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Leprechaun's luck goes south

Kinda hard not to feel sorry for sorry ex-coach Kelly

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/12/2009 (3963 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Former Bomber coach Mike Kelly's booking photo from Thursday morning.


Former Bomber coach Mike Kelly's booking photo from Thursday morning.

Gotta say, I've never seen the ex-head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a police mug shot before.

But I'd have given anything to know what exactly was going through Mike Kelly's mind as he posed for the photo, with sort of a Mona Lisa smile.

Regardless, it was an ending that was unthinkable, no matter how much the endless string of controversy and confrontation that preceded Kelly's ultimate demise.

Of all the emotions that Kelly evoked during his brief tenure with the Bombers, pity wasn't one of them. So why did I find myself feeling sorry for him on Thursday, when the team's board of governors cut Kelly loose, only to find out about his arrest following a domestic dispute at his home near Philadelphia?

It's not because Kelly deserved a better fate. What happened to him was inevitable, now or later.

It's just that, no matter what your opinion of his brief body of work with the Bombers, only a cold-hearted hater would find any solace in the sorry ending to Kelly's final chapter.

Because if it's not glaringly apparent by now, he wasn't even close to being qualified to run a professional football organization, with all the diplomacy, experience and political savvy that job entails. Not to mention a basic understanding of how CFL offences work in the 21st century. This was the Peter Principle on steroids.

But even if you were leery of Kelly's skimpy resumé upon arriving in Winnipeg, no one could have envisioned his own personal dream come true would devolve into such an ugly mess.

After all, Kelly was on top of the world last December, and for good reason. Here was a guy who a few years before was canned by a small U.S. college, only to be given the reins to one of the CFL's more storied franchises. Countless of Kelly's peers would have brained their own mother for the job. And Kelly, with his previous links to the Bombers, seemed more in love with the position than most.

Yet one tumultuous year later, he's unceremoniously axed and he's holding an ID slate for the Bridgeport, Pa., police department. With what appears for all the world to be a smirk on his mug shot.

Pride goeth before a fall.

On Friday, Kelly told Global Winnipeg he was embarrassed, confessing that the charges had left him "completely and totally numb." He apologized to Bombers fans, saying they "deserved better." Fair enough. But like most of Kelly's misadventures, it was too little, too late.

So how did a dream become such a nightmare? In many ways, it's not Kelly's fault. He didn't hold a gun to anyone's head to get the job. That burden rests on former president and CEO Lyle Bauer, whose distinguished tenure on Maroons Road -- all he did was save the franchise, period -- ended with his resignation Thursday and will forever carry the caveat: Yeah, but he's also the guy who hired Mike Kelly.

Despite Bauer's stubborn defence of Kelly until the end, even the big man must have been privately flabbergasted by how his blind faith in Kelly became so betrayed. Seriously, you give a man such a gift and this is how you get repaid? Even as Bauer gracefully exited the stage, his years of dedicated service were morphed by the Kelly bombshell.

And what of Kelly's future? People often say that you know a football player is done when he's released and no one else calls. Kelly is toxic. After waiting his entire life to get the Bombers job, he'll be hard pressed to find another one in the CFL, regardless of the outcome of the charges against him. (Hey, let's see if Bauer, who is rumoured to be headed to the executive suite of the Calgary Stampeders, finds a place for Kelly in Cowtown. Yeah, right.)

How sad.

In the end, I'll remember Mike Kelly as Jeff Reinebold with a temper. Because you always have to note that, apart from a few well-publicized blow-ups, Kelly could be as endearing as Reinebold. Just never as lovable.

But then Reinebold was also a bit of a tragic figure when the end came for him, too. The job beat him up and left him for broke on a dirt road. You came to realize that it wasn't necessarily his fault that he was overmatched. Reinebold was a classic case of a great salesman and self-promoter who lacked almost every other tool for the job he was given.

Yet the lasting memory of Reinebold was the flip-flops, his Peter Pan persona, his innate ability to fill a reporter's notepad -- and above all, the adoration that for the most part remained among tortured Bombers fans who stuck by him despite some gawdawful football.

With Kelly, I'll remember a polarizing force of a man with a penchant for self-destruction. I'll remember how joyful Kelly was the day he was hired. And I'll remember the image of his mug shot taken the very day he was fired just one year later.

And I'll always wonder: Why in the world is this man smiling?





Randy Turner

Randy Turner

Randy Turner spent much of his journalistic career on the road. A lot of roads. Dirt roads, snow-packed roads, U.S. interstates and foreign highways. In other words, he got a lot of kilometres on the odometer, if you know what we mean.

   Read full biography


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