Vanier Cup momentum? Coach Nill weighs in on UBC’s hiring of new AD Gilles Lepine of Laval

There is a clear synergy existing between new UBC AD Gilles Lepine (left, PNG photo) and head football coach Blake Nill (CP photo) and it could add up to more Vanier Cups.

VANCOUVER — It may be football’s off-season, but on Friday, Blake Nill could see that the figurative yard sticks for the defending Vanier Cup champion UBC Thunderbirds had taken a dramatic step towards the red zone following the announcement of former Laval athletics director Gilles Lepine as the school’s new sports super boss.

“What makes it personally exciting for me is that now football here has the potential to play a similar role to what it has at Laval,” UBC’s head coach said, referencing the hands-on role Lepine played within a Rouge et Or program which has won a record eight national titles and set the template for revenue generation within all of CIS sports.

“Gilles is a believer in the marketable sports and that means the ones that sell tickets,” continued Nill, whose own UBC debut last season included a crowd over 7,000 for the team’s homecoming game. “The atmosphere at (homecoming) was phenomenal and at that point, the cat was let out of the bag. UBC can market football. Now we need to sustain it, and Gilles is the leader who will come in and show how it can have a trickle-down effect for every other sport on campus.”

Describing his theory of successful infrastructure as a triangle between the athletic department, coaches and alumni, the 61-year-old Lepine stressed that “a trust factor” must be established between all three “where everybody knows their boundaries.”

“That is what we did at Laval,” he continued. “For alumni, we’re not just looking at your wallet, we’re looking for your contacts and your ideas. We want to share that, and that is something that the coaches have to understand, too. It’s collaboration. But in the end, everybody has to know that university teams are the property of the university.”

That’s Lepine’s way of saying that as Canadian university sports enters an age of new financial possibility through strategic marketing, that its soul must still be focused on enhancing the life of its unversity community.

And as he begins official duties on the Point Grey campus later this summer, at a time when the school is hopeful of implementing a 20-year master plan for athletics and recreation, the timing could not be better.

A positive vote at a June board meeting would turn the lights green for the wholesale refurbishing of both Thunderbird Stadium and War Memorial Gym, improving both the seating capacity and the fan experience at the venues for those so-called marketable sports of football and basketball.

His suitcases for Vancouver relocation have not yet been packed, but Lepine, who taught classes in sports event marketing at Laval and served as the chairman for four Vanier Cup championships, admits he would love to see a new stadium on campus, one which would have seating in the 10-to-12,000 range.

“The possibility is there but that is something for the senior management of the university to decide,” he said.

For his part, Nill is just happy to have Lepine on his side of the fence.

“I lost four national championships to Laval,” said Nill, who formerly brought the programs at St. Mary’s and Calgary to national prominence, “and every time I’d shake hands with the other team, he would appear at the end of the line-up.

“Each of those Laval teams showcased tremendous athletes and coaches,” Nill continued. “But to run a program like that, you need everything from the top down. That’s why I’m excited. I’ve seen directly and competed against a product he’s had some impact on. And I’m hoping that he brings that same impact to UBC.”

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