Gentil Alouette

Ex-Al Chiu Takes on Leadership Role With Stingers’ Staff

  • Photo Amanda Laprade

For most of his 13-year career, Bryan Chiu was considered the best center in the Canadian Football League.

Chiu was the recipient of various accolades, such as the 2002 Most Outstanding Lineman award, 16 total all-star selections (seven-time CFL All-Star, nine-time CFL East All-Star), all while anchoring a dominant offensive line en route to two Grey Cup championships with the Montreal Alouettes.

His resume speaks for itself—his rise to CFL greatness was never in doubt—but his legendary journey was cut short all too soon.

Chiu’s surprising retirement announcement via his Twitter account during the summer of 2010 caught the city of Montreal by surprise, but Chiu had ample reason to call it quits.

By then, various injuries and surgeries had hampered his ability to compete at the elite level he had maintained throughout his career. But that was only part of the reason.

“I had to do it in the best interest of my family,” said Chiu. “I have two young kids and a wife and I wanted to make sure I was going to be healthy for them down the road.”

While his retirement was a heavy blow to the Alouettes, it was a blessing for the Concordia Stingers football team. Two weeks after the announcement, Concordia head coach Gerry McGrath hired Chiu to take on the roles of assistant offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

“I was really planning to take some time off and just regroup, just to give myself a little time before I started the next chapter of my life,” he said. But when word reached McGrath that Chiu was free, he wasted no time.

“When Gerry got back from training camp in Saskatchewan he gave me a call. […] We went out for lunch and he basically just offered me the job.”

His good relationship with McGrath was also a big reason for joining the Stingers’ coaching staff.

“Over the years I had gotten to know Coach McGrath. We built a good relationship and I would always joke with him that someday I’d come and coach with him.”

Although Chiu never actually gave serious thought to coaching after his career, his love for the game of football was too great to drop the game entirely and coaching provided a way for him to stay involved with it after his retirement. Despite opportunities to immediately coach professionally, Chiu didn’t feel the timing was quite right.

“I still have a lot to learn about the game of football and I think [Concordia] is a great place for me to be,” he said.

“I have some security here right now, and I’m comfortable here. I just feel like it’s more rewarding for me to get the 17-year-old kids out of high school who want nothing more than to become pro football players. If I can help those guys out, all the better.”

But while Chiu admits he is reaping the rewards of his coaching experience, the long workdays make it difficult for him to spend time with his family during the season.

“When I was a player I did four-and-a-half-hour shifts. Here at Concordia, I’m in the office at around 7:30, 8 o’clock in the morning, and I’ll be getting home at 9 [or] 10 o’clock every day. The long 15-hour days can be taxing during the season,” he said.

“I can go three, four days without seeing my kids because they’re asleep when I get home and I’m out the door before the sun rises. There was a little period of adjustment there, but having an understanding wife certainly helps.”

Chiu admits that once in a while he still gets the itch to get back on the field, but he is content with his new role as a leader from the sidelines, instead of at the center position he dominated for over a decade.
As a former professional athlete he understands that, while it does serve as an advantage in coaching, his experience as a college player helps him relate to his players better.

Having been in their shoes, Chiu said he knows what it takes to get to the next level. This invaluable experience will no doubt serve great purpose to the up and coming stars not only on the Stingers offensive line, but to the entire roster.

“Seeing these kids mature and helping them balance not only football, but their academics, jobs and personal lives, it makes you much more than just a coach to them,” he said.

“It makes you a counselor, and for the out-of-town kids, the coaches are like their father figures. The best thing about this job is being able to have a positive influence on these kids.”

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