Mike Kelly is on the road to redemption.
The former Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach confirmed Thursday he’s trying to get his foot back in the Canadian Football League door on a coaching or personnel level.
“I’m going about my business behind the scenes and letting the cards fall where they may,” Kelly said in Winnipeg after being a guest speaker at the Premier Football Factory skills and development camp.
“I’m not yelling and screaming, ‘Somebody please hire me.’ I don’t want to come off like that. My point is, I have a great passion for the CFL and would like to work in the league again.”
Kelly, 54, was fired by the Bombers in December 2009 after a controversial rookie season as head coach. His outspoken ways often landed him in hot water with fans, the media and CFL brass and a 7-11 record didn’t help matters.
Even his firing was dramatic.
Just hours after Lyle Bauer resigned as the club’s president and CEO on Dec. 17, it was discovered Kelly had been charged that morning in an alleged domestic dispute with his ex-girlfriend at his Pennsylvania home.
After an emergency board meeting that evening, then-chairman Ken Hildahl announced the Bombers were firing Kelly and it had nothing to do with his legal trouble.
The charges were later dropped and the record of it expunged.
“I know I have to rebuild myself and reprove myself,” Kelly said. “I understand that I have to take a step back in order to move forward and I’m more than willing to do that, but I think I bring a breadth of knowledge to whatever position I have and an understanding of how to run an organization in this league.”
Kelly lived in Winnipeg until last August, when he got a job as offensive co-ordinator for the varsity football team at Mariner High School in Cape Coral, Fla. He’s also teaching some physical education and driver’s education courses.
The young team, which had a Grade 10 starting quarterback, went 3-7, but were competitive in all but two games, said Kelly, who’s in Winnipeg visiting friends during the holidays.
The new level of coaching was challenging and refreshing, yet he wants to get back to the professional ranks and has his agent, Terry Ray, beating the bushes.
He did a phone interview with the search firm looking to hire a general manager for the Edmonton Eskimos, a job that went to Ed Hervey last month.
Kelly was Edmonton’s receivers coach before he got the Blue Bombers head-coaching job, which he called his “dream job.” He’d been Winnipeg’s offensive co-ordinator from 1992-96.
A few CFL teams currently have vacancies.
“I still have a lot of friends in the league,” Kelly said. “I do believe that people appreciate my football abilities. I think where there is some apprehension is the negative media reaction if I was hired, and I understand that. But I think time heals all.
“And I think if there’s anything negative put out there, I think it’ll be a 20-minute blip and it’s all over with and we move on. All I’m looking for is somebody to just believe in me again because at one time I did have a pretty good reputation in this league.”
Ottawa is expected to have its new franchise playing in 2014 so there would be an entire staff to put together there.
“I enjoy coaching and being with the players and that dynamic, but I do think I can bring somebody a pretty good background in upper management and finding players,” Kelly said.
League official and former CFL defensive back Dave Donaldson had Kelly coach at his Premier Football Factory camp the past two years and he was glad he could speak to the kids this week.
Kelly talked to the players aged 9-18 about making the right choices, whether that’s about the people they associate with or what they say or do.
“We all make bad choices and we make bad decisions, but we also make good choices and good decisions so we all deserve a second chance in life,” Donaldson said.
“I don’t think Mike murdered anybody. I don’t really know the specifics of his past, I just know he was good at our camp and very helpful to the kids and he showed great mentorship.”
Kelly said he’s “smart enough” to learn from his mistakes.
“When I talk about mistakes, I think I go directly to my not taking a breath before answering some questions in public circles,” he said.
“I think the biggest thing that keeps me going is that all the coaches that worked with me, that I had brought in here from other places, all say that if I ever got another opportunity they’d work with me again. That tells me that I was doing the right things organizationally.”