One of the most successful coaches in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) football, Nill joins the Thunderbirds after nine years as head coach of the University of Calgary. Prior to that he spent eight seasons as head coach at Saint Mary’s University. In 17 seasons as a CIS head coach, Nill has a career record (regular season and playoffs) of 130-47.
“I made the move to UBC because I was ready for a new experience and I love to build programs,” said Nill, who takes over a program that finished out of the playoffs in 2014. “This was a difficult decision to make. I was able to work with an amazing group of people and players in Calgary, but I’m ready for a new challenge and a fresh start. I’m going to need some time, but the building blocks are in sight at UBC and I am very excited about the program’s future.”
“Coach Nill has a proven track record at the CIS level, not only in his results on the field, but in his leadership skills and his ability to engage with staff, alumni, partners, and most importantly, the student-athletes,” said Ashley Howard, UBC’s Managing Director of Athletics and Recreation.
Over the last nine years, Nill led the Dinos to three Vanier Cup appearances (2009, 2010 & 2013) and a record six straight Hardy Cup Championships (2008-13) as the Canada West’s top team. In each of his last seven seasons in Calgary, the Dinos won at least five regular season games and one playoff game. From 2007-2014, the Dinos had 23 players selected in the Canadian Football League draft, eight of whom were taken in the first round.
He takes over a Thunderbirds program that celebrated its 90th year this past January and has won three Vanier Cups. However, the program hasn’t won a conference and Vanier Cup since 1997.
“After speaking with UBC’s Managing Director of Athletics and Recreation Ashley Howard and a number of key backers, I can see their passion to bring the program back to where it’s been before, winning the Vanier Cup,” said Nill. “I am here to win, for me and for UBC. That means winning on the field and graduating student-athletes.”
“A quality student-athlete experience is a key component for varsity success, but achieving full potential and winning on the field are also critical when representing the Thunderbirds,” said Howard. “Blake understands how to create the kind of performance culture that our team needs. UBC football can be the flagship program that captivates the interest of our students and community with a great fan experience, but we need a more exciting and successful product on the field.”
Part of UBC Athletics & Recreation’s new vision and mission is not only to deliver excellence on the field of play, but to build school spirit, nurture a strong sense of community and to invest in partnerships.
“The new vision for UBC football would not be possible without a powerful combination of UBC and donor backing and I thank the university and our donors for their support and ongoing commitment to the program,” said Howard.
A native of Hanna, AB, Nill’s first head coaching job in the CIS was with Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, NS. In eight years with the Huskies, he led them to a record six-straight Atlantic University Sport Championships (1999-2004), four trips to the Vanier Cup (1999, 2001, 2002, 2003), and two Vanier Cup Championships (2001 & 2002).
He won the Frank Tindall Trophy as CIS Coach of the Year in 1999 and was a finalist in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2009, 2012, and 2013. He has been named Canada West coach of the year on three occasions: 2009, 2012, and 2013.
Nill’s CIS coaching career began at St. Francis Xavier as a defensive coordinator in 1992. He spent six years with the X-Men, helping them to a Vanier Cup appearance in 1996.
During his playing days, Nill suited up for the Calgary Dinos from 1980 through 1982. The Montreal Concordes drafted him in the third round, 19th overall in the 1983 CFL Draft. He played in the CFL from 1983-88 with Montreal, Hamilton, and Winnipeg.
Nill graduated from Concordia University in 1989 with a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters of Education from St. Francis Xavier University.
He will officially begin January 5, 2015.