Kyle Walters’ promotion in Winnipeg shows rise of Canadian talent—on and off the field

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' decision to promote special teams coordinator/running backs coach Kyle Walters to assistant general manager and director of scouting reflects a couple of trends in the CFL. The Walters move shows the growing on-field importance of finding and developing top Canadian talent, especially players who come in from the CIS ranks; the Bombers considered 16 to 18 candidates from across North America, but opted for a man they already had thanks partly to his experience in the organization and partly to his experience in Canadian university football. It also demonstrates that there's currently plenty of opportunity for Canadians to achieve the highest positions in CFL management, something that hasn't always been the case.

What's notable there is that those two factors are connected. Historically, a lot of CFL head coaches and general managers have been Americans. There have been notable exceptions, such as B.C. Lions general manager Wally Buono (the CFL's career leader in coaching victories, Buono was born in Italy, but moved to Canada before he was five), but the majority of top executives in the league over the last decade have been imports. That's starting to change, though: Toronto's Mike Benevides may be the only Canadian-born head coach in the league at the moment, but there are Canadians rising to greater importance throughout the league, including Hamilton's Drew Allemang and Shawn Burke and B.C.'s Kelly Bates.

A big part of that change is likely because of the rise in the calibre of CIS play and the growing importance of having top Canadians on your roster. In fact, many teams have only recently brought in the position of "draft coordinator" (or something similar), a title Bates and Allemang currently hold and one Walters added to his own duties in 2011. It's no surprise that's a front office role where Canadians can prove their worth, as many Canadians in the CFL either played or worked at the CIS level, and even those who didn't (like Allemang) tend to have a solid familiarity with what's going on in the Canadian university game.

This is likely a particular reason why Winnipeg opted to go with Walters rather than a big-name figure from a NFL or NCAA organization. Walters has a tremendous amount of CIS experience, both as a player (he was a running back with Guelph before Hamilton took him in the 1996 CFL draft and shifted him to DB) and as a coach (he had a solid stint running the Gryphons from 2006-2009 before leaving them for Winnipeg in 2010). He's also already seen the league from above thanks to his work as the Bombers' draft coordinator. It's notable as well that the other man widely reported to be a finalist for the Winnipeg job, TSN commentator Duane Forde, is also a Canadian renowned for his CIS expertise. Conducting a North America-wide search and emerging with Walters and Forde as candidates to focus on says that Winnipeg's taking CIS scouting extremely seriously—as they should. Finding top Canadian players is critical to a CFL team's success, and most of those players still come from the CIS ranks; promoting a man with a good knowledge of the Canadian university game seems like a solid plan from this corner.

The Walters promotion could be a significant one for the future of Canadian talent off the field, too. Of the Canadian executives mentioned above, Walters would appear to have the clearest path to the full general manager's job. The discussions in Winnipeg about this new assistant general manager (replacing long-time organization man Ross Hodgkinson) have long been about grooming someone to take the reins once Mack decides to leave, and that seems like a possibility from the comments Mack made Wednesday. That's likely a ways off, but having another Canadian general manager would be big for the future of Canadian coaches and executives. It's no secret that coaches and general managers often hire people with backgrounds they're familiar with, and that's a big part of the reason why so many of the coaches and personnel men in the CFL are imports. Promoting a Canadian guy with a CIS background like Walters not only speaks to the growing importance of that league, but it may also pave the way for other Canadian talent down the road.