It was nearly three years ago to the day that Wade Miller, Kyle Walters and Mike O'Shea had last shared a podium.
That gathering in late 2016 came after a promising, though championship-less Canadian Football League season and Miller, the president and CEO of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, had big news to share. Sitting between the two other men, Miller proudly announced that Walters and O'Shea – the team's general manager and head coach, respectively, the past three years – had received another three-year commitment.
Miller had witnessed less-than-desirable to modest results under Walters and O'Shea, including a 23-31 regular-season record over three seasons and just one playoff game (a road loss to the B.C. Lions in the 2016 West semifinal). Still, the best days seemed to lie ahead, making the extensions more about seeing a plan through than rewarding whatever mild success the Bombers achieved to that point.
For those watching the club closely, the press conference almost had an air of desperation. It felt like the final chance for the group, Miller included, to finally get things right. They were in it together, win or lose.
"We started this journey together in 2013 and we've made progress to date," Miller would say back then. "We look forward to the next three-plus (years) and building and growing a winning, sustainable organization."
Fast-forward to Friday morning and there was Miller, once again stuffed between Walters and O'Shea. This time around, though, you could feel a sense of vindication exuding from the Bombers brass, as Miller announced another three years had been tacked on to the contracts of Walters and O'Shea.
The news felt as predictable as it did warranted. After all, Miller, Walters and O'Shea – the trio now commonly referred to as The Canadian Mafia; a nod to their local roots – had accomplished their ultimate goal of winning a Grey Cup. To do so in such convincing fashion, with a dominating 33-12 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats late last month, only added to the validation felt in the room.
The new contracts will keep Walters as GM through the 2023 season and O'Shea, whose current deal was set to expire this year, through the 2022 campaign.
"What they've accomplished over their six years speaks for itself," Miller said. "It's the ability each bring to the table that is special and it's different. It's something you saw when you hired each of these individuals and then to watch the growth and to keep growing as an organization...it's been really positive to be a part of that."
Indeed, growth, stability and Grey Cups have always been the benchmark for Miller, even when it seemed far from attainable. The Bombers have boasted double-digit wins in each of their last four seasons, and the belief is a championship run should only strengthen the team's collective resolve.
But it's the unique traits of both Walters and O'Shea that Miller spoke of that will ultimately determine the club's shot at having sustained success.
That is the true goal here, after all. It's simply not good enough that the Bombers snapped a Grey Cup drought at 29 years; the focus has been and still is on being a winner every year – or, at the very least, truly competing for a championship year in and year out.
"We have a group up here that's wired similarly. We have the same passion and we have different roles. But we respect each other's roles and we've figured out a way to keep evolving in how we work together, so that we can add the 'S' onto this championship," O'Shea said. "When we did sit up here in the first place we talked about sustainability and excellence and championships. We're going to keep working and find new ways to work harder and better ways to work and try to get this thing going again."
With Walters, the Bombers retain one of the best evaluators of Canadian talent in the CFL. It can't be understated just how bare the cupboards were when he took over for Joe Mack as GM midway through the 2013 season.
No longer were first-round picks squandered by Mack on Canadians destined for the NFL. Instead, Walters re-built the offensive line, carefully selecting players that fit a certain level of nastiness in the trenches, while complimenting those selections with savvy picks in the later rounds.
Walters was also able to attract veteran talent through free agency, including the likes of running back Andrew Harris, linebacker Adam Bighill and defensive end Willie Jefferson, among others. It became clear that players had started to hear about the culture in Winnipeg and many wanted to be a part of it.
He also proved to be a real negotiator, swinging a last-minute deal for quarterback Zach Collaros. Without Collaros, it's hard to imagine the Bombers winning the Grey Cup.
"It takes hard work, from the top down. I don't know that it's fortunate that we have the record that we have," O'Shea said. "It's a lot of hard work by a lot of people to get the right players in here and then the same thing for the players that go out on the field."
When it came to building a new football culture in Winnipeg, no one was more influential than the head coach.
Few have the kind of effect O'Shea has on his players. You'd be hard-pressed to find a player that wouldn't run through a wall for him. It's that loyalty to O'Shea that has set the expectations in the locker room and allowed his staff to properly do their jobs.
Given O'Shea's strong reputation, it should also help the Bombers retain a number of pending free agents. Cash is always king when it comes to contract negotiations. But there has been a noticeable desire for many to return, with most players citing the chance to re-join O'Shea.
Continuity, they argue, is paramount to success.
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.