I am the captain now

Chris Bertoia has now moved into the office at the centre of Columbia Ice Field. It’s a nice spot: lots of window space — rare at this school for anyone not in a new engineering building — and “Head Coach” on the door in big gold letters. It also was occupied most recently by then-interim and now assistant head coach Marshall Bingeman. Bingeman’s been with the team for decades, here during the late ‘90s glory years.

Who else was a part of those Yates Cup winning teams of 1997 and 1999? Bertoia. He was a captain during the run in 1999, but now he’ll take over the team from a different vantage point. Bertoia’s return to Waterloo has now put him in charge of his former coach.

After the resignation of former head coach Joe Paopao in early 2014, Bingeman stepped in to helm the team temporarily as a search for a new coach was initiated. The process was slowed by the vacancy in the athletics director position, which was eventually awarded to longtime Laurier administrator Roly Webster. Late in the year, UW Athletics posted a job listing searching for a new head coach for the football team and the search continued until late December, when Bertoia was officially hired.

Webster and the hiring committee, which included associate director Christine Stapleton and Feds president Danielle Burt, put together priorities for a new hire as they developed that job posting. The new head coach needed to be able to advance Waterloo’s recruiting strategy and its fundraising model and put the team on a path to sustainable success, all while understanding the particular challenges and world of student athletes at the school.

&ldquo;We tried to get down to a short list, go through a formal interview process,&rdquo; Webster told <em>Imprint</em>. &ldquo;Have them make a presentation on their vision for how [they&rsquo;d] turn this program around ... and what would [they] see in a three-to-five year window. What steps they would take.&rdquo;

The talk of turning the program around is salient given the struggles of the football team since a steroid scandal in 2010. The team has lost the vast majority of its games the past several years, and has had difficulty retaining senior coaching staff long term. This past year has seen rumours of the team&rsquo;s cancellation, rumours which Webster categorically denied.

Bertoia has long been linked to a coaching position at Waterloo, but for the past several years has been a member of the staff with the perennially-successful Western Mustangs, in charge of the offensive line and recruitment. His experience as recruiting co-ordinator for Western was especially attractive to the hiring committee, as recruitment was identified as one of the Warriors&rsquo; main areas of concern. Bertoia&rsquo;s skills and ties to the school have been mentioned before around the university football community as a natural fit for Waterloo.

Webster raised the potential worry of Bertoia&rsquo;s lack of CIS head coaching experience, but argued that it was time for Bertoia to get his chance at it.

&ldquo;He&rsquo;s probably ready for this opportunity, and he&rsquo;s an alum. And we need to improve recruiting, he has a ton of experience in recruiting,&rdquo; said Webster. &ldquo;He&rsquo;s well-respected within CIS football and within the football community. He&rsquo;s had the experience at the provincial and national level &hellip; he builds those relationships with those top student athletes.&rdquo;

Waterloo&rsquo;s black-and-golden boy returns to rebuild a tarnished program. He has a considerable amount of work ahead of him, but Webster &mdash; and athletics as a whole &mdash; thinks that Bertoia&rsquo;s the man to do it.

&ldquo;My commitment was to our stakeholders and to our student athletes,&rdquo; said Webster. &ldquo;Talk is cheap &hellip; until we could actually show them the commitment with the job description, show them with the hiring, and who that person is &mdash; I think now we&rsquo;re starting to convince some people to believe that, &lsquo;Yeah, we are committed to football&rsquo; &hellip; I think hiring Chris shows people that and I think he will show people that too. Whether it&rsquo;s the locker room that we have today or the type of student athletes that he&rsquo;s recruiting tomorrow I think that that&rsquo;ll all help to tell the story that we&rsquo;re committed to football at Waterloo.&rdquo;