August 19, 2017

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A (not very) sorry state of affairs on Blue Bombers' sideline

DARRYL DYCK ? THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea scratches his chin on the sideline during the second half of a CFL football game against the B.C. Lions in Vancouver Friday. </p>

DARRYL DYCK ? THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea scratches his chin on the sideline during the second half of a CFL football game against the B.C. Lions in Vancouver Friday.

The biggest problem isn’t that Mike O’Shea makes mistakes — even Bill Belichick makes them, although it's been a while since the last one that mattered.

And it’s not even that Mike O’Shea doesn’t appear to be learning from his mistakes, although it should be a source of major concern to Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans that four years into O’Shea’s tenure as head coach, he keeps making rookie mistakes game after game.

No, the biggest problem was, is and, apparently, always will be that O’Shea cannot even admit that he’s made a mistake.

Because if you can't admit you made a mistake, you’re going to continue making them. And if you keep making mistakes, well, you’re not learning from them, are you?

And around and around you go. See how that works?

O’Shea’s decision Friday night in Vancouver to fake a third-and-15 punt on his team’s 26-yard line, deep into the fourth quarter, with his side leading by eight points was the dumbest third-down play call I’ve seen in 40-some years of watching CFL football.

It was a mistake on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin:

• It was a mistake because 15 yards is a ridiculously huge chunk of real estate to ask your special teams to pick up on a gimmick play.

• It was a mistake because the ball was on the Winnipeg 26 and the consequences of failure were virtually automatic points on the board for the B.C. Lions.

• It was a mistake because the potential benefits of making the conversion — a fresh set of downs with eight minutes still to play — were vastly outweighed by the consequences of not making it — gift-wrapping a good chance to tie the game deep in Blue Bombers territory or, at worst, an almost-certain three points had the Lions stalled.

• It was a mistake because with his team holding an eight-point lead, there was absolutely no reason — none — to take such a risk.

By now, you probably know how it all turned out: a Justin Medlock pass attempt was hopelessly incomplete and Winnipeg turned the ball over on downs. Two plays later, B.C. scored a touchdown and, one play after that, a two-point conversion, tying the game.

The Lions went on to kick a game-winning field goal in the dying minutes as O’Shea found a way to seize defeat from the jaws of victory.

It was such an monumentally stupid play call that, for a fleeting minute Friday night, I thought this might finally be the long-awaited moment when O’Shea finally sheds the smirk, finds some humility, admits he made a mistake and pledges to learn from it moving forward.

In my fantasy world, O’Shea was going to emerge from the Bombers locker room grim-faced and head down. Before even taking a question, he’d look up at the assembled media and say: "I’m going to put this loss on me. I cost us big-time.

"The fans deserve better, my teammates deserve better and I will be better."

Perfect. Contrition, accountability and a pledge to learn from a mistake.

And it was perfect when Bombers QB Matt Nichols said it, unprompted, after a Week 3 blowout loss to Calgary.

But O’Shea? O’Shea doesn’t do contrition or accountability and the only mistake he was willing to identify after the game Friday night seemed to be the one he thinks the Lions make in the way they cover punts.

"B.C. doesn’t honour the receivers, the cover guys out there; and they bring an extra rusher, try to get a rusher involved and they just don’t cover guys," O’Shea told reporters.

"When we have the ball it’s offensive football, and if you’re not going to cover a guy on offence, you throw him the ball and we saw that tonight. Our offence threw a couple balls to guys that were uncovered and it’s the same thing in special teams."

So, um... if the Lions are so dumb and this was such a stone-cold lock, how come they’re celebrating an unexpected victory over in their locker room right now while your team is suddenly 2-2 instead of being 3-1?

"Really, it got well-covered," he said. "They spotted it late and moved a guy on over and we just didn’t make the play."

But the Lions are the dumb ones.

It is, of course, the second consecutive time the Bombers have been undone in Vancouver by a bone-headed O’Shea play call. And Friday's comes up a tad short against last November's, his late fourth-quarter Western semifinal decision to have Medlock attempt a history-making 61-yard game-winning field goal instead of giving his offence — which had gained 459 yards to that point — the green light on third and four.

Medlock wasn’t even close on that 61-yarder and you only had to watch Medlock miss badly again from 50 on the final play Friday night to realize just how hopelessly misguided O’Shea was in putting his entire 2016 season on Medlock's back for what would have been the longest field goal in the history of B.C. Place.

Some kickers — even great ones like Medlock — are simply bedevilled by certain stadiums and Vancouver's has apparently become that place for him.

But that’s the thing — you don’t put the most successful kicker in the history of the CFL in a position to fail, over and over again, the way O’Shea has.

You don’t ask him to make record-breaking kicks with the season on the line. You don’t ask him to pass when his specialty is kicking. And you don’t keep putting him in a position where the entire game is once again on his foot, as the coach did Friday.

And you don’t do it to your quarterback, either. While a late Nichols interception set up B.C.'s game-winning field goal, Nichols wouldn’t be throwing that pass if O’Shea hadn’t first put him in a position where he had to be driving for points as time ticked down, instead of nursing the lead the coach squandered a few minutes earlier.

It was pure arrogance on the part of O’Shea to even consider faking the punt. It was a head coach who thought he saw something and wanted to prove to everyone how smart he was, even though it made absolutely no strategic sense to do so.

And let’s get one thing straight — this whole idea that I saw pop up a few places over the weekend that we’d all be saying O’Shea is a genius if Medlock had completed the pass is utterly absurd.

It was a dumb decision regardless of the outcome because it was a huge risk for very little payoff. First-and-10 on their 41-yard line with eight minutes left was hardly a guarantee of victory anyway.

Nope, if the kicker's pass had been caught, O’Shea wouldn't have been right; he'd have been extraordinarily lucky.

It was selfish and it was the kind of decision that any player foolish enough to make might have led O'Shea to cut him on the spot.

But O’Shea isn’t going anywhere because his boss, Wade Miller, might be the only person in Winnipeg less likely to admit a mistake than his head coach.

It was Miller, remember, who hired O’Shea in 2014. And it was Miller who doubled down last winter, giving O’Shea a new three-year contract, despite his 23-31 career record as a head coach.

If you’re holding your breath waiting for Miller to fire O’Shea, you’re going to be a nice shade of blue... without the gold trim.

But then, if you’re a Winnipeg football fan, you’re used to wait times measured in decades.

A reader emailed me over the weekend, saying there were only two things right now holding back the Bombers from becoming a legitimate championship contender, potentially ending a 27-year Grey Cup drought: the head coach and the quarterback.

He’s half right.

 

email: paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Read more by Paul Wiecek.

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