Buckle that chin strap, the Jason Casey era of Okanagan Sun football is about to begin.
The B.C. Football Conference club Tuesday introduced the 36-year-old Casey as 11th head coach in team history.
A former player at Concordia University, Casey has been an assistant coach with the Sun since 2007, serving the last three years as their defensive coordinator.
“I’m so excited for the opportunity,” said Casey. “I love what the Okanagan Sun is and has been, and I’m extremely excited to be the next head coach, keep moving forward and get that championship that’s been so elusive for more than a decade.”
With Casey as the defensive coordinator, the Sun earned a league-wide reputation not only for being very stingy in allowing points, but for its hard-nosed, physical approach on the defensive side of the ball—trademarks the new coach will look to spread across the entire club.
“I think the hard-nosed tenacity that our defense has been showing the past three years, I now will be able to instill that on the offensive side of the ball, not even on the practice field but also in the locker room, at game films, the preparation, everything,” said Casey who will retain his duties as defensive coordinator. “I think that’s going to be a benefit that the fans are going to see.”
New Sun GM Howie Zaron said Casey was the most qualified of all the coaching applicants to replace the recently dismissed Peter McCall.
Zaron commended Casey’s no-nonsense approach to coaching and his willingness to be a dogged recruiter, an area that was a key factor in the club’s decision to release McCall last month.
“Jason has told me he’s excited about the recruiting aspect of the job, he’s going to go on the road, beat the bushes for players and work hand-in-hand with me on this,” said Zaron.
“The biggest thing about Jason is, he’ll hold the players and coaches accountable, there will be no free rides here. Jason will bring some of what we’ve been missing and that’s intensity and professionalism. He’ll take a very serious approach to the position.”
It was little secret that former head man Peter McCall was a popular coach with many of the Sun players.
Still, Casey believes his current relationship and history with the team will make his transition to the head coaching position relatively smooth.
“I think I’ve always had a great relationship with the players,” Casey said. “Many of them probably think I’m an old-school, hard ‘A-double-S’ at times and I think they understand it’s for the betterment of them.
“I think I command the respect of the players,” he continued. “You can’t fault them for loving their coach, a lot of the local kids have known Pete for the better part of a decade. But this is 2011 I’m the new head coach and we’re going to move forward.
“We have some great talent on this team, we’re on the verge of something fantastic and I don’t want to see guys leaving, so I’ll do my best to retain 100 per cent of the players.”
Casey’s hiring is a break from the norm for the Sun who almost always select team alumnus to coach the club.
Team president Bill Long said Casey’s appointment brings both familiarity and a fresh new dynamic to the position.
“I think the continuity is a good thing, I think the familiarity is a good thing, and I think we have a combination from within,” said Long. “He’s an outsider, he’s not an alumnus, he’s not a former player and he’s the first non-Sun player we’ve hired in quite some time.
“I think that gives us a much more subjective ability, and trying to maintain that business point of view. Jason was going to be on the coaching staff one way or another. He just came to the top as the best candidate for coach that we had.”
Zaron confirmed the Sun has appointed two new coaches to assist Casey this season.
Nathan Mollard, a native of Saskatoon, will coach the linebackers, while Cliff Lambaris, from Medicne Hat, will coach the Sun’s defensive secondary.
The Sun will open the 2011 BCFC season July 31 in Kamloops.