Blue Bomber Report Record: 4–1–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers' new regime puts improved U.S. scouting plan into place

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Assistant GM Ted Goveia is based in Toronto and responsible for the northeast.

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Assistant GM Ted Goveia is based in Toronto and responsible for the northeast.

It is simultaneously one of the least glamorous and most important jobs in a professional football franchise.

And the new regime at the controls of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is revolutionizing it, completely changing the way player scouting is done in this town as they attempt to rebuild a struggling football team from the ground up.

Amid all the change that has come to Bomberland in the past eight months with the hirings of a new head coach, GM and CEO, there is perhaps no single change more sweeping in its breadth than the manner in which the Bombers are now conducting their scouting.

Consider: In the past four months, the Bombers have doubled the size of their scouting department; they have more than tripled their number of free agent camps; and, for the first time in these parts, they've picked up and moved this month's annual mini-training camp from its usual home indoors on the campus of University of Manitoba to a football "academy" in Bradenton, Fla.

New people have been hired, new systems have been put in place and a computerized scouting system now tracks and assigns a grade to each and every one of the eye-popping 500 or so players Bombers GM Kyle Walters said the club has already worked out during 12 free agent camps across the U.S. this winter.

"We're certainly seeing a lot more players," Walters said this week. "There's no denying we're having a lot more eyes on potential talent and putting a lot more guys through workouts. Without a doubt.

"And when it comes down to it, that's what (scouting) is all about -- getting out there and seeing as many guys as you can."

Yeah great, you're saying, but what's all this cost? Well, that's perhaps the most revolutionary part of what Walters has put in place. In a town that loves a deal, try this one on for size: Despite doubling his scouting staff, tripling his tryout camps and moving an entire three-day mini-camp from Manitoba to Florida later this month, Walters said this year's scouting budget is basically costing the same as last year's scouting budget.

Moving the mini-camp to Florida is basically a wash, Walters figures, noting new travel costs for people like himself and head coach Mike O'Shea to fly to Florida later this month are being recouped in the lower costs of flying mostly U.S.-based players into Florida instead of Winnipeg.

And the expansion of scouting? Well, it turns out that former GM Joe Mack and his former player personnel director Ken Moll were earning such big salaries that with them now gone, the Bombers were able to hire a lot more people without increasing the football operations budget.

"We're spending the exact same amount. Actually it's slightly less money out the door," said Walters.

Now, in fairness to Mack, for all his myriad of flaws, he and Moll were actually reasonably proficient at finding U.S. talent for the Bombers -- defensive tackle Bryant Turner, defensive end Alex Hall and wide receiver Chris Matthews being just three of the gems the two men found together.

But like a lot of things Mack did, he handled the team's scouting "old-school," basically ignoring the computerized scouting system the team was paying for and operating with no discernible system Walters could figure out when Mack was fired and he took over last August.

"The way the process worked in the past was Joe and Ken were the point men for all U.S. scouting," explained Walters. "But I will be honest with you, Joe kept pretty tight to the vest his way of doing things from a scouting point of view...

"From what I can tell, Joe and Ken were pretty much the only guys who had any influence on the American talent coming up here."

Flash forward to today and Walters now oversees a vastly expanded -- and carefully integrated -- staff that includes newly hired assistant GMs Danny McManus and Ted Goveia and national scout Drew Morris.

McManus is based in Sarasota, Fla., and oversees scouting operations in the entire U.S., but especially the south; Goveia is based in Toronto and focuses on scouting in the northeast; Morris is based in Milwaukee and oversees the U.S. Midwest; and Richard Wade, another new Bombers scout, is based in Huntington Beach, Calif., and oversees the U.S. West.

As well, there's a handful of others, too, now on the payroll as Bombers bird dogs have the entire U.S. blanketed with scouts.

And that computerized scouting system -- developed by longtime former CFL executive Dan Rambo -- that the Bombers long had in their posession but ignored under Mack? Walters said the club is now beginning to put it to good use to effectively track and grade every player they've seen this winter in a standardized way.

"That's what we're working on right now. And it doesn't happen overnight -- getting everyone talking the same language," said Walters. "We've been paying (for Rambo's system) for years and years but I just don't think we've been maximizing its usage. So now we're all wrapping our heads around it... "

Change comes slowly, however, when you're completely rebuilding a football team -- and especially its scouting department -- all the way up from the floorboards in the basement.

"It's a learning curve for sure," said Walters, "to get us all on the same page and eventually speaking the same language."

That new language, Walters is hoping, will ultimately be spelled with a lot more 'Ws' and a lot less 'Ls.'

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 4, 2014 C4

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