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The Importance Of Building Genuine Relationships In USports Football With Brian Dobie

Brian Dobie | Head Coach | University of Manitoba Bisons Football

A major lesson that I’ve learned is to take care of your people. Another lesson that I’ve learned is to be who you are and be genuine.

Brian Dobie

Head Coach

University of Manitoba Bisons Football

× The interview with Brian Dobie was conducted via a phone conversation and later transcribed. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

You are the longest tenured Head Coach in a sports football with one team. What are the three most important lessons you’ve learned during your time with the Bisons?

I think for sure it’s surrounding yourself with the best people possible and quite honestly looking at it very much like a business in terms of its structure and running a program is a big part of it.

Often I do try to think of it that way that I am the CEO of this business and when you start breaking it down, it matters to show people within that structure absolute respect. It’s not just about the respect factor but also making sure to not micromanage. You have to realize that the people you put in place are THE experts.

Stan Pierre is THE defensive expert of our program and in this province. Vaughan Mitchell is THE offensive expert. Ryan Karhut is THE special-teams expert, and the list goes on.

Being involved as much as you can in their processes is important. But at the end of the day nobody in this province and our program knows as much about defence as Stan Pierre. Giving them autonomy to do their thing is really important.  The most important part when I shift over to the player side is about care.

The relationships that you build and the genuine care that you show is what I feel are by far the most important part of running a university football program. We want to put them in the best position to succeed in this program but ultimately want to help them move forward with their lives. Being a Bison student-athlete takes place during a transition period of their lives. 

A major lesson that I’ve learned is to take care of your people. Another lesson that I’ve learned and one that I would give as advice to someone who just was hired as a young head coach is to be who you are and be genuine. You have weaknesses, you make mistakes, you have flaws and those things happen as a regular part of your life.

You will work through those things on a daily basis and a yearly basis, but those things shouldn’t change who you are day-to-day when running a University football program.

The Bisons have the smallest full-time staff in the league but still compete very well in the Canada West. What are the main factors that allow the program to find success given this circumstance?

I will bring this up at staff meetings from time to time and I get pretty solemn too when saying this. I let them know how much I infinitely appreciate them. They know and I know that they are volunteer coaches but I certainly don’t look at them that way. And I’ll almost apologize at times in saying that I know I give you different challenges to deal with and put a lot on your plates but it’s because I respect you.

I look at you like professional coaches that are part of our staff. They may not be getting paid professionally to coach but they handle themselves like a professional coach would and our expectations are of that.

That message I pass along to our coaches is huge and is the only way that we have been able to find the success that we’ve had with the program. Our guys respond that way well, they really do. A big example that I bring up often is about Coach Richard Urbanovich.

He has been with boys in football since before I was a head coach and I’ve been the head coach for 26 seasons. He has been a volunteer with Bisons football for 31 seasons. If you took all the hours that he volunteered and compiled it into a full-time paid position, it would amount to about 18 years of being a staff member at the university. That’s true dedication and passion for coaching football. 

What are the biggest challenges to having two full time staff members only?

The challenges with just having Coach Pierre and I full-time is that it just never stops. Like that old expression goes you’re the chief cook and bottle washer. On a daily basis, you’re dealing with intricate specific details in terms of all tangents and paths. I don’t even know where to begin or to end.

There are so many things that come with running a university football program such as running the team, running the office, running the defense, special-teams. Those are basic aspects you think of regarding coaching football. Outside of that, recruiting is probably the biggest part of my job. We’re doing an interview right now, doing interviews is another part of my job. So is raising money for the program. It just never ends.

There’s not much to do in terms of division of labor because the “volunteer coaches” can’t be expected to do any more than that. They can help out with recruiting but everything else falls on Stan and me. If there was a third full-time coach fourth, fifth, even sixth like some programs have, you do the math. That is what is missing within our program.

Now mind you, I used to do this on my own. Coach Pierre has only been full-time for a decade and a half, and when he came in it felt like the forest parted and I could see the sky. Even though it was only one more person it took so much off my plate. Now Stan and I’s plates are extremely full and another person would help with easing the load.

What’re the benefits to having only 2 full time staff members?

There are many advantages of two people as well. We are on top of everything we know everything that’s going on. Everything goes through us. Our relationship is also another benefit. I’m going into my 26th year and Stan is going into his 24th year as a coach with the Bisons.

I don’t know if there are any other Co- coaches in the country that have worked together for 24 years. It’s great for us to have our hand in everything. Nothing gets lost in translation. There’s a real effectiveness and efficiency in that, there really is. It has really worked for us.

What is the main philosophy you install into the program?

I would say drive, a challenge and expectation for the people in the program to find ways to be the best that they can be. That sounds very fundamental but it’s true. We are very open with our players and make them very aware of the challenges that we face.

We don’t have a lot of money; mind you, we have an incredible complex and stadium to play out of. We often have to do things the hard way and find a creative path to make things work. We try to embrace those challenges, be upfront about them and make them work for us. Philosophically, it’s multifaceted.

We often operate in a survivor mode; we really do since we have no choice. That is what we try to instill in our players. To make them the best that they can be, not to come up with excuses, fighting through adversity and embracing challenges. That has a huge advantage to it if you embrace it properly.

If you look at what we were able to accomplish before moving to IGF it is astounding. We had a storage trailer as our locker room that wasn’t available for four months of the year. We had a field with a running track in the end zone.

In spite of these limitations, we still made two Vanier cup appearances, had a handful of undefeated regular seasons and capped it off with an undefeated Vanier cup championship season in 2007. If that does not speak volumes about the people within our program I don’t know what does.

Matias Bueno Matias's Final Thoughts

It was thoroughly enjoyable to speak with Brian Dobie about the ways in which he has helped to build the Manitoba Bison football program. I have had the pleasure of working with the team in 2019 and can honestly say that Coach Dobie is one of the most genuine and caring coaches in all of USports. The challenges the Bisons have faced in terms of resources yet the massive success they have achieved in spite of this speaks volumes about the program. The importance of building strong and genuine relationships really shows from his actions. 

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