Team Canada coach profile: 6-a-side plays key role in football life of Brian Guebert
After coaching with the Junior National Team in 2012 and 2014, special teams coordinator and defensive line coach, Brian Guebert is preparing for his third IFAF U-19 World Championship in 2016.
During a career that took him from the 6-a-side high school ranks to the CFL, Guebert’s inspiration to play football came from his uncle, Phil Guebert, who participated in two Vanier Cups with the Saskatchewan Huskies in 1989 and 1990. Their careers would intersect at LCBI, where Phil coached Brian’s high school football team in grades 10 through 12.
Although Brian had played touch and 12-a-side tackle football growing up, his later high school years would be where the younger Guebert became introduced to 6-a-side tackle football.
“Playing 6-a-side football was an awesome experience for me,” Guebert said. “I got to learn just about every position in the game of football because I got to play linebacker, defensive line, centre, tight end, fullback and I even played some quarterback. In 6-a-side, you still use all the fundamental skills of football including blocking, tackling, throwing, catching, running, covering, but it’s done with the responsibility of covering in or playing in more space.”
“It really helped develop my football IQ and appreciate the varieties of skills in the game itself. I did all those things because when you’re limited to how many players are on your team, you need guys to step-up. I was really fortunate to have my uncle as my coach because he worked with me on a variety of skills.”
Guebert credits 6-a-side football for helping him develop the skills that enabled him play in the CFL.
“It was 6-a-side that probably got me a job in the CFL. The more things you can do, the more valuable you are to your team.”
“I played fullback in the CFL, tight end, defensive end, and defensive tackle. It was knowing both sides of the ball, knowing how players communicated, and the expectations of those positions that really served me as a player, and now as a coach.”
As a 6-a-side high school tackle player, Brian Guebert was a relatively unknown commodity in Saskatchewan football circles. That would soon change after the Football Saskatchewan Senior Bowl, where he was named the game’s top defensive lineman.
Out of high school, Brian elected to play junior football for the Saskatoon Hilltops under now legendary coach Tom Sargeant, who’d not only serve as his head coach but also as Guebert’s defensive line coach.
Brian transitioned to 12-a-side football and found success despite being a shorter, stout defensive lineman.
“I felt that 6-a-side had given me the skill-set that I needed to play football. I was furthering that football IQ and picking up the intricacies of the 12-man game. As a defensive lineman it’s a fairly easy transition.”
On his way to Hilltops practice, Guebert passed by Aden Bowman Collegiate and decided to volunteer as a coach on the high school’s football team with hopes of one day becoming a teacher and by extension a coach. He’d spend nearly a decade coaching the program and as it turned out, his coaching experience paid off on the field.
“Just immersing myself in the coaching aspect of the game and having to think about it from a wider perspective was really beneficial to my playing career.”
“I loved the intellectual aspect of the game of football. One of my strengths as a football player was my ability to recognize that I was never a very athletic player and I didn’t have great stature by any means,” the 5’9”, 245-pound Guebert said. “So being a smart football player was something that I really valued and is still something that I really value now as a coach.”
During his time with the Hilltops, Guebert won back-to-back-to-back CJFL national championships (2001, 2002 and 2003). In those last two years, he was selected as the most outstanding defensive lineman in the Prairie Football Conference.
Following junior football, Guebert moved on to the university ranks with the Saskatchewan Huskies, where he’d continue to thrive. He one-upped his uncle Phil, appearing in three Vanier Cups (2004, 2005 and 2006), in addition to twice being selected as a Canada West conference all-star (2004 and 2006) as well as an all-Canadian in 2006.
Brian’s experiences would come full-circle in the classroom when as a master’s student he had an eye opening experience while watching minor football.
“I was standing on a football field and asking myself why are we asking young kids, 10, 11, and 12 to play on a 65-yard wide field?” recounted Guebert. “Why are we asking them to specialize their position prior to hitting puberty and before they’ve grown into what their adult bodies are going to look like? I started asking all these questions and when I proposed my master’s to the University of Saskatchewan, I put all this together and suggested that there’s got to be a better way that we can developmentally improve the game of football.”
It would be Brian’s experience playing 6-a-side and seeing its benefits carry over into his post-secondary career, that lead him to investigate the developmental benefits of 6-a-side football. His research, in addition to a job with Football Saskatchewan, would go on to fuel the football development system in Saskatchewan and extend across Canada. He’s since become the commissioner of the Saskatoon Minor Football Association and has helped establish a flourishing 6-a-side league among many other things.
Following his CFL playing career, while still working at Football Saskatchewan as a nearly thirty-year-old, Brian Guebert played for Canada at the 2011 IFAF Senior World Championship in Austria. The experience would open his eyes to international football.
“The 2011 worlds was super eye-opening – I thought we were going to go over there and have our way with a few teams,” reflected Guebert. “I was ignorant to the development of football throughout the world.”
Canada started the tournament against France, and Brian quickly had a change of heart.
“When we played France in that first game in 2011, they were good and they were physical. Really what separated us was by no means our athletic ability – it was our reaction time; our mental capacity to be able to read, recognize and understand things.”
“That all comes from repetition and all the experience that we’ve had – whether that be in the CFL, CIS, junior football, NCAA or whatever our backgrounds were as players. You could tell that we just had more of it, but in terms of the caliber of play, I mean all our games were physical battles.”
The team’s road to earning an eventual silver medal would also include host Austria, a thrilling come- from-behind 31-27 semi-final win against Japan before falling to the U.S. in the finals.
As Guebert continued his football life as a coach, a trio of experiences led Brian on a path to become a full-time coach.
“I worked with Football Saskatchewan from 2001 to 2013 in some capacity. That also really fed my passion as a coach. I got highly involved in the NCCP training programs.”
“I really tried to immerse myself in as much [coach] education as possible, going to Football Saskatchewan’s football clinics and the AFCA down in the states. Trying to be around football as much as possible really opened up an opportunity at the CIS level.”
While his Team Canada experience in 2011 served as an introduction to the international game, it also impacted Guebert’s coaching career as the staff included some of the CIS’ top names including Greg Marshall, Steve Sumarah, Blake Nill, Brian Towriss, Larry Haylor, Pat Tracey and Jeff Cummins.
“Getting to work with those legendary coaches, I think that really kind of groomed me for the transition for coaching CIS football, because I got a chance to learn from some of the best that we’ve got in the whole country.”
Following the eye-opening experience of playing on the world’s stage, Guebert turned his attention to coaching the next generation of Canadian talent as part of the 2012 Junior National Team coaching staff.
“Actually, when I was coaching on the Junior National Team in 2012, I was still coaching high school at the time, but coaching with guys like Noel Thorpe, Warren Craney and Pat Boies, really opened up the opportunity for me to coach CIS football.”
It would all come together for Brian following Canada’s gold medal win against the U.S. at the 2012 IFAF U19 World Championship in Austin. Texas. Guebert accepted a full-time coaching job at his alma mater as special teams coordinator and defensive line coach, prior to the 2013 season.
In a few short years, Brian went from playing in the CFL and coaching high school football to becoming a full-time coach at the University of Saskatchewan. He drew on many key experiences when building his coaching philosophy.
One of his first major influences, following his uncle Phil, was Tom Sargeant of the Hilltops who helped Brian better understand how to motivate players.
“He inspires his players and he believes in effort and passion,” Brian said of Sargeant. “That’s something that I really appreciate from him.”
As both a player and now a coach at the U of S, Guebert has also had the chance to learn from the winningest coach in CIS history, Brian Towriss.
“He’s just so organized and understands the X’s and O’s,” Guebert said of the legendary U of S coach. “His sight for the game is unbelievable – I still don’t have the vision that coach Towriss has. He treats people fairly, he has a passion for winning, and more importantly for developing young men into men and into citizens.”
During his two years in the CFL with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Guebert also had the chance to play for then head coach, Doug Barrie.
“Coach Barrie really drove home that sense of urgency and being able to practice with the sense of urgency. He stressed getting your work done in minimal amounts of time and being successful at it.”
During his first term with the Junior National Team in 2012, Brian got to learn from current Montreal Alouettes defensive coordinator, Noel Thorpe who was serving as Team Canada’s head coach and Montreal Carabins defensive coordinator at the time.
“Coach Thorpe was a real motivator. He was passionate about what he believed in. He executed and had his hand in every aspect of the game.”
A final key influencer was Brian’s time on the Senior National Team. Amongst the distinguished coaches, head coach and Western great, Larry Haylor stood out.
“He was another motivator. He saw the whole game and understood players.”
A veteran of international football as both a player and now a coach, Guebert has seen the caliber of play continue to improve at each subsequent world championship.
“Those European countries and Japan and Samoa – the teams we’ve seen, they’re good, really good! I try and remind our guys not to make the same mistake I maybe made in the 2011 Senior World Championships, thinking we should roll-over these guys because they don’t play a lot of football.”
“A lot of the players that we’re playing against now in the Junior World Championship, they’ve played a lot of football, they’re getting better and they deserve the utmost respect.”
“I can’t say enough about how exciting it’s been to see the development of football throughout all the nations involved in this tournament. It’s exciting going forward knowing that these kinds of events can be held on bigger, and bigger stages as this game grows internationally.”
Heading into his third U19 World Championship, Guebert has also noticed an uptick in the caliber of play at home and its impact on putting together the national team.
“It seems every year, we’re making harder and harder decisions about who’s going to be on the team because the talent is getting better and better.”
One of the aspects Brian enjoys most about his time on the national team has been seeing the growth of players in the national team program, as they transition from the Canada Cup to the U18, U19 and Junior National Teams.
“Watching the growth of a 17-year old to an 18 then to a 19-year old, over that three year span that we’re identifying them, you see so much change and that is a huge part of the fun. Even just over the course of a weeklong training camp when we’re down in Texas, you see so much change, you see these guys grow and come together. That’s fuels my passion for doing this for sure.”
Following the International Bowl, Guebert and the rest of the coaching staff will be faced with some more tough choices as they select 45 players from the U18 and U19 national teams to represent Canada at the 2016 IFAF U19 World Championship.
“It’s going to be exciting to start interacting with the athletes that we’ll be selecting for the world championship this summer. We’ll begin to create that family atmosphere and start the process to hopefully another gold medal in 2016.”
That process begins with the 2016 International Bowl series, taking place January 31-February 5 at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, in Arlington, Texas.
This post is also available in: French