In 2009, I became interested in the communication system used in the NFL by coaches and quarterbacks that incorporated a microphone in the QB’s helmet. Such a system wasn’t used at all in Canada back then. I actually rented a couple from an American firm for $5000 for a season and used them with my high school team. So as to not gain a competitive advantage, I gave out the contact information to all the other coaches in the region but only one other one took advantage. Sadly, the systems were ruled illegal right before the playoffs started. Oh, and in our last regular season game, both my quarterbacks were injured which meant we had nobody with any experience for the playoffs. I still remember losing that game 2 to 0 on a conceded safety early in the game. Future U of T defensive lineman Corey Williams returned a fumble for a touchdown with a minute left in the game but the runner was ruled down by contact. Still interested in the concept of coach to QB communication, I came across a water ski instructor in Australia who developed a system to train his pupils. He invented a helmet with a microphone in it that allowed him to communicate with them from up to 4 km away. To make a long story short, I contacted him and the discussion lead to me sending him 5 football helmets. He incorporated the system into those helmets and then I went on a ‘road show’ to about a number of Canadian universities (Western, McMaster, Queens, McGill, and Laurier) to ‘demo’ the product. Everyone I met was excited about the possibilities as the communication system was effective and inexpensive. However, the guy was not willing to share his technology with any major football helmet manufacturer so the collaboration ended.
In was during one of those demos that I met Ryan Pyear for the first time. Two years later when I started to do scouting and recruiting for WLU, Ryan was still the OC on the team and we have been friends ever since. Pyear is one of the most highly decorated Laurier football players in school history. He was a 5 year starter at QB who earned OUA Rookie of the Year honours in 2001. He was a 2004 2nd team All Canadian & 1st team All Ontario All Star in 2004, a 1st team All Canadian & 1st team All OUA in 2005, a Uteck Bowl and Vanier CUP MVP in 2005, and he was a 2 Team MVP & 2 time President’s award winner at Laurier. More importantly, he quarterbacked the team to back to back Yates Cup championships in 2004 and a Vanier Cup victory in 2005.
Dave Morrissey: Tell me why you chose to come to Laurier
Ryan Pyear: At the time, the head coach at Laurier was Rick Zmich. He was a former QB who was a Hec Creighton award winner. As well, Wally Gabler was the QB coach and he had been a very successful QB at Guelph. I knew playing for those 2 guys would really be a great experience and help me grow as a player. As well, I also knew I would have a decent chance to start in my first year as the starting QB at Laurier had graduated. I really didn’t want to sit on the bench for a year or longer. As well, the kinesiology program at WLU did not require a high school calculus credit to get in.
(DM): I had heard that on a recruiting trip to Laurier, Coach Jeffries, who was the DC at the time and who of course later became the Head Coach, told you that you would be the best defensive player for Laurier. That must have been confusing. Did they think they were going to turn you into a defensive back?
(RP): Initially, I didn’t know what he meant. I was thinking, dude, I’m a quarterback. He then went on to explain that as the QB, I would be keeping our defense on the sideline by continually keeping the chains moving on offense. They would be well rested and as such they would be more effective when they got on the field. I thought that was pretty clever.
(DM): Being a 5 year starter is very impressive, but I know you only played 3 games in your 2nd year due to injury and the team only went 1-7 that year (2002). How difficult was that year for you?
(RP): It was a bizarre year. The team was 1-7, but we had five losses by a total of 11 points. Those tough times helped our team build character which aided us in the years that followed. I tore my knee up at our Homecoming game. I was scrambling, running downfield trying to get extra yards. Near the sideline, I should have gone out of bounds, but I tried to turn it up field and get some more yards. That was a mistake! I planted my foot, my knee buckled, and I was done. I was in a lot of pain. They had to get an ambulance for me. Ironically, that was the only game we won that year.
(DM): Other than the Vanier Cup victory in 2005, what was your most memorable game?
(RP): I would have to say the playoff game at Queen’s in 2003. It was such a back and forth game with some crazy things that happened. Our kicker Brian Devlin completed a pass for a two point convert. Their kicker missed an extra point that went under the crossbar in overtime. Had he made the kick, we would have lost. We ended up winning on a touchdown pass in double overtime. (Editor’s Note: That entire game can be viewed on Youtube somewhere).
(DM): As I have done with some of the other guys, let’s play ‘How well do you know your own statistics’? In your career, how many fumbles did you have? As well, how many receptions and tackles did you have?
(RP): That’s a tough one. I know I had a lot of fumbles in my first couple of years as I had problems with the center QB exchange being under center. Later on in my career when we moved into the shotgun, the fumbles certainly went down considerably. I would estimate 15.
(DM): Very close! Official WLU statistics credit you with 14 career regular season fumbles. How about tackles and receptions?
(RP): Tackles? I certainly had a couple from throwing interceptions. I think I had three of them. Receptions? I don’t think I had any, but if I did, I will blame my poor memory on concussion issues.
(DM): Again, very close! You overestimated your defensive abilities by one and you underestimated your offensive abilities by one as well. You were credited with 2 tackles and 1 reception. Maybe you caught one of your own passes that was deflected back to you by a pass rusher. Right after your playing career, you jumped into coaching with Laurier and you became the Offensive Coordinator. What would you say is harder to deal with: losing games as a player or losing games as a coach?
(RP): For me, losing games as a coach dug into my side a little bit more. I would wonder if I called the right plays or if I could have done something different. As a coach, at the end of the day, you are helpless on the sideline. You can’t make plays. You can have a great game plan, but if things don’t work out, there’s nothing you can do about it. Sitting on the sidelines and watching things not be successful is really hard to deal with.
(DM): I would agree with that completely and I would venture to say that all coaches who were also former players would agree with that too. I can still intimately recall every single detail of some key losses in my coaching career. As an OC like yourself, even though it was only at the high school level, I would often torment myself for weeks afterwards going through certain events over and over again in my mind. Oddly enough, although I won a couple of championships, those details are not as fresh in my mind, but I can certainly recall in precise detail a couple of tragic playoff losses from as far back as 1995 and 2002.
(DM): I want you to imagine that a group of players from the 2005 Vanier Cup team have all been put on an island and a ‘Survivor’ type competition emerges. Who would win?
(RP): I would have two answers. First off, Bobby Kootstra would do well. He was always the kind of guy who would do whatever it takes to win. He would be cut throat. However, the guy that would probably beat him and win would be Nick Cameron. I just came back from a fishing trip with him. You know what portaging is, right? That guy portaged an aluminum fishing boat by himself! That guy is a beast. He knows what he is doing in the wilderness too. He has the necessary skills to survive in the wilderness by himself for long periods of time. He would win.
(DM): Tell me what you have been doing career wise for the past few years.
(RP): I have been working at the University of Waterloo. My title is the Marketing Undergraduate Recruitment Specialist for Engineering. My job is to recruit high school students who are interested in studying engineering. How I got there is a bit interesting. I randomly received an inmail on Linkedin and things quickly progressed from there. Previously, I had been doing a similar job for the MBA program at Laurier.
(DM): I have known you and your wife Monica for about a decade and she’s an amazing woman. The fact that you two ended up together is quite a story of resiliency. Tell me about that.
(RP): Well, I was never the type of guy to actively chase women. I was pretty shy, but I saw her and I saw something different. Of course I was attracted to her, but there was more to it than that. I could see she was such a good person. She shot me down at least 5 or 6 times before she finally agreed to go out with me. I kept on thinking to myself,”This is a girl I could make my wife.” So, I didn’t give up. She tells me now she turned me down so many times because she had just gotten out of a relationship and she wasn’t ready to jump back into anything. It was funny. When she would turn me down, I would say to her, “Okay, just so you know, I am going to ask you out again.” She was always very sweet when she would shoot me down. At one point, I figured I would step back and give her a break from my advances. I told her, “Okay, I am going to give you the summer off, but when we are back at school in the fall, I am going to ask you out again.” I think the first time she agreed to any of my advances was when I invited her to a rookie party at the start of the 2004 season. (Editor’s Note: In 1989, I lived with a couple of guys on the football team and the rookie party was in our back yard. I am shocked that any woman would want to be at such an event). However, I am so glad I was persistent. I couldn’t be happier with her, our 2 young children, and how our lives have turned out.