Running philosophy key for new Lion King
Rugby: Foothills club's new boss Jim Ryan a stickler for fitness
By: By Remy Greer
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 06:00 am
The new chief of the Foothills Lions rugby club has a simple philosophy for his rugby players: shape up or ship out.
If new club coach Jim Ryan has his way, the Lions will be an unrecognizable force in the Calgary Rugby Union.
“I’m very much an advocate of a very expansive style of rugby,” said Ryan. “I like to run the ball so the guys are going to be in good shape and we’re going to take advantage of all the athletes in Okotoks.”
Ryan conceded he needs to familiarize himself further with the Lions’ roster of returning players and will evaluate the team with everyone on a equal footing. He added the Lions’ grinding and forward dominated style of years past will be left in the past as the sport continues to evolve into a running man’s game.
“I can assure you that all the guys that take the field are going to be expected to run with the ball and be expected to cover the field and will be in shape to do it,” Ryan said. “I’m not sure what fitness program they had in the past, but I already told some of the older guys they need to adapt because we’re going to run, be fit and that’s going to happen a few times a week and it’s going to show on the field.”
To fill a roster for the 2013 season and going forward, he’s putting a premium on attracting the best athletes in the foothills into the Lions’ den.
“We’re going to get ourselves woven into the fabric of the two high schools in town and actively recruit good athletes that might play rugby, but also play other sports,” he said. “We’re going to try and convince them why rugby is a great sport to play and we’re going to try and win some championships.”
Long-term, Ryan said he believes the talent in the foothills is such the Lions can become one of the pillar clubs in Alberta.
“I honestly believe that when I look at the mindset of the community as a whole,” he said. “When I first moved to Okotoks I fell in love with it almost immediately because sports is so woven into the fabric of the community.”
The new head Lion’s resume in the sport is as wide as a rugby pitch.
The former back started out with the Assassins RFC in Winnipeg in the late 1980s, joined the Brit Lions in Vancouver in 1993, lined up for rep sides in Manitoba and Vancouver in the mid 1990s and played in New Zealand, England and Australia before closing out his career with the Calgary Irish in 2004.
Ryan also served as a coach with the Assassins, Brit Lions and the Manitoba Buffalo U17 rep side. After taking a few years off from the sport with a young family at home, Ryan is ecstatic to be back on the sidelines.
“I’ve had a few years away and I’ve got two small kids and they’re now at an age, six and four, where I have a bit more time and I wanted to get back into (coaching),” Ryan said.
“When I moved to Okotoks and saw how the community as a whole is so into sports and how athletic it is I was really excited to get back into rugby.”
Lions’ president Paul Hudon was teammates with Ryan on the Irish from the late 1990s to early 2000s.
“Not only was he a good player on the field, but he had great leadership ability and was a good club person,” Hudon said. “That’s really how the door was opened.”
Ryan gained the confidence of Lions executive members — Hudon, Shayne Pelletier and former head coach Darcy Gallant — and was offered the job.
Gallant, the Lions’ Senior men’s coach from 2010-2012, resigned from his post at the end of the 2012 season due to an overextended schedule on and off the pitch.
The Lions president said they turned away international candidates from the United Kingdom and Thailand in favour of the local coach in Ryan, who moved to Okotoks in July.
“We chose to go with someone local because it simplifies things tremendously,” Hudon said. “If you bring on someone from overseas and offer them an honorarium and if at the last minute they cancel on you then you have that liability. It made the decision quite easy when we had someone like Jim who was willing to step up.”
Ryan will be in charge of the Senior men’s Division II and III teams in the Calgary Rugby Union (CRU).
As club coach, Ryan will also oversee the vaunted Junior Lions program featuring U18, U15 and U13 teams as well as an introductory Mini’s program.
“His focus will expand beyond the Senior men’s,” Hudon said.
“It will be strategy development particularly with the U15 and U18s so as these players make that transition up to Senior men’s there’s the continuity in style and strategy in how we play.”
In the meantime, the Lions are ramping up preparations for the 2013 season in the CRU which gets underway in early May.
For more information on the Lions go to www.foothillslionsrugbyclub.com.