The University of Guelph announced this morning that Kyle Walters will be stepping down as their head football coach (thanks to Jaime Stein for the tip).
The press release says Walters "will be parting ways with the Gryphons to focus on pursuing coaching ventures elsewhere at the professional level."
Mike Treadgold, the sports and health editor of The Ontarion (Guelph's student newspaper), tweeted this morning that a source informed him Walters is off to Winnipeg to become the special teams coordinator with the CFL's Blue Bombers, and also mentioned that rumour on his blog. It isn't completely confirmed yet, but that certainly sounds plausible given both the Bombers' coaching turnover and Walters' apparent desire to seek opportunities at the professional level.
Gryphons great Michael O'Shea has joined the Toronto Argonauts' defensive staff, so that is also a possibility to keep in mind. Walters has a young family. Working in Toronto would prevent having to relocate.
Guelph will miss Walters. He was coach for four years (13-18-1 record), but the team certainly seemed to be on the rise recently. The Gryphons made the OUA playoffs for the last three seasons and went to the final in 2007. Guelph slumped to a 3-5 record this year, but still clinched the last playoff spot and had last-second losses to Queen's and Western.
Walters might have had a difficult time replacing some of his star veterans, including the five players attending the CFL's evaluation camp and quarterback Justin Dunk. Still, at least from this perspective, Guelph seemed to be an up-and-coming program. It will be interesting to see if they can continue that momentum with a new coach.
The larger issue here, as I covered with Paul James' departure from York and this site discussed with Denis Piché leaving Ottawa, is if CIS programs are doing enough to retain elite coaches.
Informed sources (i.e., most certainly not the Guelph Mercury sports editor, who failed to publish a single article about Walters' contract situation) say Guelph athletic director Tom Kendall declined to go more than year to year with the coach's deal.
One may think Walters wanted a sense his alma mater was committed to him long-term. He did lift a program from the OUA's second tier to being close to the first tier.
There has been progress on that front recently, with more schools establishing full-time coaching positions, but many CIS coaches still have to split their coaching duties with another job (whether internal or external to their university). Even the full-time coaches generally aren't paid a lot, considering the massive amounts of work they have to do.
Football in particular is a huge challenge for coaches, given the amount of athletes involved and the massive amounts of work required. Having a successful program is not just about the head coach, it's also about putting a committed group of coordinators and assistants together to support him.
Investing in the coaching positions is one of the smartest moves a university can make in my mind. It will be interesting to see who the Gryphons tab as their new coach. In any case, with both Walters and Piche gone, the OUA football landscape will be quite different next season.
(Cross-posted to Sporting Madness)