Alouettes' new special teams coach Bruce Read moves players around during training camp at Bishop's University in Lennoxville. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette
LENNOXVILLE — When he was hired in March as the Alouettes’ special teams coordinator, Bruce Read asked return-specialist Stefan Logan what he should do with the 12th player on the field?
At least Read realized he wasn’t in Lincoln any longer, coaching special teams at the University of Nebraska. Now the 55-year-old native of Santa Rosa, Calif., must become a quick study of the Canadian Football League game if he’s to flourish.
“I’ve always admired the Canadian game because it’s so special-teams oriented. There’s only three downs, so you’re punting quicker. Your percentage of special team plays is higher. There’s more to the game in a lot of ways in Canada,” Read said after Wednesday morning’s training camp practice at Bishop’s University.
“I’ve always had a warm spot in my heart for Canadian football,” he added. “I’m really excited about the opportunity.”
The Als required a coach to take over their special teams after Kavis Reed was promoted to general manager in December. And Read happened to be looking for work after he was fired by Cornhuskers head coach Mike Riley last November with two games remaining in the college season.
The association between Read and Riley, a former head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, lasted more than a decade and included stops at Oregon State, in the NFL with San Diego, and Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers’ special teams underperformed last season and Read, who was earning US$450,000, came under heavy criticism. But in his defence, he also inherited punter Caleb Lightbourn, a true freshman, last season after the death in a summer car accident of all-Big Ten punter Sam Foltz.
“It was horrible losing Sam,” Read said. “It cast a bad shadow going into the season. The first couple of weeks were hard. I was mourning more over Sam than I was worried about camp and games. It was hard to stay focused. It set a really bad tone to the beginning of the season and it never went away.”
Read took his firing in stride, saying it was time for a fresh start. “It was fine. Things change. For me, it had gotten kind of stale. I was looking for something different and fresh.
“The (NCAA) is getting so recruiting-oriented,” he added. “The football part is very minimal. You spend a lot of time chasing and recruiting, texting, tweeting and calling. It gets away from the game. I thought this would be a nice option. It gets me back to what I really enjoy, which is the game itself.”
Read learned of the Als’ opening while attending a coaches’ convention in Nashville last winter. He called head coach Jacques Chapdelaine and things proceeded quickly before his hiring was announced in early March.
“It was a process,” Chapdelaine explained. “He came to Montreal. We studied film together before we even got to the commitment and the offer. I like what he’s doing. The guys are enjoying his knowledge.”
Although Read has an extensive special teams background, having also coached the units with the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, he’s a CFL neophyte. But he can lean on Reed and defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe. Even Chapdelaine has some experience coaching special teams.
“He’s the consummate professional,” Chapdelaine said. “He researched and looked at every single special teams play in the league over the winter.”
Through the opening days of camp, Montreal’s special teams players have gravitated easily to Read, enamoured with his infectious attitude and openness. Read’s relying on the players’ input as much as they’re leaning on his words of wisdom.
“He’s always in a good mood. He’s willing to communicate and talk. He’s always smiling,” Logan said. “You need a coach, a friend, a father figure and a counsellor in a coach. He’s willing to help us get better. He’s right there on our shoulders, helping us out.
“I know he’s going to figure it out quickly and do a great job for us.”
Kicker Boris Bede said he approached Read’s hiring with an open mind and has been impressed with his knowledge of the game. Bede said many of the pieces already had been put in place by Reed, who handled the job the last two seasons.
“He’s a great guy. He’s open to conversation and open to our input,” Bede said. “I’m excited to work with a new guy. I’m excited to see what he brings to the table, how much better he can make me.”
Read said he has adapted to the Canadian game and its players. He said adding an extra player to the formations and schemes was remarkably easy. He has inherited a veteran group and, although he realizes there will be breakdowns along the way, Read understands there must be some give and take on his part. He said he enjoys working with the players and will be highly organized, so as not to waste anyone’s time.
“We work together. I’m not a dictator,” he said. “I’m asking them what they did last year, what their experience was. I’m not coming in and deciding we’re going to run this American stuff … you’re going to do it and I know everything.”
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