Where does Brian Dobie get the energy?
Less than a week removed from a devastating loss in the Hardy Cup final, the head coach of the University of Manitoba Bisons football team is looking ahead.
A 45-17 defeat at the hands of the Saskatchewan Huskies Saturday, the bookend to a 5-3 season and a trip to the conference final, is already ancient history. He doesn't seem to need down time.
Wallowing in the mire? Not in Dobie's IG Field office.
"I've been going nonstop since the season ended — like non… stop," said Dobie Tuesday morning between a series of exit meetings with current players and calls with potential recruits. "My wife and I talked in Saskatchewan after the game and she asked how I felt and I said, 'Jackie, we lost and it's tough but I feel great. I feel great about this team. I'm so proud of them. I cannot freakin' wait next year.'"
Dobie has good reason to be proud the latest edition of his team.
A promising season could have easily gone sideways, dragged down by a staggering number of injuries to key players and the death of assistant coach Scott Naujoks. But the Bisons soldiered on and Dobie, deservedly, gets much of the credit for that.
Next fall, he will begin his 27th season in charge of the program and his 48th year as a head coach. While so many others of his vintage are comfortably esconced in retirement, he said he has found his sweet spot. He's perfectly happy doing what he's doing.
"I don't want to keep coaching, selfishly," said Dobie, who turns 69 in February. "I don't want to keep coaching and hit 50 years as a head coach so that I can hit 50 years or hit 70 years of age as a head coach....This program has given me and our family my life and and our family's life. The program deserves the best it can get and when I get to the point where I'm not delivering that, I shouldn't be the head coach."
Dobie does not take offence to questions about his future, even if it comes across as an ageist complaint.
"When I'm sitting down with recruits and parents I often will be asked the question, 'Coach, we're really interested Manitoba, (but) how much longer do you think you might be there?' " explained Dobie. "I get that all the time and I give them an honest answer. My answer is two part: I say, 'Honestly, that's a fair question and I'm not sure about the answer. I love my job and I'm fired up about my job and I'm enthusiastic and as long as I feel that way, I'm coaching.'
"There's no number in my head. It's more a question of my enthusiasm for the job, my love for the job and the program."
Stan Pierre, Manitoba's defensive co-ordinator and a 24-year veteran of the coaching staff, marvels at the boss's leadership skills, including Dobie's ability to build relationships, avoid micromanaging members of this staff and the hyper-competitive streak that lurks below the folksy exterior.
"If I saw signs of him slowing down or whatever I guess I would be concerned," said Pierre. "I certainly don't (see that). I think he can go for a lot longer. He can go for as long as he wants right now. His health is good. His mind is sharp and he's still working… I'm amazed at his energy sometimes. I mean, I get tired doing this job from time to time."
When the time comes, Dobie won't be afraid to hear the truth.
"I want to know from people that count to me — that really count — to be honest with me," said Dobie. "Whether that be our athletic director or my colleagues on our coaching staff. I would hope that somebody would put an arm around my shoulder and say, 'Listen, you know, you're not doing this well.'"
To hear Dobie tell it, the craft of coaching may be overrated. That belief fuels his ambitions on the recruiting trail.
He recently spent Manitoba's bye week in the talent-rich provinces of Alberta and B.C., where he met with 40-plus potential recruits during an eight-day period. In the off-season, there will be no let up.
"Players are everything, they just are," said Dobie. "In fact, great players beat great coaching 100 per cent of the time. I mean, players win and lose games and coaches help them win and sometimes, unwantingly, facilitate helping them lose, too."
For the chronically underfunded U of M football team, there are additional challenges. While Canada West schools such as UBC, Calgary, Alberta, Regina and Saskatchewan have the luxury of a salaried employee dedicated to the work of attracting the best athletes, the Bisons do not have a recruiting co-ordinator on staff.
In fact, Dobie and Pierre are the football program's only paid employees, a far cry from many top programs that may have double or triple the complement of staff members. That weakness can also be perceived as a strength: Dobie serves as his own recruiting co-ordinator and has direct contact with top talent.
The work of running the program has become more labour intensive than it was when Dobie first took over from Ron Lancaster Jr. in 1996, making the contributions of the 12 volunteer assistants crucial.
"Thank goodness for our volunteer coaches," said Dobie. "Our university is very fortunate to have this group of people — I'm not just being nice here. I'm being honest. It's amazing what they do. We could not even even think about surviving without them — they're that good."
The year-round nature of the football business will come into focus on Monday when Dobie addresses a team meeting involving about 100 players and 20 coaches and support staff.
The theme of change and personal improvement will be front and centre.
"I'll have a smile on my face, but I will say, 'Look, you need to do your work. You really need to do your work because my job is to go out and, in theory, replace everybody,' " he said.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.