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Ready to Roll: Meet New Ottawa REDBLACKS Head Coach Bob Dyce

Last year at this time, the Ottawa REDBLACKS were filled with optimism due to a major influx of free agent signings. While they were fairly busy again in free agency a few months ago, much of their 2023 enthusiasm stems from a completely overhauled coaching staff.

 

The man running the show this year – probably arriving for work on his 2019 Harley Davidson CVO Street Glide – is 57 year old Bob Dyce. Dyce signed a three year deal with Ottawa back in December, replacing Paul LaPolice who was fired as head coach last year with four games left in the season. Dyce has guided the ship ever since, but now the interim label is gone.

 

With 30 years in coaching, including 20 in the CFL and seven of those in Ottawa, Dyce brings a wealth of football experience to the position.

 

But as a full-time head coach, he’s actually a rookie.

 

Dyce caught the head coaching bug in 2015, temporarily taking over the Saskatchewan Roughriders for the second half of that season.

 

“Growing up, I had always envisioned myself on the offensive side of the football,” Dyce said. “So probably my main goal was to be an offensive coordinator. And then in Saskatchewan, when I had the opportunity to start engaging and meeting with the whole team and managing situational things in the game and substitutions. That’s really when I thought head coaching is something I’d definitely like to have in my future.”

 

A year later, Dyce found himself in Ottawa, where he immediately won the 2016 Grey Cup as special teams coach, helping Ottawa end a 40 year drought. He spent the next six years in that role.

 

“Since I came to Ottawa, I was blessed to work with Rick Campbell,” Dyce said. “He was a great coach to work for. So I was locked in and focused on putting the best special teams out there we possibly could. When Rick left, the (head coaching role) became an opportunity that I thought I would like to seize, but it didn’t work out. And then when the job opened up this year, it obviously became a real target for me.”

 

 

Faces: So GM Shawn Burke did a bunch of different interviews and then finally sits you down and tells you you’ve got the job. Can you share what that conversation was like and what your emotions were?

 

Dyce: Yeah, I’d actually just flown in for my second interview and afterward we’d gone out for supper. And we’re having normal discussions with Shawn and Brendan Taman, the director of pro personnel. I think Shawn had come back from making a phone call and asked me if I’d be happy having dinner at Al’s for three more years. I think I either punched or slapped him on the shoulder. I was pretty excited and obviously agreed. The first thing I wanted to do was share the news with my wife back in Winnipeg so I did that.

 

I’m not going to call it a culmination of a lot of work, but I’ve been in the league 20 years, and this is something I’ve wanted to do since 2015 and I really wanted to do it here in Ottawa. It was just a really good moment.

 

Photography by Sean Sisk

 

With the season underway now, have you moved here full-time?

 

Yeah. That is the plan. I have a teenaged daughter and don’t want to disrupt her life totally. So we’re looking at buying a property in Ottawa so we can transition, over time, to become full-time Ottawa residents.

 

 

You were the interim head coach in Ottawa for the final month of the season. And suddenly you had to interview for this job that you’d already been doing and probably starting to get comfortable in. What was that experience was like, having to wait for the process to play out?

 

Um, it was interesting. I think if anything was a little challenging, it was probably my last meeting with the players and the fact that you want to leave a message with them, but you don’t know if you’re going to be the guy who’s coming back to lead them in 2023.

 

I just worked through it. Shawn gave me the option to either interview early or late in the process and I chose late. I just focused all my energy on that. From my first interview to the second interview, it wasn’t that long. It was only about a week. So it really never felt that I was floating out there for too long.

 

 

It certainly seems like you’ve captured the hearts of a lot of your players. What did that mean to you to have so many of the guys show up for your welcoming news conference like that?

 

It obviously meant a lot. Those guys mean a lot to me. I built some strong relationships with some of the players over the years and a lot of them showed their support. I try to support them the same way when I’m coaching and working with them. So it was nice to see it reciprocated and I’m very thankful. I don’t consider myself a player’s coach, but I am players first. The players are the reason why the CFL is strong. They’re the most important part of our game. I recognize that and I think they realize that. And so I was very thankful to see them.

 

 

I’ve always thought that every coach kind of falls on a spectrum. From the hard nosed, drill sergeant who can be intimidating to the nice guy that players might try to walk over. So where on that coaching spectrum do you think you fall?

 

I think if you talk to players new into our system, early in training camp and times like that, they would say I really lean towards hard. I set high standards for guys and I’m very direct in how I get my point across. Sometimes for players who are new to our team, they see it as abrupt. Conversely, I think one of my strengths is the relationships I build. I think players realize I have a lot of respect for them and what they do.

 

 

Tell us about your new offensive coordinator, Khari Jones, a former CFL quarterback, a league MVP, and a CFL coach for 14 years. You must be excited about everything he brings to the table.

 

Well, I’ve known Khari for over 20 years now, having coached him and having coached with him. When I was an offensive coordinator, he was my quarterback coach. And it was great to see him grow into a head coaching role in Montreal. So there’s a lot of things that made Khari the right choice for the job. I can lean on him with head coaching conversations. And Khari has a positive personality so he can maybe provide some contrast to my demeanour at times!

 

 

Good cop, bad cop?

 

Yeah [laughing]. Just the breadth of knowledge he has. Over 20 years, he’s shown me as a player, as a coach, and a coordinator to be a great leader of men. He’s got a great understanding of the game. One of the things that’s important to me is being a solid family man and that’s exactly what he is. I’ve seen Khari, his wife Justine, with the kids growing up and I’ve seen the type of dad, the type of person he is. He’s just a strong individual who fought through challenges to get where he is. When you wrap all that together, it was an easy choice to have Khari on staff.

 

 

And as a former quarterback, what a great support for Jeremiah Masoli.

 

Oh, one hundred percent. For Jeremiah to have a resource like Khari to work with as they talk about what’s happening on the field is just massive because Khari’s been out there and he’s done it. He’s faced a lot of the challenges that Jeremiah’s faced as a player. Sometimes when you’re dealing with someone who hasn’t done that, something might get lost. Khari’s experience as a player will just pay dividends throughout this season and beyond.

 

 

What does the ideal Bob Dyce team look like?

 

One of the things that Shawn and I have been very much on the same page on is, we want to be a very physical team that plays with great speed and plays for each other. When you talk about whether you’re a pass heavy or run heavy team, that’s going to be dictated either by your opponent, a situation or your game plan.

 

But one thing we want to be is a team that’s extremely physical that competes all the time and finishes well at all times. One of the challenges last year was we felt we didn’t finish as well at times. And I think we had eight games we lost by seven or less points. So we have to become better finishers and that’s about mental toughness.

 

But I would say the main thing you’re going to see is a very physical team that competes right to the end, plays smart, disciplined football, and finishes with the best teams in the league.

 

 

Back when you were a kid, it seemed like there weren’t many head coaches coming from a Canadian football background. Am I right in thinking we’re seeing more Canadians in the role?

 

Yeah, I would agree. Obviously, Wally Buono was in the league when I started. When you have a guy like Coach Buono who had the success that he did, I think it opens people’s eyes. And then it carries on to people like Greg Marshall, who got the opportunity in Hamilton and then guys like Jim Daley got opportunities as well. And then you see somebody like Mike O’ Shea, a great success. And with the success of those guys, it’s really opened it up for people like myself.

 

I consider myself unique because I’m not a former player in the CFL. I just worked my way up from the grassroots coaching in this country. And I’m very proud of that fact.

 

“Bob Dyce is the heart of this organization.”

– Ottawa REDBLACKS general manager Shawn Burke

 

Growing up in Winnipeg, did you play any other sports besides football?

 

Yeah, basketball was really my main sport throughout high school. I probably liked playing basketball more because it’s an easy thing to do when you’re by yourself. And my sisters had played basketball at the University of Winnipeg so we played together at home. I just happened to be a better football player, but basketball was my first true love. My son Trysten (BC Lions running back coach) and I often get into it over Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

 

 

I feel like you’ve made a good choice going the football route. Were you a CFL guy or an NFL guy as a kid?

 

Oh, total CFL. Even though I grew up in Winnipeg, I was a huge Edmonton Eskimos fan – Tom Wilkinson, Waddell Smith, Jim Germany, Hec Pothier, Brian Kelly… Larry Highbaugh and Warren Moon are probably my two favourite football players to this day.

 

And as I got older, just after high school, I probably became more of a Bomber fan because they were in my city and those players had left Edmonton. So yeah, I grew up as a true CFL fan. Obviously, I respect and love the level of athleticism in the NFL and I love watching the intricacies of their game, but I grew up as a full-fledged CFL fan.

 

 

Did you have a mentor in the early days who helped inspire you to get into the coaching ranks?

 

You know, it’s funny. I never thought I would coach. I was kind of a hotheaded receiver as a player.

 

 

Did you have a touchdown dance? Every hotheaded receiver in the 80s had a touchdown dance.

 

Uh, no [laughing]. That’s one thing I didn’t do. But receivers back then, at times, seemed to focus on themselves and that was kind of the player I was. I didn’t get into coaching until a buddy asked me to join his staff. And I would say if I had a mentor, it would’ve been my high school basketball coach, Brian Thompson.

 

He was a mentor in regards to how to treat people and how to treat players and athletes to try and get the best out of them. Coach Thompson had a unique way of dealing with us, but he allowed us to express our individualism and didn’t worry.

 

As I got into the CFL, Richie Hall was someone I got an opportunity to meet with early when he was in Saskatchewan as a defensive coordinator and I was just starting in the league. He’s probably the nicest person anyone will ever meet. I’ve really tried to emulate him as a leader throughout my career, and as a man, he would definitely be someone I would consider a mentor.

 

 

A coach’s life isn’t easy. Can you talk a little bit about what your family has meant to you, supporting you through all this?

 

Yeah. They really mean everything, you know? I think everybody in life, if you want to be successful, sometimes you have to make certain sacrifices. I’m not trying to say I’ve had to make more sacrifices than anybody else but in this business, you do give up certain things. My oldest daughter, Brooklyn, played division one soccer at North Dakota State, and I never saw her play a game live because the soccer season coincides with football. I could get down and see the odd practice in the winter and things like that.

 

My son Trysten’s university career, I saw about four games. And then my youngest daughter, Ava, you know, you just missed certain things. She was born just before I left Winnipeg, and luckily I was in Saskatchewan, so she was able to travel back and forth. But you know what it’s like having kids. You’d like to be there every night.

 

But they’ve always been a support. They’ve never wavered and said, “Oh, I wish you were home more.” They’ve been one hundred percent behind me. My wife, Amanda, has worked hard toward her goals and finished her masters as an adult. But she has always been there to support me and these goals.

 

I can honestly say I would have never achieved what I have thus far if it weren’t for the four of them. Amanda has done a fantastic job of taking care of business when I’m not home. I’m usually pretty good, mood-wise, until the day of the game. I could keep it away.

 

But game day is usually a different demeanour. And they put up with all of it. I’m so thankful to have the family I have and it goes even to my two sisters who were based in Winnipeg. It’s just been a really phenomenal support base that I’m very thankful for.

 

 

Finally, tell us about your love of motorcycles. It sounds like you go well beyond being an enthusiast.

 

One hundred percent. In the past, when I actually had free time in the off season, I spent my time working on motorcycles. And the last two years with the pandemic and the season starting late, I was able to ride out to Ottawa that year.

 

So it was good to get a long ride. And then last year, we had two bi-weeks close together. So I didn’t mind sacrificing a couple of days and I rode home from Ottawa for that. I got in a couple of long rides in the past year because normally summertime’s busy and I’m not able to do a long ride. But yeah, it’s something I started when I was around 45 and started rebuilding them.

 

When you’re so invested in football and that’s all you think about besides your family, it gives you  something else to focus on. And whether you’re modifying, taking the cam out, putting a bigger engine in or changing your exhaust, it’s a good way to change your focus and make your mind think in a different way.

 

 

For a team that’s missed the playoffs for three straight seasons, a man with a knack for rebuilding things feels like the perfect hire.

 

By Steve Warne

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