BRANDON, Man. – Jules Owchar can best be described as the Bill Belichick of curling.
All he does is win.
The 74-year-old curling mastermind has coached Canada’s best curlers for more than 40 years now and will be inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame this week at the Tim Hortons Brier.
“I was stunned. It never crossed my mind. Usually they put you in when you’re retired,” Owchar told TSN.ca on Wednesday. “They wanted to put me in at NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton), but they say we can’t put you in until you’re retired. It never crossed my mind. I got the call from Yellowknife and I thought it was some lady who wanted to curl for me at NAIT.”
For every Belichick, there needs to be a Tom Brady and it’s fair to say Owchar has coached a few of those over the years.
Owchar is best known as the longtime coach of Kevin Martin, helping The Old Bear capture four Brier titles, one world championship and that glorious Olympic gold on home soil in 2010. Since Martin’s retirement in 2014, Owchar has sat behind the bench of Brad Gushue’s rink and has played an integral part in getting the St. John’s skip and two-time Brier champion over the hump on the national stage with back-to-back Canadian men’s curling championships.
Just like the great New England Patriots NFL head coach, Owchar works on a whole different level when it comes to how he sees the game. Belichick has become the master of the X’s and O’s strategy, having the innate ability to create a game plan that will stifle any opponent.
Owchar’s specialty is rock charting.
During every game at this week’s Brier, and at every major curling event the Edmonton native has attended, for that matter, Owchar can be seen perched behind the scoreboard with a pair of binoculars. He’s scouting the rocks, both on his sheet and the other sheets, looking at how each stone slides down the ice. Do they slide heavy or light? Does a certain rock curl a ton or not at all? Owchar keeps track and records results for every stone thrown at a major competition, slowly growing enough intel that will help his team down the road.
It’s a very common practice in today’s game, but Owchar was one of the first to start charting rocks, thanks to a young and passionate Martin.
“Kevin always thought it was important. He was almost a fanatic about it. He probably switched more rocks than anybody,” said Owchar.
The coach said all that really matters is making sure the last rocks thrown are the best ones.
“Just give the skippy two good rocks,” he said.
Owchar begin his coaching career after taking a job at NAIT in 1969.
At first, Owchar coached basketball, but eventually took over the curling program and that’s when he met Martin.
Martin won the Brier in his first appearance in 1991, becoming one of the youngest skips to capture the Tankard at age 25. The victory also punched the Martin rink’s ticket to the 1992 Olympics in France where curling was being played as a demonstration sport.
As the story goes, Owchar knew ahead of time that a Brier victory would send Team Martin to the Olympics but decided to keep it a secret from his players until the mission was complete.
Owchar sees it a different way.
“We can’t get our stories straight. He tells everybody that I knew and I wouldn’t tell anybody. I remember distinctly waiting on the wall for the [Brier] parade and Kevin says, ‘I think we’re going to the Olympics,’ and I say, ‘What? How?’ because there wasn’t any mention of it,” Owchar said, jokingly.
That fun-loving banter between Owchar and Martin was something the pair could always count on.
“He always tells the one at the Olympics when he called a timeout when I was having a coffee,” he said. “I think he knew because there’s three rocks in play – why would he call me. He saw me leave for a coffee that’s why would he called a timeout.”
Not only has Owchar amassed great success on the pro curling stage, he’s also guided school teams from NAIT to a remarkable 34 conference championship gold medals over the years and continues to coach there today.
Owchar is taking his school team to Fredericton for the college championships as soon as he gets back from the Brier and has already started to recruit curlers for next season.
The Hall of Famer said coaching keeps him young.
“I guess when you get older you stay with the young kids, you start to think like them,” explained Owchar. “I can’t go have a coffee with guys in my group because they’re talking about gardening and I want to be with the kids – like what’s the latest band and what happened last night. So it keeps you younger.”
Owchar’s current skip is thrilled he’s headed to the Hall but wonders why it didn’t happen sooner.
“The only thing I wonder is what took so friggin’ long to get in here,” said Gushue. “He’s had an incredible resume. Take aside what’s he done for our team and for Kevin’s team, just what’s he done at NAIT in all the years of coaching he’s done. It’s incredible. He’s been such an ambassador for the sport.”
Gushue and his team are already headed to the championship pool and will be contenders once again to stand atop the podium Sunday alongside their legendary coach.