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This article was published 3/7/2016 (1495 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Like the skyline of Regina, you could see this one coming from miles away.
It was Friday night in Calgary, about halfway through the second quarter of the second game of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers season, when the calls for head coach Mike O’Shea to be fired began to flood my Twitter timeline.
The Bombers were trailing the Calgary Stampeders 20-7 and had registered just 53 yards of total offence and a large segment of Bombers Nation — so optimistic just a few weeks ago after an off-season of free-agent signings — decided en masse they’d already seen enough and wanted O’Shea’s head on a platter.
By game’s end, the calls on social media for O’Shea to be fired had become deafening as the Bombers fell to 0-2 following a 36-22 loss. For the second week in a row, the final score flattered the Bombers in a game that was much more lopsided than the score suggested.
It all looked like more of the same old tired movie from a team that is 12-26 since O’Shea took over as Bombers head coach in 2014 — and it’s impossible to find fault in any Bombers fan who decided Friday night enough was enough.
I don’t think it’d be the right thing to do — and we’ll get to why shortly — but I fully understand why a lot more people in this town feel otherwise.
Look, if you’re tired of looking at O’Shea in his goofy sideline shorts and just want the satisfaction of running the guy out of town, I get it. I will even make your case to fire him for you:
— His in-game decision-making is lousy and not getting better. Two potential first half field goals were taken off the board, the first when the Bombers botched a fake field goal attempt and the second when they ran out of time at the end of the second half while deep in Calgary territory.
The Bombers signed kicker Justin Medlock in the off-season for big money. He’s the most accurate kicker in CFL history. How about we try letting the guy actually do the job?
— The Bombers’ run defence — and run offence — under O’Shea is bad and not getting any better.
For two years now, the Bombers have been unable to stop the run or get a running game of their own going and it was the same old story yet again as Calgary rushed for 207 yards while Winnipeg gained just 53 on the ground.
— O’Shea’s teams are chronic slow starters and it actually seems to be getting worse. The Bombers have been outscored 55-11 through the first three quarters of their first two games this season. That’s a joke — and the fact they’ve outscored their opponents 25-3 in the fourth quarter when the games were out of reach doesn’t make it any better.
Then there’s that 12-26 record as a head coach, an almost pathological stubbornness and, yeah, those damn shorts.
So sure, yeah, go ahead and fire O’Shea. But then what? Replace him with offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice, a man who is the architect of the woeful offence that is giving Bombers fans so many fits and who this club already fired as head coach less than three years ago?
That’s your plan? Those English politicians who led the Brexit campaign had a better contingency plan than that — and they had no plan at all.
And that’s the problem here — firing O’Shea would probably feel really good for a little while, but it would almost certainly make things worse, not better.
While there is understandable shock in Bombers Nation about just how bad this team has played, the fact it has gotten off to a slow start this season is actually as predictable as that Regina skyline.
A team that made sweeping personnel changes, signed a boatload of free agents, installed a new offensive scheme under a new co-ordinator and then hired a whole host of new coaches was clearly always going to need some time to come together this season.
That’s not O’Shea’s fault — it’s basic physics. Too many things all moving at once tend to crash into each other.
And what made this situation even more combustible was the fact this team never got a chance to slowly come together as a unit because of an insanely difficult front-loaded schedule that has the Bombers playing Calgary, Edmonton and Hamilton twice each during the first seven weeks.
While I understand this will sound counterintuitive, it is precisely this team’s epic struggles through the first two weeks of the 2016 season that were why I argued in these pages a few weeks ago — to the outrage of many — the Bombers should have extended the contract of O’Shea this off-season instead of letting him head into the new season as a lame duck.
A one-year contract extension over the winter, while unpalatable to many, would have bought O’Shea and this team some much-needed time and space to get things right, plow through these early-season struggles — and this early season scheduling nightmare — and hopefully come out the other side as a reasonable facsimile of the competitive team everyone was expecting they’d be this year, instead of the sad sacks they presently are.
The worst case in that scenario would have been the Bombers struggle again this year and you fire O’Shea at year’s end and eat the last year of his extended contract, a pittance for a team that turned an $11-million profit last season.
Instead, we have the nightmare this team presently finds itself in — an 0-2 record and calls for the coach to be fired that are only going to increase in volume.
A loss this week in Hamilton and an 0-3 record will have torches and pitchforks assembling outside Investors Group Field and create a situation where questions about O’Shea’s future could quite literally consume this team’s entire season before it really begins.
I asked cornerback Chris Randle in Calgary late Friday night if O’Shea still commands the Bombers dressing room. "One hundred percent," Randle said, before pausing, looking me in the eye and adding one more time: "One hundred per cent."
I believe Randle, a lot more than I believe O’Shea, who told me Friday night he has given zero thought to the fact his job is hanging by a thread.
"No and I never have. There’s so much on a daily basis involved in coaching a team, you don’t worry about the other things," said O’Shea.
That’s nonsense, of course. O’Shea has three kids and a wife he uprooted from the only home they’d ever known in Toronto to follow him here for a dream job that has quickly become a nightmare.
If O’Shea hasn’t given at least some thought to how all this might be affecting them, he’d be a sociopath.
And he’s not that. On the contrary, O’Shea’s a decent guy, who — like the rest of us — is also deeply flawed. The difference with O’Shea is his flaws are laid bare before an entire province, week in and week out, by a job as the man in charge of the problem child that is Manitoba’s professional football team.
It’s much too early in an 18-game season to know yet who these new Bombers really are. We’ve been routinely firing football coaches in this town for over a quarter-century and all it’s gotten us is a championship drought now in its 26th year.
We’ve waited this long. I vote we wait just a tiny bit longer to find out if maybe, just maybe, we finally have something that was worth waiting for.
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.
Updated on Sunday, July 3, 2016 at 6:40 PM CDT: Columnist byline added.
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