Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers GM building relationships, rebuilding football team

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You need look no further than the CFL transactions wire to see how differently Kyle Walters treats the job of a CFL general manager than Joe Mack did.

Just once in three-plus seasons in Winnipeg did Mack execute an in-season trade. Walters has done it twice this week, sending QB Buck Pierce to B.C. in exchange for receiver Akeem Foster and swapping special-teams player Anthony Woodson to the Argos for offensive lineman Marc Parenteau.

But if you think a willingness to pull the trade trigger is the biggest difference between the new Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM and the old one, you're only partly right.

Because what has become crystal clear in the month Walters has been in the acting GM chair is that his entire approach to life in Winnipeg, never mind his job, is different than Mack's.

Whereas Mack never did move full time to Winnipeg, choosing to spend his off-seasons -- and even part of the CFL seasons -- at home in North Carolina, Walters has been a full-time Winnipeg resident since he was hired as a special teams coach in 2010.

And to Walters, being a full-time resident doesn't just mean he lives here -- it means he and his entire family have immersed themselves into giving back to the community that gives to them.

'I want people who are involved in football in this city to be comfortable with me and talk to me about whatever issues they might have so that we can try and work things out'

-- Kyle Walters

That means, for instance, his wife belongs to a baking circle that provides food to local needy families.

It also means Walters, between raising two young children and rebuilding a football team from the ground up, willingly subjects himself on a weekly basis to verbal abuse from teenaged boys.

The Bombers boss, you see, is also a volunteer high school football linesman. And if you thought being the Bombers GM was a tough job, well, let's just say the high schoolers are keeping Walters humble.

"I'll tell you what, I'll make a call and the next thing I know I'm getting jawed by some 15-year-old kid about how I blew it," Walters laughed on Wednesday. "And your first reaction is, 'Hey buddy, do you know who I am?'

"And then my second reaction is, 'You know, he might have a point. I might have missed that call.' "

Then there's the other part of a linesman's job.

"The biggest challenge as the linesman in high school football is you're also in charge of the chain crew. And those kids are usually working off a detention," Walters laughs.

"Sometimes it seems like I spend the whole game, 'All right, don't move guys.' 'OK, it's first down now.' It's draining -- and then of course, there's the game going on."

Walters first began officiating high school games about a decade ago when he was living in Burlington, Ont., after retiring as a player from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

A career detour into coaching soon afterward made officiating impossible until last winter, when Walters gave up his old job as Bombers special teams coach and became the team's new assistant-GM.

Walters contacted Football Manitoba, recertified over the winter as an official and was getting geared up for the new high school season when Mack was fired in mid-August and Walters suddenly found himself in the GM's chair.

He could have backed out at that point and no one would have complained. But to his credit, Walters agreed to continue and officiate as much high school football this fall as his new job would allow.

Walters says doing the high school games, just like the other community outreach things he does, makes for good football, but also for good citizenship.

"Part of this job is being the face of the franchise and being out there. And I want people who are involved in football in this city to be comfortable with me and talk to me about whatever issues they might have so that we can try and work things out."

There is, of course, also a football upside to all this outreach -- and it's name is Andrew Harris. The star tailback was born, raised and learned to play football in Winnipeg and yet Harris plays for the B.C. Lions because they recognized in him a talent as a B.C. junior football player that the Bombers never saw in him when he was playing here right under their noses.

With Walters now on the ground at the game's grassroots -- refereeing high school games, scouting junior games, meeting with the Bisons -- the hope is the next Andrew Harris won't slip between the Bombers' fingers.

"Just meeting with all these different guys," says Walters, "you'll hear, 'Hey, I just saw a running back at West Kildonan who was unstoppable' or 'Hey, we got this guy who's pretty good you might want to see.'

"It's just all about building relationships."

And rebuilding a football team.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 12, 2013 D6

History

Updated on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 8:09 AM CDT: adds photo

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