Football coaches routinely preach to their players the importance of loyalty and covering each other’s back. But veteran CFL coach Jeff Reinebold lives by those words.
When the Hamilton Tiger-Cats dealt defensive lineman John Chick to the Edmonton Eskimos on Aug. 20, Reinebold offered to drive the family’s belongings to Alberta. Chick’s wife, Catherine, was originally considering to make the trip with the couple’s eight children in tow.
“Coaches sometimes take the easy way out, we say players must be disciplined but we scream at the officials and get 15-yard penalties,” Reinebold said. “When we (Ticats) got to training camp we talked about the brotherhood, that we have to take care of each other and here was an opportunity for me to not just talk about it, but live it.
“You’re given opportunities in life to really demonstrate if you’re a guy who just talks about it or who’s about it. I think it was a real blessing for me to get that chance.”
Reinebold, fired last month as Hamilton’s defensive co-ordinator after an 0-6 start, concluded his four-day trip through the northern U.S. and three provinces – which he dubbed the ‘Chickspedition’ – with his arrival in Edmonton on Wednesday night. After reconnecting with the Chick family and helping them unpack, Reinebold caught an overnight flight back to Hamilton.
“Getting fired, getting traded, getting released, it’s all part of the business and what we sign up for,” Reinebold said. “But the people who don’t sign up for that are wives and kids.
“I went to help Catherine pack and she said she was going to drive with eight kids. John called me a day later and asked if I knew anyone who might be able to help because he didn’t want Catherine to drive. I couldn’t find anybody so I called John back and said I’d do it … if you’re in a position and have the ability to help then I think you have a responsibility to.”
Chick, the CFL’s top defensive player in 2009, was deeply appreciative of Reinebold’s actions.
“The one thing people preach is the brotherhood stepping up for your guys when (you) can and it was very cool to see the action behind the words,” Chick said. “When I reached out to Jeff, honest to God, I figured he’d know somebody who could be in a place to help.
“I tried talking him out of it but he was set on doing it. Many people stepped up over the last two weeks but it was definitely a blessing Jeff was able to do that, not enough can be said about it.”
Reinebold, a colourful 59-year-old native of South Bend, Ind., knows all about life on the road.
A football nomad – Hamilton was the 18th stop of Reinebold’s coaching odyssey that began in 1981 – Reinebold also moved a lot while growing up. His father, Jim, spent over 25 years in pro baseball, often resulting in his mother having to pack up the couple’s five kids (Reinebold, his three brothers and sister) and relocate to a new city.
“I remember driving to the next dugout,” Reinebold said. “I remember my mother packing up five kids within eight years of one another into an old Studebaker station wagon and driving to wherever the next stop was.
“It’s certainly a lot to ask.”
But Reinebold embraced the 3,400-kilometre trip to Edmonton, posting daily updates on Twitter.
“I pictured myself as Forrest Gump when he just decided to go for a run and kept running,” Reinebold said. “That was me, I just kept driving, it was a pretty cool deal.
“It gave me time to do some inventory and think about many things. I don’t want to get philosophical but you’re always put in the place you need to be. Sometimes we don’t understand it, sometimes we fight it … but there’s a reason for everything. John doesn’t play for me anymore … but it’s just the bond you form if you really, truly care about each other.”
Many pro football coaches and front-office officials refuse to get attached to players because of the harsh realities of the business. But Super Bowl-winning coach Dick Vermeil bucked that trend, frequently becoming emotional during press conferences.
“I had a chance to work with coach Vermeil and he said, ‘Players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,”’ Reinebold said. “That’s the way I’ve always approached it.
“This is a violent game and players put their well-being on the line for you so when you can pay that back a little bit, I just think it’s the right thing to do.”
The trip wasn’t always smooth sailing. Twice Reinebold had to drive through severe storms and was forced to repair two damaged leaf springs (part of the trailer’s suspension system).
And when passing another car, Reinebold sometimes forgot he was towing a trailer.
“I drove their van, which is like a small school bus, and I have this trailer behind me,” Reinebold said. “I’m not a long-haul trucker driver by a longshot and you forget there’s another 25 feet behind you when you pass somebody.
“I had guys giving me the finger … and anybody who can back a trailer I have great respect for. After a while I didn’t go into a place unless I could go straight in and straight out.”
Driving across the Prairies gave Reinebold a new appreciation of Canada.
“The Tragically Hip has a collection of songs called ”Yer Favourites,” and it’s like the soundtrack for this country,” Reinebold said. “The farmers had started bringing the crops in, the harvest had begun and it was absolutely wonderful, just awesome.
“I’ve flown back and forth across this country many times in 20-some years of being in the CFL. This was the first time I’d really driven any length of it and you really don’t realize how beautiful it is until you get out and drive a little bit and see.”
Reinebold admits that while being surprised to be fired by the Ticats, experience has taught him not to dwell on it. He’s been let go before and, frankly, has overcome bigger life challenges, most notably cancer.
In 2010 while he was a receivers coach at Southern Methodist University, Reinebold was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma in his stomach that required two operations. Thankfully, he remains cancer-free.
And this spring, Reinebold’s father died at age 87.
“What you learn from this experience is there’s only so many summers,” he said. “It’s up to us regarding how (challenging) moments transform you.
“You just have to enjoy (each coaching job), enjoy the interactions and people because it’s always about the people, the players, the guys you work with, the fans you meet.”
Reinebold – a frequent analyst on Sky Sports NFL telecasts in Britain – was in his fifth season with Hamilton, the longest period he’s been in one place as a coach. But being fired gave him a rare opportunity for a family moment.
Last week, Reinebold headed to Colorado Springs, Colo., to see his oldest son, Zachariah, commissioned as a major in the U.S. Air Force.
“I never saw him graduate from high school, I never got to see him graduate from college, I didn’t see his first commissioning as an officer because I was always in football,” Reinebold said. “It was a cool moment, you never get those back.”
Reinebold is adamant he’s not done with coaching.
“It’s what I love,” he said. “I think until I can figure out how to be a professional surfer at 59 years old, I’ll be coaching football somewhere.”