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February 27, 2021

First & 10 | Remembering Shawn Coates

Just about everyone who came into the orbit of Shawn Coates has a story to tell about the late Winnipeg sports figure who served as the Blue Bombers Director of Media Relations for a spell at the start of the millennium.

Invariably they are stories that make you laugh because he had that kind of larger-than-life personality. He was hilarious and he was engaging. He was exceptionally talented as a broadcaster, a photographer and a writer.

Most of all, he had that ability to truly listen to people. He cared and he was selfless and giving of his time. And when he passed away suddenly in 2015 at the age of 52, it brought so many that had known him to tears.

We bring all this up today because long-time Blue Bombers fan Bob Thomson has found a way to remember Coates – ‘Coatesy’ to those who knew him – with a memorial plaque kindly put together by Joe Daley’s Sports & Framing that we hope to find a prominent spot for at IG Field, either in the press box or the media room.

The plaque features a photo of Coates, includes the years he worked for the Bombers and with the Canadian Football League as Director of Football Operations, and features this wonderful quote from hall of famer and Winnipeg sports icon Milt Stegall:

‘Lots of people think it’s nice to be important, Shawn knew it was important to be nice.’

Thomson, 64 and now retired after more than three decades as a teacher, first approached the club in 2019 with the idea of honouring Coates in some manner. A few concepts were tossed about and, ultimately, we settled on the memorial plaque. Thomson wanted to pay for the memorial with some of the money he won in the CFL’s ‘Predict the Pick’ contest prior to the 2019 CFL Draft, where he successfully nailed where six of the first eight players were selected.

Joe and Travis Daley, it’s worth noting, made the memorial but didn’t take a dime.

“I always wanted to do something for him because he was an important guy in this city,” said Thomson in a chat with bluebombers.com this week. “He always made you feel like you were the most important person in the world when you were with him and he was just so comfortable to talk to… you could talk to him about anything. And he was funny. Man, he was funny. Most people that knew him thought he should have been a stand-up comic because he was just so at-ease around others.

“Coatesy was one of those guys that when you met him, you connected with him right away. He was always helping people, even if he didn’t know them. You’d hear all these stories about the people who crossed paths with them and how he helped them.”

Thomson first came to know Coates when the latter was calling high school and university volleyball games on the old Videon channel. The two became close friends when Coates took a job as an information officer with the Winnipeg School Division #1. Later, when he landed his gig with the Blue Bombers, Coates gave his own season tickets to Thomson so that he could enjoy the games with his wife Joan and four sons – Caelan, Riley and twins Quinn and Brody, both of whom have severe autism.

“He became like a brother to me,” said Thomson of Coates. “When he died it was unbelievable. It was crushing. I didn’t find out about it until I saw the obituary in the paper on the Saturday morning.

“I always thought that Shawn needed to be remembered. Memories can fade a little bit, but this guy meant more to a lot of people and I know that he gave his heart and soul to the Bombers. I just wanted something of remembrance, whether it was a scholarship or something on the wall… something with his name attached to it and I’m so glad we were able to come up with this as a tribute to him.”

More notes and quotes in our weekly collection we call ‘1st & 10’…


1. Hockey fans in this town will remember Thomson from his days as the coach of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Winnipeg South Blues. He replaced Doug Stokes behind the bench in 1987-88 – Stokes had left to become head coach of the Dauphin Kings – and guided the Blues to a 32-16 record before capturing the Turnbull Cup with a 12-2 run in the playoffs. It was his one season calling the shots before Stokes returned.

It was during the ’87-88 season when yours truly – then a rookie reporter at the Winnipeg Sun – first met Thomson and followed his team to Saskatchewan where they fell to the Notre Dame Hounds in the Anavet Cup.

The Hounds, FYI, went on to capture the Centennial Cup as the Canadian Junior A champions. Worth noting: that Notre Dame lineup featured Rod Brind’Amour, Curtis Joseph, Scott Pellerin, Joby Messier, Jason Herter and Dwayne Norris – all of whom played in the NHL.

The Blues lineup, meanwhile, featured 10 17-year-olds.

2. One more on Bob… over the years we lost touch, but he called out my name a few years ago as he took in a Bombers practice at IG Field and we reconnected. Thomson is a huge fan of Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea and marvelled at how he ran a practice and the buy-in he’s had from his players over the years.

Thomson’s first recollection of going to Bombers games dates back to the early 60s, when his family attended a game after being given tickets by offensive lineman Cornel Piper. He took his first teaching job at Pine Falls Collegiate and then spent 35 years working in the Winnipeg School Division, including 23 years at Stanley Knowles School.

He and his family have had a rough go over the last few months, with Bob having his own health issues and their son Brody being in the hospital since last Halloween after losing consciousness. There’s been no definitive diagnosis on what caused Brody to collapse.

His story can be found here, courtesy Natasha Havrilenko of the Health Sciences Foundation.

“We got some good news,” said Thomson. “A few days ago he ate a full basket raspberries and they’re looking at sending him home, we’re hoping, within the next two months.”

3. Good to hear so much football talk on CJOB’s ‘Annual Winter Special’ this past week that featured the legendary Bob Irving conducting interviews with Bombers President and CEO Wade Miller, head coach Mike O’Shea, GM Kyle Walters, running back Andrew Harris, quarterback Zach Collaros, linebacker Adam Bighill and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

If you missed it, head to the CJOB Audio Vault, type in February 23 and go to the 6 p.m. audio time. The segment begins at 6:30 and runs to 9 p.m.

Knuckles dealt with the big question – when will the 2021 season start – right off the top with Miller.

“We’ve got to stay patient and stay positive,” began Miller. “We’ve got our schedule out and over the next few months we’ll be working with public health authorities across the country to get our players back on the field and get fans back in stadiums.

“But we need to be patient and it’s a little bit of a waiting game right now. As a country and we’ve seen in Manitoba we’ve stomped out this second wave. There are positive signs and vaccinations are starting to roll now, so we’re moving in the right direction and very hopeful and positive we can figure this out.”

The CFL’s return to play plan will need to be green-lighted by the six provinces home to teams and by the federal government to allow American and international players across the border.

“Each province will have to agree to the CFL plan and we’re working with the players right now to finalize that,” Miller said. “Then we’ll go to the different public health authorities to review return to play and be able to come to training camp.

“…There are a lot of moving parts to this, a lot of people putting in a lot of energy to make this happen and we’ll get it figured out.”

4. A question that keeps coming up from fans regards the future of Justin Medlock – the best kicker in Bombers history. Medlock remains a free agent and the club does have options in 2020 draft pick Marc Liegghio of Western or, as Walters indicated recently, other Americans or Australian prospects who may be available in the Global Draft in April.

O’Shea said he has spoken with Medlock, who has begun a career outside of football, but wasn’t providing a whole lot of details. The club will give Medlock as much time as he needs before officially ruling him out for 2021.

“He’s started a job and right now he’s pretty happy with it,” said O’Shea. “As with everything… you know me, when people talk about an injured player I generally say, ‘Well, I’m going to give them as much time as they need to figure it out’.

“The same holds true when players are in the position where they may have to make a decision, why not afford them as much time as possible.”

5. Love this quote from Adam Bighill when asked by Bob about what’s left for Adam Bighill after being named the league’s top defensive player twice, a CFL All-Star five times and a two-time Grey Cup champion:

“It’s all about continuing to write your legacy,” said Bighill. “I want to win another championship. I want to go back to back, I think that would be a fun experience and great for the city and great for this organization. I know we have the ability to do it.

“I just want to continue to write my legacy and be one of the best to ever play the game. I’m not satisfied with where I’m at. I definitely want to take it to a higher level and I train with that in mind and I put in the work to make sure I have a fantastic season ahead.”

6. This from the Department of Shameless Plugs… Bob and I did our own Zoom call and touched on a few free-agent topics as well. That video can be found here:

 

7. The frenzy around CFL free agency has essentially ended and teams have now turned to signing American free agents who have been through NFL camps. Two of those new names added by the Bombers this week were receiver Blake Jackson and defensive back Prince Robinson.

We’ve mentioned Jackson in this space before as an intriguing prospect. He played quarterback at Mary Hardin-Baylor University and was most recently with Houston of the XFL. His name was among those during the CFL’s negotiation list reveal last fall. Here’s what Bombers Assistant GM Danny McManus said of him at the time:

“He was a quarterback in school. We saw him there and then he came to one of our workouts in Austin, Texas and was doing a bit of work at receiver and quarterback. He got a look in Cleveland as a receiver, where Ted (Goveia) saw him and Ted liked him. He was on another team’s neg list and when they took him off, we put him on ours. We see him as a receiver, but one with quarterback capabilities and that could be important if you’re only allowed two quarterbacks on the dress-day roster.”

Robinson, meanwhile, was a star at Tarleton State and has been called a ‘freakish athlete’ – he played both corner and receiver in college – and parlayed that into interest from the NFL before signing with the Bombers. His highlight tape, if you’re interested:

 

 

8. Cool to see another ex-player  be elected to the Winnipeg Football Club Board of Directors in Frank Robinson. Here’s the Robinson bio from the press release:

Frank Robinson became a member of the board in February of 2021 and also serves on the Blue Bomber Alumni Board of Directors.  Over the course of Robinson’s 10-year CFL career, he won two Grey Cups Championships (1984 with Bombers, 1986 with Tiger-Cats), and was a two-time Eastern All Star as well as serving as a CFL Players Association Representative. Robinson worked for companies such as Coca-Cola (Director of Regional Sales), AT&T, and Tim Hortons (Owner/Operator) and is currently owner of a Chicken Chef restaurant location in Winnipeg. Robinson holds a Bachelor of Art in Economics from Tulane University, and after finishing his professional football career, he has remained an avid Blue Bombers supporter and an active member in the Winnipeg community.

The other new board member is Garth Waddell, the Vice President of Exchange Income Corporation. A University of Manitoba grad and Chartered Professional Accountant, Waddell brings 35 years of business experience to the board.

9.  This week’s good read comes courtesy Jim Morris of CFL.ca and focuses on Bombers defensive coordinator Richie Hall and is an excellent way to end Black History Month.

“I’ve overcome odds in everything in my life it seems like,” Hall said.

“Me, being a black man going out there and competing in the world, I have to do something special that separates myself from my competitor. That’s what has always propelled me. As a black man, do I stand an equal chance from the get-go? No, I don’t think so, because society isn’t controlled that way. Society is controlled by the white man. For me, I have to go there, and I have to be better. I have to do something that separates myself from other people, whoever they are.”
To read the full story, click here.

10. And, finally, I had the chance to listen in on a CFL-sponsored Zoom call this week with iconic coach Marv Levy, whose first head coaching gig as a professional came with the Montreal Alouettes in 1973. Now 95, Levy was sensational in telling stories during the call – all part of the CFL’s promotion of its’ new Grey Cup portal and the release of Grey Cup games from the 1970s now available.

It was great to listen to a CFL coaching legend and a couple of notes from his session… Levy said his father and his family first came to Canada from England in 1908. Their first destination? Winnipeg. Levy was born 17 years later in Chicago.

He also told a funny little story about how he enlisted after he graduated from high school in 1943.

“I wasn’t even 18 years old,” Levy recalled. “I tried to enlist in the Army Air Corps. They wouldn’t let me do it for a couple of months, so I didn’t go in until December of 1943. I got into the Army Air Corps but when I took the test to enlist, I couldn’t pass the eye test. I didn’t have the vision. The sergeant running it found out I was dating his sister in high school. He said, ‘You want to be in the Army Air Corps?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘OK, I’m going to let you in, but somewhere along the way you won’t be able to go to pilot school when they test you.

“They sent me to meteorological school and by the time I was ready to go overseas a year and a half later the war ended.”