One of the V.I. Raiders’ original champions returns as the team’s new head coach.
Nanaimo’s junior football club announced Tuesday it has hired Brian Ridgeway as coach.
The 29-year-old from Grande Prairie, Alta., decided this off-season to retire from the CFL, where he had been a linebacker with the Montreal Alouettes. The timing was ideal for him to return to Nanaimo, where he helped the Raiders win a Canadian Junior Football League championship in 2006.
“We’re very, very excited with who we’ve got … and the future of this football team is fantastic,” said Chris Cross, Raiders president. “The more and more we talked to [Ridgeway], the more and more we knew that this person was the one and there’d be no other.”
Ridgeway was an original Raider, moving up from Victoria along with coaches and teammates for the inaugural 2005 season. He went on to play CIS football before getting drafted to the pros.
Kabel Atwall, Raiders vice-president, said the club wanted to hire an alumnus.
“He understands what we’re all about and the commitment to winning…” Atwall said. “That was one of the criteria that we were looking at to grow our franchise was to involve our alumni as much as we could.”
It was concussion issues that sidelined Ridgeway’s CFL career. He had doctor’s permission to keep playing, but decided not to mess around with head health. Instead, he can bring the work ethic he learned in pro football to a new role.
“Every second of every day matters in the CFL because there’s so much to do, so much to study and I just love that high-intensity environment,” he said. “This way I still get to stay in the game with football.”
He has helped coach Raiders camps several times over the years, but he doesn’t have head coaching experience.
“He’s made to coach, so we’re not worried about that whatsoever,” Cross said.
Indeed, the new coach intends to immerse himself in all aspects of the job, from recruiting, to pursuing scholarships, to doing community relations, to taking care of handyman work at the practice facility. And of course, football, football, football.
“If I have to be the head coach, defensive coordinator, linebackers coach and special teams coordinator, I’ll do that,” he said. “That’s not ideal, but if that’s the only way I can ensure that we’re giving the players all the information they need to be successful on game day, then that’s how it’s going to have to be.”
He has a lot of game film from last season to go over to get an idea about potential returning players. Guys will have to compete for their positions all over again, as they probably expected.
“I have fresh eyes…” the coach said. “I get to come in and say, well, this is what we need, this is insufficient, this is great, let’s keep running with this.”
Being on the Raiders’ sideline on game day is going to be exciting for Ridgeway. He said he might be even more emotionally involved in a game as a coach than as a player because he’s ultimately responsible for game planning and preparation.
The Raiders believe the new coach will bring passion, but at the same time discipline, organization and a detail-oriented approach.
“Coming into our 10th year we’re now sort of embarking on the new chapter of the Raiders,” Atwall said.
Expectations, though, will be the same. The goal always has been and always will be a national championship, Ridgeway said.
“That’s how we started off, that’s how we’re going to continue,” he said. “If your goal isn’t that, then there’s no point playing. Why would you want to play to be mediocre? We want to play, we want to play well and we want to win.”