Last Wednesday, SFU Athletics announced Joe Paopao as the newly hired offensive coordinator of the SFU football team.
Paopao, a native of Honolulu, HI, is no stranger to the BC football scene, having spent seven of his 11 seasons playing in the CFL with the BC Lions before multiple stints on the BC Lions coaching staff, including one season as head coach in 1996. He has held coaching jobs on various CFL teams, serving as the head coach for the previous Ottawa franchise, the Ottawa Renegades, for all four seasons of its existence from 2002–2005.
Nicknamed the “Throwin’ Samoan” for his ability as a quarterback, Paopao has also coached at the university level, serving as the offensive coordinator for the Waterloo Warriors from 2007–2011 before being named the university’s head coach, a position he held for two seasons before returning to the Lions as a receivers coach in 2014.
SFU head coach Kelly Bates had first-hand experience working with Paopao on the 2014 Lions coaching staff, where Bates was the running backs coach and draft coordinator.
“I know what Joe’s about,” he said. “Joe has many accolades, many accomplishments, he’s got a wealth of football knowledge, but the thing that drew me to Joe, and the thing that makes him the perfect hire, is that he cares about people. His actions prove that day in and day out.
“He will have a positive impact on everyone that he runs into and he works with in this program,” Bates added. “I felt like it was a steal to get him, and I think this place is fortunate we have him.”
Paopao hopes to bring stability to an institution that has lacked a consistent coaching staff for the last few years, with three different head coaches in three years and a different offensive coordinator each year since 2011.
“I’m their fourth different offensive coordinator in four years, [the team is] getting four different messages, four different philosophies offensively, and it can’t be easy,” Paopao noted. “I’m sensitive to that. They’re tremendous young men, but they’re still human beings. When you’re 18, 19, 20, 21 — it’s not easy when there is constant turnover.”
Both Paopao and Bates emphasize the importance of developing the student athletes as human beings.
“I’ve been coaching a long time, been in the pros for 30 years, it’s like my ninth year in university, so I understand what it takes,” Paopao said. “It takes patience, it takes being consistent with the message to student athletes — and I enjoy the process, having sent four of our children to university. I get it.”
Part of Paopao’s plan is to make sure that the student athletes are excelling academically. He notes his belief that this will also help the team on the field.
“We’re going to have to trust in the things that Bates is trying to implement, which is you’ve got to go to class, we’ve got to make sure they get the tutorial help they need,” he continued. “That’s a big investment in them by the university throwing a scholarship, and their parents who are investing in their future. We also believe that next four to five years are going to influence the next 40, 50 years of their life.
“In our game, each play lasts anywhere from three to five seconds, that’s all,” Paopao continued. “So before that and after the ball is snapped, that’s where being a good student and being disciplined mentally [comes in].”
The goal of the SFU coaching staff is to get the team to being a competitive force in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, as SFU has not achieved a winning record since joining the NCAA. In 2014, SFU actually had less wins than the season before, going from a relatively low three wins to just two. Paopao acknowledges that it’s not going to be an easy task, and it won’t happen right away.
“It’s like building a house, I mean it doesn’t happen in 10 minutes or 10 days,” he said. “It’s no different than starting university. In your first year, nobody graduates, there’s a process to it — you have to see how things work in it, but you have to keep working at it.”