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Champion coaches from Japan to assist

Coaches from the Koshien Bowl, Japan's equivalent of the BCS Championship, are on AFC and NFC staffs

By Billy Hull

LAST UPDATED: 3:23 a.m. HST, Jan 26, 2011

There will be coaches on opposites sidelines of Sunday's Pro Bowl who recently faced off for a national championship.


Sunday, 2 p.m.
At Aloha Stadium
And no, Chip Kelly of Oregon and Auburn's Gene Chizik won't be in Hawaii this weekend.

In a new wrinkle to this year's NFL all-star game, coaches from two different universities in Japan will join the staffs of AFC coach Bill Belichick and NFC coach Mike Smith.

Akira Yonekura, who coached Ritsumeikan University to a 48-21 victory over Waseda University in the Koshien Bowl, Japan's version of the BCS National Championship, will assist the offensive line for the NFC.

Hiroyuki Yabe, who coached Waseda, will help out the AFC, and is excited for Sunday's game as a chance to redeem himself.


Pittsburgh Steelers
Green Bay Packers

Feb. 6, 1:30 p.m.

At Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas


"Revenge is one of my motives, yes," Yabe said through translator Eric Takahata.

Both coaches admitted to feeling "in a dream" as they sat through yesterday's news conference to kick off Pro Bowl week in Hawaii.

The game is back in Hawaii after it was played in Florida a year ago, breaking a string of 30 straight held at Aloha Stadium.

For the first time in Hawaii, the game will be played the week before the Super Bowl, meaning four Pittsburgh Steelers and six Green Bay Packers won't make the trip.

While those 10 prepare to play in America's biggest game of the year, the two men representing Japan's biggest game are eager to learn from the sport's best coaches.

"(Football) is not the No. 1 sport in Japan," Yonekura said. "(We) hope to learn everything we can with this opportunity to take back (to Japan) with us."

Yonekura is expected to focus more on the offensive line for the NFC, so he won't have to go up against the one player he's looking forward to meeting the most.

"I'm a big fan of Peyton Manning," he said. "Even though I have to coach the NFC."

Yabe didn't have any player in particular he was looking forward to meeting, but does have two favorite teams.

"The Patriots and the Jets," he said, before later admitting he wanted New York to beat New England in the divisional round.

That might not sit well with his boss this weekend. Belichick will coach the AFC for the third time, and Yabe is looking forward to working with one of the most successful coaches in NFL history.

"The NFL is the highest level (of football). There is no higher honor than this." he said. "(When I heard it was Belichick), I started foaming at the mouth. I didn't know what to say."

Smith, who guided the Falcons to a 13-3 record and is averaging 11 wins in his first three seasons in Atlanta, is making his debut as a Pro Bowl head coach.

"I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to interact with these guys ... working with all these great athletes from top to bottom," Smith said. "I think the biggest challenge is a lot of these guys have not been involved in special teams so that will be the biggest thing."

He also hopes Yonekura will bring him some of the good fortunes that he had in winning the Koshien Bowl.

"I understand these are some of the top coaches in Japan and hopefully (Yonekura) will bring us some good luck," he said.

Kickoff on Sunday is set for 2 p.m.

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