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Full Circle: Joe Paopao back where it all began with the B.C. Lions

Ottawa Renegades coach and general manager Joe Paopao is shown during CFL action in Ottawa, Saturday, October 29, 2005. Paopao enters his 29th CFL season back where it all started. A former player, running backs coach, offensive co-ordinator and head coach with the B.C. Lions, Paopao is back with the club coaching the receivers in 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Fred Chartrand

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Ottawa Renegades coach and general manager Joe Paopao is shown during CFL action in Ottawa, Saturday, October 29, 2005. Paopao enters his 29th CFL season back where it all started. A former player, running backs coach, offensive co-ordinator and head coach with the B.C. Lions, Paopao is back with the club coaching the receivers in 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Fred Chartrand

KAMLOOPS, B.C. - Joe Paopao is back where it all started.

After spending the last seven seasons in university football, the veteran coach has returned to the CFL for his 29th campaign in the league and will tutor the B.C. Lions' receiving corps in 2014 — some 37 years after the club gave him his first shot in professional football.

Known as "The Throwin' Samoan" during his playing days, Paopao was the Lions' quarterback for seven years, coached in various roles for seven more, and stopped recently to reflect on how his career has come full circle.

"Just like anything else there's a moment where you're at a fork in the road," Paopao said after a training camp practice. "Getting an opportunity to get back here is something I'm grateful for."

The 58-year-old's long coaching resume has had its ups and downs — perhaps most notably the 1996 season at the Lions' helm and his years leading the now-defunct Ottawa Renegades from 2002 to 2005 — but he said he still has a lot more to offer.

"I think coaching, you're still a teacher, you're a mentor, you're still trying to explain, trying communicate concepts and trying to prepare your men," said Paopao. "You've got to perform and do it well."

When Paopao parted ways with the University of Waterloo Warriors this winter after five years as an assistant and the last two as the school's head coach, the Lions were eager to bring his wealth of experience on board.

"I really respect and revere veteran coaches, and that's where coach Paopao falls into," said Lions head coach Mike Benevides. "I think the more knowledge you can have around, the better. I'm not afraid of having great, veteran people around. It's about having the right people and Joe is the guy to get these receivers to the next level.

"He can offer knowledge to everybody."

New offensive co-ordinator Khari Jones, who was hired this off-season to kickstart an attack that has been criticized for its lack of imagination in recent years, actually played for Paopao with the Lions at the start of his career.

"It's very unique, but it takes the right individuals to do it," said Jones of their working relationship. "He's definitely the right individual. He knows how much respect I have for him and what he's done. He's done everything in this league and I know that. I'm still moving up and it's nice because he's been there — he's been there as a player, he's been there as a coach.

"He's a very helpful addition for me because he's a guy who I can depend on and throw ideas off of, and he can give me ideas as well."

The laid-back Paopao said the transition has been seamless because he and Jones operate the same way.

"To have the opportunity to change roles has been fun," said the native of Honolulu. "He's a great human being. He's easy to work with. He knows the expectations. We've got to get positive results. It's about performing well offensively and he's doing a great job."

Lions starting quarterback Travis Lulay is still recovering from shoulder surgery and is a question mark heading into the season, but he has already seen Paopao's impact first-hand.

"(It's) a different perspective for the receivers because he sees the game through a quarterback's eyes," said Lulay. "It's all about timing and why you're at where you're at. I think that's an important thing for those guys.

"He's a passionate guy. He's been doing it a long time. He's given a lot to the game, but you can tell he's still got a lot to give. He just loves it."

Lulay added that the chemistry between Jones and Paopao is a bonus for a Lions team with its sights set on the Grey Cup game that will be played at B.C. Place Stadium in November.

"You can tell coach Jones and coach Paopao work really well together," said Lulay. "He brings another veteran presence to the room. For us quarterbacks, it's awesome because here's another guy who's walked 10,000 miles in our shoes. It's a luxury to have a guy like that around."

Soft-spoken away from the game, Paopao's voice can be heard booming across the practice field as he encourages and teaches — something he has done each and every year since retiring as a player.

"Really intense," Lions slotback Shawn Gore said of his new coach. "He demands a lot, but he's going to get the best out of us."

Paopao played for the Lions from 1978 to 1983, and again in 1990, throwing for 11,508 yards and 79 touchdowns in 81 games. He was B.C.'s offensive backfield coach in 1989, its quarterbacks coach in 1991, its offensive co-ordinator in 1992 and 1993, and its head coach in 1996 before returning to the club to again run the offence in 1999 and 2000.

Paopao's nomadic coaching career has also included co-ordinator jobs with the Edmonton Eskimos, Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, as well as the San Francisco Demons during the XFL's one year of existence.

"He's a guy I can definitely depend on and a guy who's seen everything, not only as a player, but as a coach," said Jones, who added that he lobbied for Paopao to be hired. "I'd be silly not to use his experience to my advantage. There's a lot things he has experience on and I have no problem letting him lead on some of those things.

"He's not only an outstanding coach, but an outstanding individual. I was so happy that he wanted to come out here."

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