, that time in Hawaii is really precious to me and I get a chance to recharge my batteries and get to my roots and take the phone off the hook and it’s really a nice time

Liz: And who do you think is going to win the Super Bowl?

Jeff: Who do I think is going to win?

Liz: Yeah.

Jeff: I tell you what, I think it’s going to be one of the best Super bowls that we have seen in a long time. There’ve been some great ones, right? 

Liz: Yeah. 

Jeff: You know the overtime game and all that. But I really, really believe this is two really evenly matched teams, teams whose strengths and weaknesses kind of, against one another for example, San Francisco can run the ball extremely well. That’s Kansas City’s defenses one challenge and then you look at the other side, San Francisco can rush the passer extremely well. Well Kansas City protects with five guys. That means they’ve got at least three one-on-ones against five first round draft choices. But yet in the back end, Kansas City, it should be San Francisco has been suspect a little bit in the back end. They’re secondary against a track team of wide receivers and a quarterback who can throw it to, you know, from Florida to Alabama.

And I mean, so it’s going to really, I think really, really be a great game. I think the special teams are going to be a big part of it. It’s been interesting how Kansas City special teams during the playoffs, because they’ve told their special teams coach is one of the best in the business and they have struggled. They have given up big plays, had fights against them; drop the ball, you know what I mean? So I think the team that plays best on special teams and then who can make the big plays, which can make the chunk plays, the 15 yard rooms for San Francisco and the 25 yard passes for Kansas City. But I kind of right now I give San Francisco a very slight edge.

Liz: Yeah. My husband would be very happy with that. 

Jeff: Yeah, I know that. I was going to say your husband is really fired up to hear that, because I know he is a big San Francisco fan.

Liz: He is. He is. Listen, Jeff it’s been absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for speaking to me today and enjoy your class. Enjoy Super Bowl, enjoy getting back to Hawaii.

Jeff: I will do both of those things, Lizzie. And again if you and all the people that you’ve… it’s really cool to be a part of this and watch this thing grow and having been a part of it, the growth of it. And it’s people like you who really just love the game and invest your time and your energy and your spirit in making this game better and growing it and all you do to support the game and promote the game, it’s really awesome. And I remember the first time I met you and you told me about your dreams of being in the NFL and here you are. That’s really, really cool.

Liz: Yeah. I’m really, really proud of how this all again.

Jeff: Yeah, because being in the NFL it’s not just the players; it’s all of us that work to make the game better and it’s cool having you on the team. 

Liz: Aww..thank you Jeff. 

Jeff: All right. Have a wonderful day. 

Liz: Yeah, you too. Take care.

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