Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

O'Shea the right man

Bombers head coach is here to serve, and serve well

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Mike O'Shea is different than most of us in that he's spent most of his adult years getting paid to either play or coach a game. He's not different in that his hair grows and he needs to get it cut. Which led to the beginning of his Winnipeg experience on Friday.

The rookie head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers wrapped up his day winning a football game as his team pushed to a respectable and contending 6-3 mark at the midway point of the CFL regular season.

It can't be underscored enough. The Bombers were a tire fire last season. They won three games. Players quit. It was an abject failure and a disgrace to this franchise with a proud history and tradition.

O'Shea has erased all that. The Bombers, regardless of where this season goes from here, are a team again. One that fights and sticks together. They're short on talent, but they have will again. It all begins with the head coach. He's the supreme leader. He's the right man for this team. And this town.

Last season, an ugly slugfest like Friday's game -- which was a grind from beginning to end -- would never have gone Winnipeg's way.

But O'Shea's team knows how to hang in and persist. They don't know any other way. That comes from their coach.

O'Shea will remember this win. But he might remember a chance meeting in a barber shop even longer. In fact, he will.

Game day begins slow for a coach. The work is mostly done, and there is no practice, so little chores such as a car wash or a haircut fit into the schedule.

O'Shea walked into a barber shop on Pembina Highway and soon after a man named Tom Stanley slipped through the doorway.

"He was wearing a ball cap. Old school farmer or trucker style. It said 'veteran' on the hat," said O'Shea during a sideline conversation about 60 minutes prior to Friday's 24-16 win over the Montreal Alouettes. "I asked him if he served and he said he was a WWII veteran.

"I told him my dad had served in WWII as well. Then I thanked him for his service. He teared up a little and so did I."

O'Shea's father, Michael, died two years ago in July.

"I sized him up and guessed he must have been 88 or 89," said O'Shea. "He told me he was 94. Then he told me he walks nine holes at Wildewood (golf course) every day. He said, 'These people, I don't even know their names, they come up every day and ask me to play. I have a different game nearly every day.' "

With that, the two men went their separate ways. One to play golf and the other to try and win a football game.

O'Shea has talked a lot about why he wanted this job, and while being a head coach of any football team would have fit, he loved the fact the game means so much to this community.

Community and country matter to O'Shea. He loves being a Canadian. Football is important to him, but it comes well after family and country. Yes, the losses hit him hard and few like to compete and win more than O'Shea.

But he's got perspective as well.

He can froth up during a football game. But he's well aware there is a much bigger world, with struggles and despair of far greater import than professional football.

O'Shea doesn't have to speak loudly to announce his presence in a room. He's one of those guys, when he walks in, you know he's there. The longer he stays, the more of an impact and impression he's going to leave.

The Blue Bombers already know this. The city of Winnipeg will soon.

The Bombers' season was on the verge of taking an ugly turn on Friday night.

A loss to the Alouettes would have been the third in a row for the Bombers, with the scary proposition of a home-and-home series against the mighty Saskatchewan Roughriders next up on the docket. Three in a row could easily turn in to five in a row with the prospect of a post-season berth rapidly dimming.

But a win, albeit an ugly and fairly unconvincing one, keeps hope alive. The season still has purpose.

O'Shea's presence, however, isn't just about this moment in time. The Bombers very likely aren't winning the Grey Cup this season. The wounds are too deep and require more healing than one summer can offer.

But O'Shea brings promise. Promise that has no horizon. This isn't war and lives and freedom don't hang in the balance. Mike O'Shea isn't a hero.

Not like his father or Tom Stanley.

But he's the right football coach for this franchise. Friday's win alone doesn't bear that out. Nor does a 6-3 record and a remarkable turnaround. But time will. O'Shea is here to serve and Winnipeg is the better for it.

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2014 C3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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