Bombers need to stay the course with flight crew

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Let’s begin here: Wade Miller isn’t going anywhere, regardless of what the Winnipeg Blue Bombers do on the field this season.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/04/2016 (2354 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Let’s begin here: Wade Miller isn’t going anywhere, regardless of what the Winnipeg Blue Bombers do on the field this season.

The CFL team’s chief executive officer bought himself the rarest commodity in all of pro football — job security — with the announcement this week the club turned a record $11.5-million profit in 2015.

Miller’s primary task when he took over the Bombers in 2013 after the train wreck that was the Garth Buchko era was to bring financial stability to the team as it moved into a new stadium. He has succeeded spectacularly, parlaying the massive profit into a war chest the likes of which the franchise had never before possessed.

MIKE DEAL / FREE PRESS FILES Wade Miller is under contract through 2017 and is now clearly up for an extension.

Miller can be polarizing (“Wade Miller? I can take him or leave him,” said nobody ever) but whether you love him or hate him, this past week ensured he is going to be the CEO of the local pro football team for the foreseeable future.

Miller is under contract through 2017 and is now clearly up for an extension. That’s a no-brainer and the sooner the Bombers board gets it done, the sooner it can send the message that the revolving door in the front office has finally stopped spinning.

Here’s a much bolder proposition: the Bombers should also extend the contracts of general manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea — and they should do it before the new season begins.

(You read that right: a duo who missed the playoffs in their first two seasons should get contract extensions before we even get to see what they’ve put together for 2016. Yes, marijuana is basically legal at this point. No, I’m not smoking it by the bale.)

Here’s my thinking:

Walters and O’Shea were raw rookies when they took over their current jobs and both men have made rookie mistakes, the most costly of which can be described in two words: Brian Brohm.

The decision to head into the 2015 season with Brohm as the Bombers backup quarterback behind Drew Willy was their brainchild. The two men looked at Brohm’s work in 2014, saw something the rest of us didn’t, and decided Brohm was a CFL-ready backup heading into a season in which Winnipeg would play host to the Grey Cup.

They were wrong; hopelessly so. And because they were wrong, it cost the Bombers any chance of playing in a CFL final at home when Willy went down midway through the campaign.

O’Shea and Walters have spent the last two years getting invaluable on-the-job training and have already made the biggest mistake they’ll ever make (knock wood).

Remember your first two years in your new career? Remember all the dopey mistakes you made? Remember how it took you that long just to figure out what you didn’t know?

It’s no different in football. And in keeping with a theme, here’s proof in another two words: Bill Belichick.

A six-time Super Bowl champion, three-time NFL coach of the year, first-ballot Hall of Famer and bender of all rules… and people often forget the longtime sideline boss of the New England Patriots was fired from his first head-coaching job in Cleveland.

In retrospect, two things emerged from Belichick’s time in Cleveland (1991-95): he made a lot of mistakes, and he learned from them. It’s been the Patriots, rather than the Browns, who have been the beneficiary.

I understand why the Bombers would be reluctant to offer contract extensions to O’Shea (heading into his final year) and Walters (signed through 2017). After going 12-24 combined in their first two seasons together, what if the Bombers go 2-16 in 2016?

I don’t see that happening. With the huge upgrades in free agency this winter, this is easily the most talented team the Bombers have had since Swaggerville dragged them to the Grey Cup game in 2011. But, hey, it’s Winnipeg and the Bombers — if bad things can happen, they often do.

But if you believed Walters and O’Shea were qualified and competent when they were hired a couple years ago, then you have to believe they are even more so after a couple years on the job.

This isn’t like Mike Kelly or Jeff Reinebold, where it became clear almost immediately they were ill-equipped for the job and hiring them had been a huge mistake.

Walters and O’Shea have made mistakes, but if you don’t believe the Brohm debacle was in itself a firing offence — and the Bombers obviously don’t — the best course of action is to lock these guys down for a couple more years and make it clear to everyone that, for once, the Bombers are going to try to do this right.

The alternative — allowing Walters and, especially, O’Shea to twist in the wind in 2016 — isn’t pretty.

The Bombers face a very tough early schedule, playing Edmonton, Calgary, and Hamilton twice each in their first seven regular-season games.

Care to guess what the No. 1 topic, day in and day out, is going to be if the Bombers don’t extend O’Shea and then get off to a poor start in 2016?

We already know what that movie looks like.

In some ways, we just watched it with the Winnipeg Jets, who (stupidly, in my view) allowed the uncertainty of whether to trade or re-sign Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd to hang over the team until the season was lost.

That sound you heard this week was crickets as Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff got yet another free pass from team ownership. What was originally a five-year plan now looks more like a 10-year plan and while the locals are getting restless, I’m still not sensing any great appetite for change.

Yet, when it comes to Walters and O’Shea, the conventional wisdom seems to be they either get it right in 2016 or they’re fired. Interesting.

Part of the double standard is an impatience that comes from a Grey Cup drought now entering its second quarter-century. I’d argue it is that impatience that got them into this mess in the first place.

The Bombers have had 11 head coaches and nine GMs since 1990 and it’s gotten them nowhere. Little wonder: long-term academic studies of college football, the NHL, and Italian soccer came to the conclusion that changing the coach not only does not measurably improve a team’s performance, it frequently makes it worse.

Franchises with continuity are franchises that win championships. It’s a virtuous, self-perpetuating cycle.

It also works in reverse, as Blue Bombers fans have found out the hard way for 25 years and counting.

It’s time to change direction, by — for once — not changing direction.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

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