WINNIPEG — Mike Kelly’s fiery reign as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach flamed out for good Thursday.
Kelly was fired at about 8 p.m. Thursday, just hours after being arrested and charged with assault following a domestic dispute in the morning at his home near Philadelphia.
"I’m here to announce on behalf of the board of directors that Mike Kelly has been relieved of his duties as head coach," said Bombers chairman Ken Hildahl, who earlier Thursday announced Lyle Bauer’s resignation as Bombers CEO. "It’s a tough decision but I’ve been saying repeatedly to you for the last six weeks we were reviewing the performance of the head coach and we came to the conclusion tonight that based on that assessment it was time to move on and find a new head coach."
Hildahl said the decision was not based on Kelly’s arrest.
"No. We recognize that an incident did take place but in the eyes of the law these are allegations and allegations only," said Hildahl.
Kelly’s job security was already in question and his arrest appears to have given the board of directors cause to fire him and void his contract. A board member told the Free Press on Thursday prior to hearing of Kelly’s arrest that the coach would not receive their endorsement and any decision about his employment would be left to a new CEO.
If the team can show cause, they will not be on the hook for the final two years of Kelly’s contract.
"We haven’t looked at (whether or not Kelly’s dismissal can be termed as just cause) but we’ll deal with those issues moving forward," Hildahl said.
Hildahl was asked if the club could afford having to pay Kelly out for the final two years of his contract, which would reportedly cost the club in the neighbourhood of $500,000.
"We haven’t even considered that," said Hildahl, who earlier in the day told the media that the club had more than $5 million in a rainy-day fund. "Can we afford it? Absolutely. Is it the right thing to do for the club and the fans of this city? I believe it is."
A CFL executive told the Free Press on Thursday most coaches have a code-of-conduct clause in their contract. Criminal charges such as the ones brought against Kelly would be considered a breach of contract, said the executive.
Hildahl was asked how Kelly took the news but said the team had only spoken to Kelly’s representatives.
The day started out ominously for Kelly as Bauer, his greatest champion, informed club staff via conference call that he was resigning. Kelly participated in the conference call but was detained by police just an hour later.
After the arrest, Kelly was taken to jail where he made bail. He is to appear in court on Dec. 23.
Kelly could not be reached after the firing, but the Free Press did reach him by telephone after the arrest.
"I can’t talk right now," said Kelly, before hanging up.
Hildahl said the team, now looking for a CEO and a head coach, hoped to begin that process immediately.
"It’s our intent as a board to move quickly. We’re meeting as a board on Saturday. We have a number of gaps in the organization but we hope to have a plan in place to fill these positions and move forward in a positive fashion," said Hildahl.
Hildahl said the board has no preference which job vacancy will be filled first.
"The person we put into both of these positions we want to be rock solid," said Hildahl. "Solid moral background and somebody that’s going to come in and repair some of the damage done to the brand of the football club. I want to say to the fans that these moves are made to try and re-establish the trust they should have in this football club."
Kelly was hired by the Bombers in December 2008 and led the team to a 7-11 record during a tumultuous 2009 season.
Kelly was passionate about his job but had trouble delegating and dealing with the media.
Kelly pushed Brendan Taman out of his player-personnel role and trashed him on his way out the door saying Taman did his job on napkins instead of keeping proper files.
Kelly then traded for unproven quarterback Stefan LeFors and subsequently released veteran Kevin Glenn. LeFors struggled early and an injury ended his season after just three games. The club the found itself with no answers at quarterback and had to sign Michael Bishop in an attempt to salvage the season.
Glenn, who signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats would eventually end the Bombers season. He kept the Bombers out of the playoffs by leading the Tiger-Cats to a win over the Bombers at Canad Inns Stadium in the final regular-season game.
Kelly had numerous run-ins with the media and fans, swearing on a post-game show and refusing to take calls from the public on his weekly radio program.
Kelly also butted heads with veteran players Derick Armstrong and Barrin Simpson and there were whispers in the locker room all season about the coach’s integrity.
Bauer, who hired Kelly and defended him throughout the season, could no longer protect the coach.
"I have no idea what’s going on there. It’s unfortunate and the timing is awful," said Bauer. "I feel sorry for him in a way because he just can’t get a break. But domestic is domestic... Whatever that personal situation is it will be his personal situation to deal with. I’m not aware of any of the details."
Bridgeport Police Sgt. John Cane said when officers arrived at Kelly’s home, they found a woman they later learned to be his former girlfriend outside on the front steps.
"When the officers got there, she (the victim) said that Mike Kelly had hit her," Cane said. "She showed us her neck, which was red, she had a small cut on her knuckle, and she had a small abrasion or some type of cut on her lip."
Cane said that Kelly told police that the woman had come to his house to pick up her personal belongings.
"She confronted him in an upstairs bedroom and an argument broke out and it turned physical," Cane said of the explanation offered by Kelly. "He grabbed her, she ended up hitting him in the face, according to him, and he had some evidence of being hit there too, and he grabbed her and pushed her to get her out of the house."
Cane said the woman was not charged and is not facing any charges.
Cane said a criminal records check revealed that Kelly had no previous convictions.
An individual familiar with Kelly and Andrea Peterson, said the two had been a couple for about 4 1/2 hears, adding they formally broke up about two weeks ago.
— with files from Aldo Santin
and Jason Bell