SPORTS

Former Bombers head coach Kelly returns to his 'roots' with Fla. high school team

08/07/2012 01:42 EDT | Updated 10/07/2012 05:12 EDT
WINNIPEG - Mike Kelly is back coaching, but it's far, far away from the CFL.

The former Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach is the new offensive co-ordinator for the varsity football team at Mariner High School in Cape Coral, Fla.

The last time he coached high school football was 1981.

"I'm retraining my eyes and ears and retraining my mouth also," Kelly said with a laugh in a phone interview Monday after the Fighting Tritons' first official practice.

"It's actually a good thing to have to break things down to their true essence and really be thorough in your explanation of technique and scheme.

"It's been very, very good for me. Rejuvenating, actually."

When classes begin Wednesday at the public school of about 2,000 students near Fort Myers, Fla., Kelly will also be teaching some physical education and drivers' education courses.

Kelly's return to the gridiron comes 2 1/2 years after his tumultuous tenure with the Bombers ended.

Kelly, 54, was fired by the Bombers in December 2009 after a controversial rookie season as head coach. His outspoken ways often landed him in hot water with fans, the media and CFL brass and a 7-11 record didn't help matters.

The axe fell on Dec. 17 when, just hours after Lyle Bauer resigned as the club's general manager and CEO, it was discovered Kelly had been charged that morning in an alleged domestic dispute with his ex-girlfriend at his Pennsylvania home.

After an emergency board meeting that evening, then-chairman Ken Hildahl announced the Bombers were firing Kelly and it had nothing to do with his legal trouble.

The charges were later dropped and the record of it expunged.

It was the end to what Kelly had described as a his "dream job." He'd been Winnipeg's offensive co-ordinator from 1992-96 and was passed over for Jeff Reinebold when the head job came open for '97.

Kelly remained in Winnipeg after his firing, quietly doing some offensive coaching for the Oak Park High School team in 2010 when it won the league championship.

He also did CFL commentary for the local TSN radio station, was on the speaking circuit for the Glazier football clinics in the U.S., wrote for a football coaches' website and his own blog, and did some consulting for the NFL New York Giants that involved reviewing film of players.

He wouldn't speculate on whether the circumstances of his dismissal from the Bombers played a role in his not getting a job in the CFL.

"I can't make judgment on how other people react or perceive me," he said.

One day he'd like to return to the three-down game.

"I think I still have value to that league. I care for that league and I want to see that league grow and prosper and I think I can be a positive contributor to those things," he said.

Kelly will also miss Winnipeg and says he has "very positive memories" of his time with the Bombers.

"I'm proud of the players we brought in there and how they handled themselves," he said.

"I wasn't kidding when I came back to Winnipeg and said I considered it to be home. I still have tremendous respect for the city of Winnipeg.

"I'm not going to let an unfortunate incident cloud my judgment and how I feel about that place. I have very dear friends and relationships up there that I cherish and don't want them to go away."

It was his football blog that led to the Mariner High School job.

Kelly was contacted by Mariner head coach Chris Siner in the spring after he and his coaches read the blog.

"They called and they said, 'Would you be interested in coming here and installing the offence in May?'" he said.

He attended the May practices and a spring game and was offered the offensive co-ordinator position, but had to first refresh his teaching certification. He had been a professor of sports management at Drexel University in Philadelphia prior to his second stint in the CFL coaching receivers for the Edmonton Eskimos in 2008.

The Mariner squad plays a 10-game regular season that begins Aug. 31. The team went 3-7 the past two years and is going to be a young squad, Kelly said, with Grade 10 students on the varsity team. The school year goes from August to mid-May.

Kelly knows he's starting over again and accepts that.

"But I'm starting over better," he said. "I have a wonderful background and I'm not ashamed of my accomplishments in football.

"Very few people can say that they have the diversity of background in football that I have. And I hope that I'm bringing these young men some insight that other high school coaches can't bring."

He's also OK with not being a head coach.

"Right now, I'm just very appreciative," he said. "I like what I'm doing right now.

"(Former CFL quarterback) Matt Dunigan always had a saying of 'be where you're at.' And right now, I'm being where I'm at and that's OK. And you can't force things. I certainly have learned that. You have to let some things come naturally."

Kelly said he's confident that getting back to his "roots" will allow him to get back into pro football.

"But my focus can't be that. My focus has to be on these kids and giving these kids every ounce of energy that I have."

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