O’Shea wears Blue’s mess

Blame lies with coach, and a loss in Edmonton may end his reign


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It’s the most compelling question in town right now: How can a team as talented as the 2016 Winnipeg Blue Bombers be as bad as the 2016 Winnipeg Blue Bombers?

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/07/2016 (2264 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s the most compelling question in town right now: How can a team as talented as the 2016 Winnipeg Blue Bombers be as bad as the 2016 Winnipeg Blue Bombers?

The answer? He’s standing on the Bombers sidelines, wearing a smirk and a goofy pair of shorts.

Make no mistake: While there is plenty of blame to go around for the debacle unfolding at Investors Group Field right now, this mess begins and ends on the desk of head coach Mike O’Shea.

John Woods / The Canadian Press Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea with quarterback Matt Nichols on the sidelines Thursday against the Calgary Stampeders. O’Shea has, for whatever reason, been reluctant to use Nichols.

Sure, we can parse the X’s and O’s of offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice’s ineffective offence and starter Drew Willy’s ineffective play. And yeah, we can talk about a Bombers defence under coordinator Richie Hall that has surrendered the most yards in the CFL this season.

We can talk about dopey penalties and missed penalty calls and an endless series of missed opportunities through the first five games. But when we’re blue in the face and all done talking, we will always end up right back where we started: O’Shea.

If the problem is always with everyone else, the problem is almost certainly with you. And through two disastrous seasons — and what is quickly shaping up as a third — it has been O’Shea who has been the one constant through it all.

He’s hired and fired and hired an offensive coordinator. He’s hired and fired and hired a defensive coordinator. He’s hired and fired and then hired himself as the special teams coordinator.

And he’s gone through players like Taylor Swift goes through boyfriends. The roster O’Shea has today is unrecognizable from the one he inherited when he took over in 2014. It’s been shaped and reshaped according to his needs, whims and desires.

And yet through all that change, two things have stubbornly remained the same at Investors Group Field — O’Shea and losing. It is becoming increasingly impossible not to conclude there is a causal relationship between the two..

I’d argue that while O’Shea came to the Bombers in 2014 as part of what’s been regarded as a three-man unit alongside GM Kyle Walters and CEO Wade Miller, the blame for what has ensued in the intervening years should not be apportioned evenly.

While Miller is prickly and tempermental and just generally a difficult man, he has to this point also been a brilliant steward of Bombers finances, guiding the team to a record $11 million profit last season. His job was to take care of the books and Miller has held up his end.

As for Walters, he has hit home runs in free agency each of the last two off-seasons and drafted players who are actually playing, a huge upgrade on the last clown to hold the Winnipeg GM job. Walters’ job was to find this team talent and he has also held up his end.

All of which — once again — brings us back to O’Shea. Ask yourself this: How is it that a team with such proven CFL stars as Weston Dressler, Ryan Smith, Andrew Harris, Keith Shologan, Euclid Cummings, Justin Medlock, Stanley Bryant and the rest is underperforming so badly right now?

What, all those guys became lousy players the moment they became Bombers? That’s laughable. Miller and Walters have given O’Shea every opportunity to succeed and O’Shea has made a mess of it.

Look at the quarterback situation. Miller found the money and Walters went out last winter and re-signed a bonafide backup QB in Matt Nichols — a man who was 5-2 as a starter last season with the Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos.

They did that, of course, so O’Shea would have an option this year if things went south with Willy.

But instead of making good and effective use of Nichols in a season in which Willy has grossly underperformed by any measure except completion percentage, O’Shea has stubbornly kept Nichols on the bench this season out of what we can only conclude is either: a) misguided loyalty to Willy; or b) a belief Willy’s psyche is so fragile it would be shattered by Nichols playing.

O’Shea was finally dragged — kicking and screaming — into bringing Nichols into the game midway through the fourth quarter Thursday night, but only after Willy threw a back-breaking Pick-6 that sealed what went into the books as a 33-18 Calgary Stampeders victory and a Bombers record that is now 1-4.

Ponder this stat: with a win Thursday night, Stamps QB Bo Levi Mitchell now has as many wins at Investors Group Field (five) as Willy does. That’s a joke.

As for Nichols, he promptly marched the Bombers to a TD and a two-point conversion in his first series Thursday night. Hands up if you’re also wondering how different that game might have looked if Nichols had come in earlier or — dare to dream — started?

No kidding, right?

I talked to running back Andrew Harris and Bombers linebacker Maurice Leggett after the game Thursday night and asked both men whether there was something fundamentally flawed in the culture O’Shea has instilled in the Bombers locker room.

Because let’s remember, in addition to the constants of O’Shea and losing, there have also been two other constants at IGF since O’Shea took over: slow starts and a team that folds seemingly every time they are faced with adversity.

Both Harris and Leggett insisted, as you’d expect, that whatever failings there are in the Bombers locker room right now have nothing to do with O’Shea and everything to do with the players. “O’Shea is our guy. You ask any guy on this team and he will tell you he’s our guy,” said Harris. “You won’t find a single guy to say a bad thing about him.”

Leggett offered a similarly spirited defence of O’Shea, but also said something else that I think revealed a lot. “We have everything we need (to succeed),” said Leggett. “But it’s just not coming together for some reason.”

Exactly. And who’s to blame when a team has everything it needs to win but isn’t winning? Hmmm.

The Bombers are just 13-28 since O’Shea took over and, with another season quickly slipping away, social media and the call-in shows are once again full of people calling for O’Shea to be fired and the team to finally move on.

It’s not going to happen — this week. And rightly so, really. If you’re going to tie a can to O’Shea, you want to give his successor the same opportunity to succeed that O’Shea has had for two-plus seasons.

And the timing is all wrong right now. Having lost two in a row and four of five, the Bombers head this week to Edmonton, where the Bombers haven’t won since 2006, to face an Eskimos team who just beat them at Investors Group Field last week.

Asking a new head coach to take over mid-season and then giving him that task as his first order of business is setting a guy up to fail in his debut. The idea behind changing a coach mid-season is to give your team a bump and a fresh outlook. A new head coach leading the Bombers into Edmonton next week would more than likely just end up looking like more of the same old, same old.

And so you can expect O’Shea to lead the Bombers into Edmonton. Whether he will still be leading them out of Edmonton is another matter. A win in Edmonton and maybe O’Shea buys himself some breathing room. But another loss and a 1-5 record and all bets are off.

But hey, there’s at least this: needing something just this side of a miracle right now, O’Shea is at least going to the right place. The last time the Bombers won in Edmonton? Milt Stegall’s ‘Immaculate Reception’ — a 100-yard game-winning TD catch on the final play of the game.

Milt? Are you out there?

email: paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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