Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

He felt CFL ache in his joints

Selling hips, knees was getting painful — then Argos offered a job

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It was the winter of 2009-10 and Mike O'Shea -- the longtime heart-and-soul Canadian Football Leaguer -- was out of the game and selling artificial knees and hips for a medical-sales company when his phone buzzed to life.

At the other end, a familiar voice in then-Toronto Argonauts head coach Jim Barker...

"He called me out of the blue," began O'Shea. "He just said, 'Would you be interested in coaching?' He didn't talk about a title or anything. I just said, 'Yup, at this point I would.'

"He didn't tell me where I would fit or what my title might be, but I told him I'd do whatever."

At the time O'Shea was already a year-plus into the ex-player stage of his life, following a 16-season career with the Argos and Hamilton Tiger-Cats that saw him win too many awards to document here.

But, in one of those classic timing-is-everything cases, Barker had reached out when the embers of O'Shea's competitive drive were just waiting to be stoked again. Just as important: He was growing weary of watching the numbers pile up on his car's odometer.

"The daily commute was getting to me," O'Shea admitted. "I put 50,000 kilometres on the car. My territory was across the other side of Toronto from where I lived and so I had to get out of my house early to get across the city and then every night I was stuck in traffic going home. It was frustrating. I missed a lot of stuff with my family."

O'Shea grinned for a moment, then added:

"So I chose football, which now means I miss more."

O'Shea, now some four years removed from that fateful call, will step onto the turf at Investors Group Field tonight as a rookie head coach leading the charges in Day 1 of Bomber rookie camp.

And while the road that brought him from peddling artificial joints to the Argos and then to Winnipeg isn't so much circuitous, it is somewhat fortuitous. Certainly, his skills on the field were legendary, but over the last four years as the Argos special-teams co-ordinator he also quickly established himself as one of the CFL's bright young minds.

What he's already found here with his bosses with the Bombers -- president Wade Miller and GM Kyle Walters -- is an instant connection. Little wonder. Both Walters and Miller are also Canadian and ex-CFLers. And Walters, it's worth noting, was a teammate of O'Shea's at the University of Guelph and with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

There's also this: a collective understanding among the trio that earning a living in the game that has been part of their DNA for so long is an absolute privilege. That might or might not be part of any pre-camp speech O'Shea delivers in the next few days -- scripted rants aren't his style -- but his brief stretch away from the CFL also taught him a little bit about himself.

"I missed the game. I missed the camaraderie. That certainly was part of the decision to turn to coaching," said O'Shea. "But I also just missed being in this atmosphere... the competition, the winning. Once you've done it for so long it's hard to shut off.

"You know, I hope I'm never past that feeling of 'Wow, look at me -- I'm coaching football for a living.' The idea of being surrounded by people who have the same interest and passion for winning... you get to come to work every day doing that, I hope I get that year in and year out.

"And, really, it's the same feeling I've had for the past 20-odd seasons. So I don't think of this as my first time on the field as head coach. What's cool is being around guys that love it. The players come in and you see how excited they are... it's the same feeling I had in the past. It's not markedly different, it's just that time of year again. If you love football and you're a football guy, this is exciting.

"It's the start of the CFL season and that's a fantastic time."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 28, 2014 C3

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