Photo: Brian Jopp

Rebrovich \"living a dream\" coaching hometown Bills

October 20, 2016 - 5:28 pm

By Sal Capaccio

Twitter @SalSports


Jason Rebrovich is in his fourth year as a coach on the Buffalo Bills staff.  Like all of them, he wants to help get the organization back to the playoffs for the first time in seventeen years.  But unlike any of them, Rebrovich knows exactly what it was like then - and what it would truly mean to the region now.  That’s because “Rebs” is from Buffalo.  He grew up here.  A Bills fan.  And now he’s getting the chance to coach his hometown team.  A dream come true. 

I had a chance to talk with the team's defensive line coach about growing up in the area, being a Bills fan, his career in coaching, and what it’s like to be on the staff of his hometown team.  Here’s the complete Q and A:

So just tell me about growing up here. Give me a timeline of growing up here kind of through your middle school years up until high school. 

I graduated in 1996 from Clarence high school. I grew up there my whole life, went to middle school there.  Clarence Junior High and went to Ledgeview Elementary School and have just been around this area for a long time. My whole family's from around here. My grandparents grew up around here, my parents grew up around here, and just had a little niche here in this little town for a long time.

When did you start playing football? Your earliest age in organized youth football? 

Not until ninth grade, actually. We didn't have a Pop Warner football like they do now. We actually just played backyard football. A lot of it. Had a bunch of buddies that grew up around me and we played probably anywhere between three and four days a week. So I just enjoyed it until I got to ninth grade. It was eighth grade, actually. It was eighth grade football was when we started. And then I graduated like I said in 1996.

Did you want to play football? Was that a goal or did you walk in the cafeteria one day and a coach said 'hey there's a big kid I want him on the team?'

Oh sure. We always liked to play. Like I said before we played backyard football all the time. I was big into sports. Clarence had a pretty good history of baseball. I played that throughout my whole career. I actually started off as a soccer player early on. But yeah, you know, as time went on with just playing in the backyard, I just always wanted to kind of be around the sport. I enjoyed the sport and really it just kind of evolved from there. I just loved being around the game of football. You know, just loved the intricacies of eleven men doing eleven different jobs for one common goal. And it was it was just something I was intrigued with. 

Were your Clarence teams successful in high school? 

In junior high we were undefeated and then we kind of had some rough junior and senior years. And actually Tom Goddard was our head coach. And Mark Layer, who's now the current coach, was my junior high school, or my JV coach. But, yeah, we had some good success, some good players that went on to play at various colleges and we enjoyed it. We really did. 

Were your parents and family all Bills fans? 

Oh sure. I remember coming to a Rich Stadium as young as 8, 9 years old with a bunch of buddies. I mean I remember actually when Brian Cox came here and we...... 

When he gave the bird? 

Yes. Actually my claim to fame that I say is that he definitely did it towards me (laughing).....But yeah I do remember being here many times, enjoying the games, enjoying back then - it was obviously, you know, Rich Stadium - and had many, many great times here at this stadium. 

Where did you go to play football in college and how did the recruiting process start and go for you? 

I actually went to Alfred Junior College first. Alfred State. I played there for two years and then I graduated there and went to Cortland State University. 

What position did you play? 

I was actually bumped around from a linebacker to D-line. I kind of fluctuated back and forth depending on what we had and what that week's game plan was. But I really kind of sucked my teeth into playing the D-line, and then just kind of evolved from there. My senior year exclusively played the D-line, and then I got into coaching. I was lucky enough, my head coach asked me to stick around and, 'hey would you like to get into coaching?' 

Why do you think he identified you? 

I guess I was kind of a director on the field as it was. I kind of knew how to get people aligned. I kind of knew the scheme in and out and really took it upon myself to learn everybody's position - or at least thought I did - and tried to get everybody understanding what we're trying to accomplish and how to get it lined up and luckily, like I said, it kind of just rolled over into him asking me to stay on staff and then I stayed there for four years, and then I kind of ventured around and bumped down to another school down in West Virginia, and then I went out to another school in Michigan and then came back to Syracuse and enjoyed my time there. 

Doug Marrone hired you? 

Yes, Coach Marrone. Actually, I worked their camps all the time when I was a young GA (Graduate Assistant) at Cortland. I used to go up there all the time actually when Coach (Paul) Pasqualoni was there and just came there over and over and over and just kind of was on that list, and made the list when Coach Marrone kind of transplanted himself into the staff and luckily just got around the staff members and talked to him and Coach (Scott) Shafer. And they had an opportunity as the assistant D-line coach opened up and they came over and asked me and said, 'hey look, would you be interested in doing it?' And obviously I said 'yeah' and it kind of went from there. 

So when Marrone got the job here in Buffalo, did you immediately want to be a part of this? How did he approach you? How did that go? 

You know it's a kind of a funny story. Definitely. There is no question I wanted to come back here, have an opportunity to coach here. He called me up one time and said, 'hey would you be interested in coming?' he said, 'you know I obviously took the job.' This is two days after he just was introduced as the head coach (of the Bills). I said, 'coach, obviously, absolutely I want to come here.' He goes, 'well I'm going to bring you in for an interview.' And I said 'OK.' And he says, 'you're going to meet with Mike Pettine.' And I said 'OK coach.' And so I came in, suited up, dressed up all ready to go, had all my binders, everything, presentation, and introduced myself to Mike Pettine. He brought me into his office. He sat me down across from his desk and he said, 'alright, tell me a little bit about yourself.' So I kind of gave him a little bit of background and kind of where I'd been coaching and what I'd been doing and what I've been around and he looked over at me and he said, 'has anybody formally introduced you as being assistant D-line coach here with Buffalo Bills?' I said 'coach, no.' He puts his hand over the desk and says, 'congratulations. You're part of the Buffalo Bills staff.' So that's kind of how it happened. You know, my time with Coach Marrone kind of allowed me to have this opportunity to come here to work with the Bills. 

Then Coach Marrone leaves and Rex comes. How did it happen that you stayed on? 

Again Mike, Mike Pettine was obviously a big part of that. Mike and Coach Ryan's relationship that they had before New York. I was actually kind of getting stuff together out of my office and coming around the corner. And Russ Brandon was there and he said to Coach Ryan as I was walking around upstairs, he said, 'hey this is Rebs.' And I said, 'hey coach, nice to meet you,' and Coach Ryan says 'I need to talk to you right now.' So he pulled me into his office and I sat down with him and the next thing you know he was going to retain me on the staff. So it was very humbling.

Did you have an opportunity to go with Pettine to Cleveland? 

No, I never really did. You know, I'm sure there was probably some conversations, but I wanted to stay here in Buffalo. I expressed that with Russ and Doug Whaley and I wanted to be a part of this organization as long as I could be. And really I didn't look for any other opportunities. I wanted to stay here and I was hoping that time would happen. And luckily for me it did.

Jason Rebrovich (Photo: Buffalo Bills)

Why did you want to stay here?

Because I love this organization. My bond with this area is extreme. I've love this area. I love the people around here. And I want to stay here as long as I can. You know, I just I like being home. I've got a lot of friends, a lot of family around here. My wife (who is from Oswego) has now transplanted herself into this community. I have two daughters, 3 and 1, Reese and Madison. So we enjoy it. We really enjoy our community. The people are great. Great neighbors. 

You grew up a Bills fan? 

Oh yeah.

What's it like to be coaching the team your grew up rooting for? 

It's a dream, no doubt. Just like you, Sal. I told my mother a long time ago that I always wanted to be a coach. And I told her years ago that, whether I was going to choose a different profession, whether it was another sport, whether it's baseball or hockey I was involved with, or obviously football. I always wanted to be a coach. And I remember one time driving down the road, we were on Route 5, Main Street, and I remember leaning over to my mother and I said, 'I will coach in the NFL someday.' And luckily I had that opportunity in a place that I enjoy, you know, I grew up being a Bills fan. I mean I remember when the kick went up (in Super Bowl XXV). And I remember still to this day, vividly, where I was and how I reacted. I remember all those Super Bowls. I remember all those players and seeing them come around here. Those were idols of yours. My first number in middle school was 78. Bruce Smith. It's like I said earlier, it's a humbling experience. It really is.

So as opposed to all these other coaches who haven't been here, the playoff drought isn't their burden to carry. It's not yours, either, but do you actually feel any of that burden because you've been emotionally invested in this team for so long? 

Yeah, I think you are emotionally invested. There's no question about it. You want to be successful in everything, in any venue that you are, and you just happen to now, you are part of it as a fan - and as a fan base growing up - and now that you're around it all the time, yeah, there's no question we want to have a winning organization. 

But can you kind of understand the frustration of the fans maybe more than most people who haven't been around here? 

Yeah, I hear it all the time. I bet I hear it more than a lot of the other coaches in this organization. And I embrace it. I enjoy it, because I do want to make a difference. I do want to make a change. There's nothing more gratifying than we make the playoffs here in Buffalo and I happen to be a part of it. There is nothing that's going to be more gratifying than that.

Obviously, all coaches have aspirations. What are yours? 

I want to be a head coach someday. No question about it. I understand and I know there are different steps to go in and hopefully someday I can be a coordinator and then have an aspiration to be a head coach. Whether it's at this level or the college level, I just enjoy being around guys and understanding the game of football and teaching them the game of football. And that's my aspiration. No question I want to be a head coach someday.

How many cities have you lived since you started coaching? 

I'm 38 and this is my sixth city. Obviously being in Clarence and being a Buffalo guy, you know, I guess you claim it when you come back. But, yeah, this is my sixth stop and again I've had a great experience in every place that I've been. 

Six cities. Wow, that's got to be tough on you and your family.

Oh sure. You better have a tough wife, I'll tell you that. You better have a tough wife and an understanding family because you're moving a lot. You have to enjoy, and they have to embrace what you do as a job and a profession, because there are a lot of times you're traveling around. There are a lot of times where you're not at home and you don't see your kids first steps. And it is tough. But when they embrace it and you have that support from your family it's a comfort level that you do have. You miss it, you hate it. But you love what you do and it is a tough thing to kind of separate because your family is here - in the organization. And your family is obviously there also - at home. And your home life is always going to take precedent over everything. But I enjoy this journey that I've been on here in the Bills organization, and I hope to continue this journey.

What advice would you give others who want to get into coaching?

Connect with as many coaches and people that you're around. And embrace coaching with a mindset of doing the right thing all the time. Meaning that when you've got to be on time to a staff meeting, when you've got to be on time for a practice. Just make sure you're assertive all the time and understanding what that assertiveness is. Coach your rear-end off. Talk to these guys in a manner that you understand who you're dealing with. You're dealing with auditory guys, you're dealing with people that understand just from a chalkboard. Find out and evaluate the players that you have in your room and if you can teach them, for them to understand what the big picture is, and you're going to have a lot of opportunities as a coach. 

Last thing. As a fan, not a coach. What's your favorite Bills memory and your most frustrating Bills memory? 

Well frustrating, probably the kick. Super Bowl 25. I hate to even say that, I'm under my breath. I was 12 years old. That was probably my most disappointing. That and probably the name that I don't like to bring up from the Tennessee Titans. Yeah his name. That was probably a disappointing thing. Probably the most enjoyable one, being a fan of the Buffalo Bills, there's a lot of them, you know. I mean I guess you just always remember, unfortunately, the hard parts. But there's been a lot. It's probably really getting to those Super Bowls and being a fan, and as a kid you're going to this Super Bowl party here and this Super Bowl party here and enjoying that. I think I'll always remember those because you had those opportunities and I think that's what a lot of the fan base has got to understand is that we've had those opportunities. We're missing them and we want to continue to have them. And we're striving to do it and hopefully we can just understand that if we just keep this thing alive we'll keep going and flourish as time goes on. 

Follow me on Twitter @SalSports

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