The first thing Kyle Walters did as new GM of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was look at the football operations budget and cut a big chunk out of the department's top salary and then plow it right back into scouting and coaching.
Coupled with a renewed commitment from the front office to spend more on football, the dividends have already been large. With the hiring of Buck Pierce as a running backs coach Friday, Bombers coach Mike O'Shea announced he'll have a coaching staff of 11 this season, which is two more than last year and the largest in club history according to the communications department.
The Bombers also have more scouts than last season and all in all the football operations department looks like a real, live pro-football outfit. Something that couldn't be said the last few years in Winnipeg. I made the statement a number of times during the Joe Mack era that the Bombers were beat long before the game ever got to the field. That can no longer be said.
Walters was handed the budget by CEO Wade Miller last summer during his time as acting GM and asked how he would change it. Walters took $100,000 out of the GMs salary and moved money around on the spreadsheet. And then he asked for even more money to spend on football. He got it.
Miller promised Walters he'd commit to putting the Bombers on a level playing field with the rest of the CFL's football operations departments and he's lived up to it. The Bombers will allocate more than $10 million for all things football this season. More than last year and catching up with most teams in the CFL.
One can argue more coaches and more scouts mean little if they don't add up to wins and that's a fair statement. As important as how much money one has to spend is how well that money gets spent.
This is where the Bombers have made their biggest improvements under Miller and Walters.
When the 2013 season began, the Bombers had a CEO with no football experience, a GM who proved to have little to no understanding of how to build a CFL roster, a head coach with no offensive experience in the CFL and an offensive co-ordinator who admitted he was still learning the CFL game. I couldn't make that up if I tried.
Today, they have a former player in Miller as CEO, a young GM in Walters but one with a lifetime of CIS and CFL roots, Hall of Fame player Mike O'Shea at head coach and two former quarterbacks Pierce and Danny McManus in the coaching and scouting ranks as well as seasoned and experienced CFL men Marcel Bellefeuille and Gary Etcheverry at the offensive and defensive co-ordinator positions.
Off the field, the Bombers are light years ahead of where they were at this time last season and if it doesn't equate to wins right away, it will in time. The Bombers were the worst-run organization in the CFL for a number of years but that can no longer be said.
The Mack era distinguished itself in its stubborn refusal to admit ignorance of the Canadian game. Beyond all of that era's many failings, this is why the team progressively got worse.
No one in Canada understands the nuances of the Canadian game better than Walters and O'Shea. They played three-down football all their lives. Then they moved into coaching it and in Walters' case to management.
I once asked Joe Mack what he thought of Brad Sinopoli as a player, who had been named winner of the Hec Creighton Trophy as Canada's best collegiate player the day before. He looked at me funny and then admitted he didn't know who I was talking about. That's akin to an NFL GM not knowing the Heisman winner. This wasn't a moment of weakness. Mack was a scout and by all accounts a good one. But he ignored the Canadian component of the CFL, which is foolish and unforgiveable.
Last week, I asked Walters about the upcoming CFL draft. He gave me a detailed description of the top five players and then told me he'd be drafting one of three players depending on their availability when he selects second overall. Gave me their names, strengths and weaknesses.
Walters also told me the draft was weak and fell off dramatically after the first five picks which is why he won't capitulate to Ottawa GM Marcel Desjardins' demand for the No. 2 pick for quarterback Kevin Glenn.
Does Walters want Glenn? Sure but he wants to ensure the future of the franchise and not just improve the club for a couple of seasons.
Bombers fans should be enthused but more about the long term health of their team than just this coming summer. The Bombers are back in good CFL hands from Miller to Walters to O'Shea. That's the best news of all.