O’Shea coy about future with Bombers Coach won’t start contract talks until completing exit interviews with players

Given the opportunity to throw cold water over any burning speculation about his future in Winnipeg, Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea opted to take a pass.

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Given the opportunity to throw cold water over any burning speculation about his future in Winnipeg, Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea opted to take a pass.

Just days after falling one point short of the Toronto Argonauts in Sunday’s 109th Grey Cup in Regina, spoiling the Bombers bid for a third straight league championship, O’Shea was asked several times over a 20-minute press conference about his expiring three-year contract and his desire to sign an extension with the city and team he’s spent the last nine seasons calling home. Each time the topic of his future was brought up, O’Shea remained mostly tight-lipped, giving broad answers to clearly stated questions.

In the end, O’Shea seemed confident about his own process in negotiating a new deal. While he didn’t outright commit to the Blue and Gold beyond this season, he certainly wasn’t suggesting he was headed somewhere else, either.

“We’ve had a lot of success here and we’ve got a lot of guys back. The group of guys we’ve assembled here is just so easy to be around,” O’Shea said when asked how much he wanted to be back in Winnipeg. “Right now the only focus I have is trying to get with these guys and have the conversations that need to be had with the players and make sure they can get on their way home to their families.”

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/John Woods

Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea jokes around with Jermarcus Hardrick during training camp in May.

He added: “It’ll get worked on when I have time to work on it.”

O’Shea said he’s only had preliminary conversations with Winnipeg Football Club president and CEO Wade Miller and they agreed to resume talks once he concluded player exit meetings. Those meetings were still happening as of Thursday morning, with more scheduled well into the afternoon.

It’s the first time in years, since 2018, that O’Shea has had to address his players following a losing season. The Bombers won back-to-back Grey Cups in 2019 and 2021, with a cancelled 2020 campaign owing to COVID-19 squished in between.

“They will remember 2022 probably more vividly than ’19 and ’21. That is the unfortunate part of sport, is we are stuck with this forever and that’s what drives guys nuts,” O’Shea said. “It will be hard to shake that. I can remember missed tackles in big games more than I remember the celebration after big games. One of the crappy parts about this business is unfortunately we will hang on to that way longer than we will the successes we’ve had, which stinks for the players.”

“Right now the only focus I have is trying to get with these guys and have the conversations that need to be had with the players and make sure they can get on their way home to their families.”–Mike O’Shea

It’s no secret O’Shea is a significant piece of the Bombers winning puzzle, the main architect of their incredible success on the field and its admirable culture off it. Star quarterback Zach Collaros called O’Shea the biggest factor to the team’s success in recent years during locker clean out on Tuesday, adding he had no concern over whether O’Shea would be back on the sidelines again next season.

Miller also said in an exclusive interview with the Free Press last week that he, too, was confident a new contract would be reached in due time. O’Shea represents himself in negotiations and its the third time he’s waited until his current deal was in the final year before negotiating a new one.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea during the 109th Grey Cup at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Sunday.

For those looking for an added sliver of hope, O’Shea admitted that what he tells media publicly doesn’t always reflect what he tells players and team brass during private meetings. He also went as far as to classify his previous two contract negotiations as “easy-going.”

“It’s hard to put a timeline on it because I’m not there yet,” he said. “I haven’t even started that process yet.”

What’s clear is O’Shea will have plenty of leverage in negotiations for a new extension. Since signing his third consecutive three-year deal in 2019, which came fresh off the club’s first Grey Cup win in 29 years, O’Shea has guided the Bombers back to the title game in each season.

The Bombers have finished atop the West Division standings the last two years, compiling a combined regular-season record of 26-6, including a franchise-best 15 wins in 2022. With at least two teams, including the Montreal Alouettes and Ottawa Redblacks, currently on the hunt for a new head coach, there’s little doubt either club would be interested in persuading the CFL’s back-to-back coach of the year into taking on a new challenge.

“They will remember 2022 probably more vividly than ’19 and ’21. That is the unfortunate part of sport, is we are stuck with this forever and that’s what drives guys nuts.”–Mike O’Shea

O’Shea noted he hasn’t heard from any other teams hoping to speak with him and he said the same about his assistants and potential opportunities to go elsewhere. He downplayed any negative impacts of not having a deal for next season and how that might affect efforts to re-sign the 25 players currently on expiring contracts, nor did O’Shea want to dive into what his next extension might look like.

There have been rumours circulating for a while now that O’Shea might be interested in some added responsibility beyond head coaching, including a role as general manager. The Bombers already have a qualified GM in Kyle Walters, whose deal runs through the 2023 season.

“I have my role and I solely focus on my role. And then I don’t even entertain ideas of other roles because that’s not where I’m at right now. I try to stay as present as possible. That makes it pretty easy for me.”–Mike O’Shea

“I’ve never been in a position and been thinking about another position,” O’Shea said. “I have my role and I solely focus on my role. And then I don’t even entertain ideas of other roles because that’s not where I’m at right now. I try to stay as present as possible. That makes it pretty easy for me.”

He added: “You can speculate all you want. Absolutely. Do whatever you want.”

When it comes to predicting O’Shea’s future, perhaps there’s something to be gleaned from what the Bombers coach said when asked what he tells his players who might be interested in testing the open market. His advice to players is that before making any decision, it’s important to consider what they have in Winnipeg.

“They’ve built something very cool here. What they’ve built is something they can be very proud of,” O’Shea said. “And they have to decide on if they’re going to give that up, what that looks like. But they have really built something pretty special, so they should consider that as part of the idea of their future.”

Jeff.Hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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