January 10, 2024

“It means a lot to follow good leaders.”

Every coach in every sport on the planet has a certain level of inquisitiveness and curiosity – a need to study and truly understand all the nuances to be fully prepared to teach.

And for new Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive coordinator Jordan Younger, that foundation was born during a professional playing career that spanned 13 seasons on two continents and from stints in NFL Europe to the Arena Football League to the Canadian Football League and two Grey Cup championships while suiting up with the Toronto Argonauts.

Simply put, he understood early in his career that preparation could be critical to longevity – a notion that has only grown further in his career as a coach.

“The Xs and Os part of the game always appealed to me,” began Younger in a wide-ranging conversation with from his offseason base in Pickering, Ont. on Wednesday. “You’ve got some players who are drawn to the matchup, the physical battle in the game. This is the guy I’m playing against, and they look at it as a man-to-man physical battle. You’re also competing against the offensive play designer and how he uses that guy against you.

“So, that part of the game always did appeal to me because as a defensive player and especially as a corner, if you weren’t considering when a guy might do a double move or if you weren’t taking that into account you could get embarrassed and look bad. That comes from both self-preservation and not wanting to let my team down by looking stupid. That was always the motivation behind me learning the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’”

Younger, a 45-year-old product of Trenton, New Jersey, has been with the Blue Bombers since 2018 as the defensive backs coach, joining the club after two years with the Argos that was preceded by a stint with the University of Toronto and the Oakville Titans of the Ontario Football Conference.

He now steps into the defensive coordinator role, replacing CFL icon Richie Hall, who remains on staff as a defensive assistant after head coach Mike O’Shea offered him a promotion rather than lose him to a rival team.

Younger positively gushes about Hall’s influence and spoke openly of their new situation heading into this season.

“It definitely is different and could have been awkward depending on the type of relationship you have with the person and the level of trust that is there,” Younger said. “For me, Richie Hall has been an incredible mentor as far as helping me to learn aspects of the game I didn’t know and trusting me with certain situations and input as far as the coverages we ran and how things worked in the back end of our defence,

“Under no circumstances was I ever going to try and push Richie Hall out of a job. Richie has been around a long time and has a wealth of knowledge and experience. He’s in a situation where he could choose to say yes or no. For me stepping into this role the most important thing was making sure Richie was OK. It was really important for me that he stayed and be a part of the staff. Selfishly, I wanted that. We’re fortunate. One of Richie Hall’s greatest qualities is his humility and the grace he’s handled this with me is outstanding. I’m very appreciative of that.

“Richie always treats his staff like we work with each other and not necessarily for him and I plan to continue that,” he added. “Richie always had the final say, but we never operated it as a stiff hierarchy. Everybody’s input mattered and as long as you could articulate the ‘what’ and the ‘why’, it was on the table. He may or may not use it that week or that season, but Richie always respected everyone’s input.”

Younger takes over a defensive unit which ranked first in fewest points allowed in 2023 (20.9), first in net offence allowed per game (298.8 yards), ranked third against the run (90.4 yards) and first against the pass (229.4).

As to what change might change under his guidance, Younger said that’s still to be determined. But like offensive coordinator Buck Pierce often explains when describing the Blue Bombers attack, Younger wants the defensive side of the ball to continue to be multiple in its schemes and looks.

“That question will be answered in time,” he said. “We’re not in that stage of the offseason where we’re reviewing yet and looking at ourselves honestly – where are we strong? Do we have any blind spots? We’ll get to that.”

The Blue Bombers still have some roster decisions to make that will undoubtedly impact what the club does on defence. Among the starting defenders currently pending free agents are safety Brandon Alexander, defensive linemen Jackson Jeffcoat, Jake Thomas and Ricky Walker, cornerbacks Demerio Houston and Winston Rose and linebacker Malik Clements.

In the meantime, just a few days into the announcement of his move to defensive coordinator Younger made numerous references to his promotion as being ‘special.’

And here’s why:

“It’s special because, if you look at it from objectively from a non-personal standpoint, it’s just the rarity of it,” he said. “There’s a limited amount of jobs because there’s only so many professional teams and each one has one offensive coordinator and one defensive coordinator. So being in that very small number is special.

“And from a personal standpoint it’s special because I’ve played football and coached football and been in a lot of locker rooms. I’ve been in a lot of organizations, good and bad. One thing that is consistent is for those coaches who can find a place where you do the job and it doesn’t feel stressful even though it is, those unique places are special. That says a lot about Osh and the leadership of Wade (Miller, President and CEO) and Kyle (Walters, GM) and everyone in the building who have created this environment where we’re in a job where you are heavily scrutinized, but it never feels heavy. That in itself is special.

“And, lastly, I know how important the game is to Osh. He loves football in general, but specifically the Canadian game. He’s one of the top ambassadors for the Canadian Football League. It’s so important to him and for him to trust me to be one of the guys to help, to direct my one third, is an honour. That’s how I feel about him, too. It means a lot to follow good leaders.”