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CALGARY — When it comes to signing a contract extension, the ball appears to be firmly in Mike O’Shea’s court.
Speaking with media Wednesday afternoon, as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers opened their first practice ahead of Sunday’s Grey Cup game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, general manager Kyle Walters confirmed he wanted his head coach back patrolling the sidelines for the 2020 season.
"I’ve looked Mike in the eye and told him I wanted him to be the head coach next year and he’s looked me in the eye and told me he wants to be back," Walters said. "There’s a whole lot of things that can go on between getting a signed contract for him. But, you know, we’re not going to worry about that. What we talked about is a good start and him and I’ll sit down, win or lose, and try to get something sorted out."
O’Shea signed a three-year extension in 2016 after posting a 23-31 record over his first three seasons as head coach. In the three years since, that mark has demonstrably improved to 33-21.
But with only one playoff win heading into this season, the belief was if O’Shea didn’t make a splash this fall, the lack of progress could result in his exit. Now, after two straight road playoff wins, the Bombers are one victory away from earning a title and snapping a Grey Cup drought at 29 years.
When Walters was asked if O’Shea’s current run this season — and pending contact status — might lead to interest elsewhere, the Bombers GM cared little to expand on the notion. It’s hard to ignore, though, as there is already a vacancy in B.C., while recent reports suggest the Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos might also be in need of a new coach soon.
"I don’t know," Walters said before moving onto the next question.
The next question didn’t seem to be any easier to answer and followed the same theme on contract negotiations. This time, reporters wanted to know what Walters planned to do with his unstable stable of quarterbacks for next year. The Bombers have started three pivots this year — Matt Nichols, Zach Collaros and Chris Streveler — and not one is under contract beyond this season.
Nichols has been in control of the offence since early 2016, but has been plagued with injuries, including a shoulder issue that ended his season in Week 10. Collaros and Streveler have played crucial roles in the Bombers’ playoff run, with Collaros doing damage primarily with his right arm and Streveler keeping defences honest with his running ability.
"It’s the same as always, where you sit down at the end of the year and you look at your free agents and every team’s going through it. I mean, every team is going to have 25 to 35 free agents on the roster, so it would seem," Walters said. "It just so happens the quarterback position is obviously the higher-profile position than some of the others. And this year, there are three free agents at the position. But you sit down and you evaluate your guys, you evaluate the group of free agents and you try to make the best decisions for your organization moving forward."
Collaros just might be the most interesting of the three. Brought in from the Toronto Argonauts just before the Oct. 9 trade deadline, a move that was first looked at as providing depth, the 31-year-old didn’t get into a game until leading his team to victory Oct. 25 against the Calgary Stampeders in the Bombers’ regular-season finale.
Collaros has started both playoff games, and those victories over Calgary and the Saskatchewan Roughriders in enemy territory have only raised his stock. If he’s able to guide the team to victory against Hamilton in the Grey Cup, it’s hard to imagine Walters wouldn’t at least explore the option of re-signing him.
There is one caveat, of course, and that is the part of the trade that says if the Bombers re-sign Collaros, they’d have to send a 2020 first-round pick to Toronto. But while draft picks are important, Walters said it wasn’t a strong deterrent in the event the team wants to go in that direction.
"We’ll deal with that after the season," he said "If you want a player and think that he can help you win, and he’s the best player at that position, then, no, you wouldn’t not do that just for the sake of a draft pick."
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.