Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 08/22/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Time flies when you're picking up the pieces of a once proud professional football franchise.
"Has it only been a week? Good Lord," said an incredulous Kyle Walters Wednesday.
"I've had a headache for a week then, I know that. It's been a lot."
Walters, of course, is the man the Winnipeg Blue Bombers entrusted just last Tuesday to take over from the recently deposed Joe Mack as the team's interim general manager.
Walters has been a tad busy ever since. In what Bombers head coach Tim Burke revealed earlier this week has been a very deliberate shift in front-office philosophy in Winnipeg, Walters has been scouring the continent and burning up the phone lines in a bid to find some help for his floundering 1-6 football team.
The moves Walters has made so far have been modest. He brought in a castoff kicker and defensive back and the offensive co-ordinator has been replaced by unanimous consent.
But while that might not seem like much -- bringing in another placekicker on this team is like shining the brass bell on a sinking ship -- it's a veritable torrent of activity when you compare it with the 'stand-pat' philosophy that marked the four-year reign of Mack, a man who was allergic to free agents and talked to his fellow CFL GMs about as often as you do.
In stark contrast with his predecessor, Walters said in an interview Wednesday that he made his first order of business last week to call up every GM in Canada and tell them Winnipeg is listening again.
"I don't know that there needed to be fence-mending, but certainly I made a point to touch base with everybody," said Walters. "I have fairly good relationships with the guys in all the organizations and I reached out to everybody and said, 'Hey, this is what's going on here and is there anything you need to talk about?'
"I've reached out and I think I have a very good working relationship with all the organizations."
Walters has also, apparently, vowed not be outworked by anyone in the league. Take this week, for instance -- Walters is using the upcoming Bombers trip to Guelph, where they play the Hamilton Tiger-Cats this Saturday, as a chance to also get some important Canadian university scouting done.
Listen to this itinerary: "Since I'm travelling with the team to Guelph anyway, I want to get maximum value for us," said Walters. "So I'm hitting Windsor, Western, McMaster training camps. And then the OUA starts on Sunday, so I'm going to hit the Guelph-Laurier game and the McMaster-Ottawa game."
Walters said he will stage similar companion CIS scouting missions next week when the Bombers travel to Regina for the annual Labour Day Classic, and for the rest of the season.
Walters said he is operating the general manager's office at Investors Group Field on one simple mantra. "Every day I say to myself: 'How are we going to make this team better today? What am I going to do help us get better today and set the foundation for the long term.'
"That's all I'm worried about, getting a little bit better every day."
That slow, incremental approach to improvement might not be what frustrated Bombers fans right now -- they want the second coming of Peyton Manning, not the fifth reincarnation of Sandro DeAngelis.
But Walters said there's a reason home runs happen in baseball, not football. "Everybody wants the same thing, but there's no quick fix," he said. "It's very rare in mid-season that someone shows up with the white hat on and gets things turned around miraculously.
"But if we can make a little change here, a little change there -- just little improvements -- it can add up."
Those changes at this time of year begin with finding the value in the cast-offs of other teams, both within the CFL and in the huge pond of U.S. talent that's being let loose right now as NFL teams finalize rosters.
Veteran Bombers slotback Terrence Edwards pointed out on Wednesday that just because someone got released by one club, doesn't mean they cannot make a contribution to another.
"If that was the philosophy around here when I came into the league," noted Edwards, "I wouldn't be in Winnipeg myself."
The Bombers, of course, signed Edwards in 2007 after he was released by the Montreal Alouettes and the 34-year-old Georgian has gone on to record an eye-popping five 1,000-yard seasons in his six-plus seasons in Winnipeg.
"There's lots of good players in this league who've gotten released," said Edwards. "Just because they got released doesn't mean they're not good."
It is Walters' job to find the diamonds in all that rough and he has that job at an extraordinary time in the league's history, with a dispersal draft coming at the end of this season to facilitate the re-entry of Ottawa into the league next year as well as negotiations underway on a new collective bargaining agreement with the CFL players.
Put those two things together and it is a perfect time to have an activist general manager, Burke told reporters on Wednesday.
"There's going to be some real manoeuvring going on."
And, for the first time in a long time, the sign on the door of the Bombers general manager said -- Open for business.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 22, 2013 D1
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