Mike O'Shea's understanding of Mike O'Shea is full and unwavering.
He doesn't flinch on what's right and wrong or what he holds as his values. If the 43-year-old rookie head coach can bring that same completeness to his new role, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will have found a strong leader.
Full disclosure -- I think O'Shea is going to be the next great coach in the CFL. Maybe it'll be here or perhaps he'll need to fail and take a step back before hitting his mark like Ron Lancaster did. But I think he's ready.
The great Don Matthews used to surround himself with the best position coaches he could find. He didn't worry about one of his subordinates having a better understanding of football. Matthews wanted to win and he knew the best coaches would increase his probability.
Most young coaches are afraid to put more-experienced people underneath them on their first staff. Not O'Shea. He's picked a pair of former CFL head coaches in Gary Etcheverry and Marcel Bellefeuille as co-ordinators. It's a sign of confidence and strength that shouldn't be overlooked.
O'Shea isn't afraid of coaches with different opinions or the optics of going with their ideas rather than his own. He's also not afraid to use his veto. The best idea will win the day.
Lots of coaches say things we've heard before such as, "I'm here to win," or "the buck stops here." Count O'Shea among them. But with O'Shea it isn't a sales job.
Sitting beside him late Tuesday night on the edge of River Heights at The Grove Pub and Restaurant, O'Shea wasn't singing for his supper during an interview in which he allowed himself to be poked and prodded. He was real.
If he didn't like a question, he frowned and allowed a little edge to enter his voice as he answered. He didn't feign enthusiasm or pretend to know more than he should at this stage of his career. There were points where there was no flex. No softness on core beliefs.
On the way home, going through notes in my mind, the same impression kept coming back to me: O'Shea knows himself better than most of us know ourselves.
How does this convert into the successful coaching of a pro football team? One staffer told me O'Shea's opening speech to his players at a mini-camp earlier this month in Florida was the most impressive talk he'd heard a coach deliver to players.
Simple and direct but very clear was the message: "I'm the coach, and I'll dictate the way we play. And we will practise, act and play in the manner of a winning football team."
The Bombers won't win the Grey Cup this year. Or maybe they will. Who knows in the CFL? But they will be better and that will start with O'Shea. They'll be professional with no whiff of uncertainty. They'll be formed in the image of O'Shea.
One current trend among coaches is to talk about selling their program. O'Shea bristled at the notion of being a salesman.
"Because I'm not selling soap," he said. "It's interesting because a lot of people talk about coaching as selling. How to sell your vision, how to sell your philosophy. I think authenticity is extremely important. So how does that fit into my sales pitch? Not sure. I can't be anybody but who I am and if players buy into that, buy into this coaching staff, then we'll be very good. If they don't, then we'll see what happens."
Another Matthewsism from his days of winning 231 CFL games and five Grey Cups as a head coach was, "good players make good coaches." This was true for Matthews and will be the same for O'Shea.
Coaches can make a difference as they set the foundation, but players have to execute. And it remains to be seen if O'Shea will have chicken salad or chicken crap this summer when the Bombers hit the field. In the end, the level of talent and ability to execute will determine whether O'Shea is a hit or if he ends up taking a hit.
The Bombers have been a disaster of a football organization for some time, but GM Kyle Walters and O'Shea have been a fresh breeze, deodorizing the club brand since they were put in place.
Walters has been in Winnipeg for some time and understands the weight of his work within the community. O'Shea is beginning to get it, but more important is his personal definition of responsibility and the actions that come along for the ride.
"I think I understand it better than a lot of people, to be honest with you. I think that's one of the main things I like most about this job as head coach of the Bombers, is the amount of responsibility," said O'Shea. "It's a tremendous responsibility not only to the club, team and city, but the province, too. I believe in this profession, when you are given more responsibility, you take more ownership, you produce more."
O'Shea can't tell you Drew Willy is going to be the next great CFL quarterback. To a great extent, that's out of his control. But he can tell you what kind of coach Mike O'Shea is going to be.
The best part of O'Shea, however, is that he'd rather show you than tell you.
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