It's quite rare to see a head coach leave a program for a lower-level assistant's job elsewhere, but that's what happened Thursday with the news that Waterloo Warriors head coach Joe Paopao has left the program to take the receivers coach position with the CFL's B.C. Lions. Of course, there are a few extra factors that come into play here: Paopao has a long history in B.C. as a player, assistant coach and head coach, and Waterloo's far from the strongest or best-paying CIS program; the Warriors are only a few years removed from the performance-enhancing drug scandal that caused them to sit out the whole 2010 season (performing only practices and controlled scrimmages that year) before returning to CIS play in 2011, and they've gone just 3-21 since coming back (including a 1-7 mark this past season). Still, losing a head coach for a non-coordinator job elsewhere is remarkable, and Paopao's move adds him to the substantial ranks of CIS coaches jumping to the CFL.
Paopao should be a nice addition for the Lions. He has a tremendous amount of experience at the CFL level, both as a player (he spent 11 years as a CFL quarterback, including playing with the Lions from 1978-1983 and in 1990, when he came out of the coaching ranks to back up Doug Flutie) and as a coach (he worked in the CFL from 1989-2006, except for the aforementioned 1990 break and a break in 2001 to serve as an offensive coordinator for the San Francisco Demons of the XFL). Paopao was a CFL head coach both in 1996 with the Lions and from 2002-2005 with the Ottawa Renegades, and he's spent nine seasons as a CFL offensive coordinator, so he should definitely be able to help the Lions' receivers. (Interestingly enough, he's somewhat replacing Jacques Chapdelaine, who was the Lions' offensive coordinator and receivers coach for most of the last decade before B.C. parted ways with him in December; Khari Jones has filled the OC's role, but Paopao will be handling the receivers. Chapdelaine has since made the reverse transition, returning to the university ranks as the head coach of the NCAA Division II Simon Fraser University Clan.) However, Paopao's departure does leave a gap at Waterloo.
Of course, the Warriors weren't great under Paopao. He worked with the team for seven seasons, mostly as the offensive coordinator, before taking the head coaching reins on an interim basis in 2012 (following Dennis McPhee's resignation after the 2011 season; McPhee wound up as Western's defensive coordinator in 2012 and then went to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as defensive line coach last season) and on a full basis in 2013, so his CIS head-coaching record is just 3-13. However, that's not as terrible as it sounds when you consider that the team was coming off a 0-8 campaign in 2011 and a massive amount of attrition caused by the year-long suspension; Paopao didn't accomplish miracles in Waterloo, but miracles weren't necessarily possible. Moreover, his decision to leave for a lower-level assistant's job in the CFL doesn't necessarily bode well for Waterloo football; if the head-coaching job there is that unappealing, it may not be easy to draw quality candidates to replace him.
In the larger picture, Paopao's jump to the CFL is just one of many we've seen in the last few years, including McPhee with Hamilton, Kyle Walters going from Guelph head coach to assistant jobs and eventually the full GM job in Winnipeg, Leroy Blugh going from head coach at Concordia Bishop's to DL coach at Queen's to Eskimos' (and now Redblacks') DL coach, Queen's defensive coordinator Pat Tracey taking the Bombers' special teams job and Noel Thorpe going from the defensive coordinator role at the Université de Montréal to the same position with the Alouettes. That carries both positive and negative sides for the CIS game. On the bright side, it means that the improving quality of CIS play and coaching is being recognized by the CFL. The downside of that is that CFL staffs looking to poach coaching talent from the CIS ranks makes it harder for university teams to hire and retain top coaches. We'll see how it all plays out, but there's certainly been a larger CIS to CFL pipeline in the last few years from the coaching ranks, and Paopao's exit is part of that. He looks like a good addition for B.C., but he will leave a difficult hole to fill with the Warriors.