Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue tightwads with coaches as well as QBs

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Winnipeg is the Shangri-La for more than just unproven quarterbacks, as examined in the Saturday edition of the Winnipeg Free Press. It is also the place where rookie head coaches come to cut their teeth and earn their stripes, for what is most likely the sake of financial prudence.

Over the last decade-and-a-half, there have been seven head coaches appointed as the leader of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Only two of them had any professional head coaching experience, and one of them was once the head coach for the Riders -- Jim Daley -- so that doesn't really count in my books.

In all seriousness though, what culminated in the team's demise in the Banjo Bowl, were mistakes. Mistakes by players, and mistakes by a rookie head coach. Nobody who operates in pro football is immune to committing game-day errors, but like the saying goes: for every rookie starter you have, you lose a game. And the same should apply to rookie coaches.

When a season appears lost, it should be used as a vehicle for change, specifically to uproot practices that are entrenched but unsuccessful. When a team is 2-8 and all but officially written off for the year, the opportunity is there for honest self-evaluation that leads to pro-active change.

Looking back at the past 15 years, and my own experiences with this franchise, it is more than coincidence that the three successive years where we won a total of 37 regular-season games -- from 2001-03, more than any other CFL team -- were the three years where the head coach (Dave Ritchie) was a proven, head coaching entity.

Just as it was pointed out by my Free Press colleague Paul Wiecek, in his story exploring the Bombers' appetite for unproven, cost-efficient quarterbacks, the last big ticket player at the pivot position -- Khari Jones -- was also at the helm during that three-year romp through the regular season.

Whether you agree it is accurate or not, the perception of why this franchise has only been led by a tenured head coach, and an all-star calibre quarterback at the same time once in the last 15 years, is because it hasn't been willing to spend the dollars necessary to secure proven pivot talent and coaching experience.

Just as it was noted the team didn't enter the sweepstakes for any of the big-ticket QBs available in the off-season, like Ricky Ray and Henry Burris, over the last decade-and-a-half, coaches with professional head coaching experience or extensive NFL coaching experience, like Wally Buono, John Hufnagel and Marc Trestman, have been solicited and secured by other teams.

This is not to say rookie head coaches cannot develop into valuable assets. Even though they were not viewed as long-term solutions by management here, Doug Berry and Paul LaPolice both took their teams to the Grey Cup in their second year as head coaches. That was after they got their feet wet in their rookie seasons and it is still far too early to tell what Tim Burke's potential may be.

Yet there is no denying the appetite this franchise has to promote lesser-paid CFL assistants to head coaching appointments, is the most cost effective approach. Coaches with professional head coaching experience, or extensive NFL coaching experience (not a single year in Chicago like Gary Crowton has), are more expensive commodities because they are not starving for opportunity and have ample leverage.

This community has a reputation for its thirst for bargains and deals. Maybe it's time to buck the trend, throw caution to the wind, and one day, once again, hire a head coach with a proven track record, or one that requires substantial financial enticement from the NFL.

There are no guarantees -- Hamilton's George Cortez has plenty of CFL and NFL experience but is 3-7. But what you spend on your head coach is potentially limitless, as there is no salary cap for coaches. More often than not, this strategy has proven successful in the CFL.

 

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 11, 2012 0

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