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Former B.C. Lions head coach Dave Ritchie dead at age 85

It was during Ritchie’s tenure as B.C.’s head coach that his club united Canada
Dave Ritchie, the Hall of Fame former CFL head coach, has died. He was 85. Ritchie speaks at the 2022 Canadian Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony held at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton, Ont., Friday, Sept. 16, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

Dave Ritchie, who was the head coach of the B.C. Lions for their iconic ‘94 Grey Cup victory over the Baltimore Stallions, died Saturday. He was 85.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, another CFL team Ritchie coached, confirmed the death. The cause was not immediately divulged.

Ritchie amassed a 52-41-1 regular-season record as a head coach with Winnipeg (1999-2004). That left him fourth overall in club history behind Bud Grant (102), current head coach Mike O’Shea (96) and Cal Murphy (86).

But it was during Ritchie’s tenure as B.C.’s head coach that his club united Canada. The Lions dispatched Baltimore 26-23 in the 82nd Grey Cup on Lui Passaglia’s game-ending 38-yard field goal at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver, capping the first championship ever in pro football to feature a U.S.-Canada matchup.

“Just that alone, to me, makes our youngsters special,” Ritchie said about the contest in 2022 upon being inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. “For one week, everybody on our ball club was a Canadian.”

Neil McEvoy, the Lions’ co-general manager and director of football operations, said Ritchie will be missed by everyone across the CFL.

“Coach Ritchie was a champion at heart who represented the B.C. Lions with the utmost class and professionalism. Anyone who had the good fortune to work with him was better for it,” McEvoy said in a statement.

Ritchie, of New Bedford, Mass., spent 11 of his 22 CFL seasons as a head coach with B.C. (1993-95), Montreal (1997-98) and Winnipeg. He won 108-of-187 career regular-season games to stand seventh all-time.

He also claimed Grey Cup rings as an assistant with Winnipeg (1990) and B.C. (2006).

Ritchie first joined the Bombers in 1990 on head coach Mike Riley’s staff as a defensive line and special-teams coach. He left after the ‘91 season, then returned in 1999 after being named head coach and taking over a Winnipeg squad that was 3-15 in 1998.

Winnipeg improved to 6-12 in its first season under Ritchie, then 7-10-1 in 2000. But in 2001, Winnipeg posted a 14-4 regular-season record and advanced to the Grey Cup before dropping a 27-19 decision to the Calgary Stampeders.

Still, Ritchie was named the CFL’s coach of the year that season.

“Dave Ritchie was a respected leader during his days as Blue Bombers head coach and in his other coaching positions across the Canadian Football League, in the NCAA and in Europe,” Winnipeg president/CEO Wade Miller said in a statement. “He had a passion for his players and his teams and led both to great success.

“The Winnipeg Football Club offers our deepest sympathies to his wife Sharon, Dave’s family, and his many friends.”

Sometimes gruff and to the point, Ritchie also had a soft side, especially with his players. And away from the field, Ritchie, his Massachusetts accent very evident, had a very dry but infectious sense of humour.

“Dave Ritchie was the blueprint of what a head coach should be,” former Bombers defensive lineman Doug Brown tweeted. “Authentic, charismatic & compassionate, paired with a fiery & competitive thunder that was unrivalled.

“May he rest in peace.”

In relaxed settings with reporters, Ritchie would share entertaining and often funny stories from his long football career.

“Dave was an incredible leader of men, a brilliant football mind and a truly inspiring human being,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie tweeted. “We are all fortunate to have met him and to have learned from him.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and everyone who knew him.”

Ritchie was inducted into the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame in 2014 but the pinnacle of his coaching career in Canada came with his induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

“It means a great deal because I believe the CFL is the top league in the world,” Ritchie said at the time. “I’d get into a big-time argument but the athletes I had in the secondary and linebacker position, almost every one of them is in a Hall of Fame somewhere, whether it’s British Columbia, Winnipeg or the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

“How can you lose when you have great youngsters around you? I might’ve been a little off the wall sometimes but I did have some great players, I also had many great coaches.”

The Canadian Press